It has been more than four months since the lives of 81 South Africans were lost when a multi-storey guesthouse belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed in Lagos, Nigeria. The tragedy stunned us, and left the nation with a feeling of great sadness and compassion.
President Jacob Zuma expressed the nation’s shock when he stated: “This is a particularly difficult time for South Africa. Not in the recent history of our country have we had this large number of our people die in one incident outside the country.”
The President also directed the relevant government departments and entities to act with the utmost urgency to repatriate the injured and mortal remains of the deceased back to the country.
In response to the tragedy, an Inter-Ministerial Committee was immediately established to oversee the repatriation. The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) was activated to coordinate various role players and lead technical planning for the identification and repatriation of both the injured and the deceased South Africans.
On September 22 last year, government repatriated 25 injured South Africans back to the country. All of them have now been discharged from hospital and are back at home trying to put their lives back together.
This was followed by a long, rigorous victim identification process, which resulted in the return of the remains of 74 deceased South Africans on 16 November. We also assisted the families by transporting the remains of the deceased back to their respective home provinces.
We continued to work tirelessly with the Nigerian government to identify the remaining eleven victims. Fresh DNA samples were collected from the families for further verification.
Last week we closed the final chapter of this tragedy when we returned the last 11 mortal remains. Although the repatriation will bring much needed closure for the families and friends of the deceased, we know they still face a long, painful road to come to terms with their loss.
No one can fathom the pain and difficulty faced by those families on a daily basis. Government, therefore, urges them to seek help when needed by making use of our grief counselling services. The Department of Social Development offers this service free of charge and it can be accessed on 0800 428 428. Alternatively those in need can send a “please call me” text message to: *120*7867# and a professional counsellor will call them back.
Government also want to convey our deepest gratitude to all neighbours, friends, communities and churches that have reached out to the affected families and those injured in the Nigerian tragedy. We urge them to continue offering their support over the foreseeable future.
We also want to express our appreciation to both the Nigerian Federal Government and Lagos State authorities for their cooperation.
Over the past four months, the repatriation was a priority task for many public servants. The dedication, professionalism and attentiveness of these officials were truly heartwarming. Their conduct and especially that of the members of NATJOINTS could not have made us any prouder as a nation.
We would also like to extend our appreciation to the Inter-Ministerial Committee for their support and commitment.
Lastly, we would like to acknowledge the role the media played in reminding all South Africans of the tragic event and the impact it has had on the lives of many.
Source : SAnews.gov.za