A team appointed to expedite the repatriation of the remains of 85 people from South Africa who died when a church building collapsed in Lagos will leave for Nigeria on Friday, government said.
“A mass body repatriation team consisting of 80 specialist members from the department of health, the SA Police Service and the SA Military Health Service will today leave South Africa for Nigeria to begin the process of repatriating the mortal remains,” spokeswoman Phumla Williams said in statement.
“Upon touching down in Lagos, the team will be split into three groups and each will simultaneously work on the preparation of the mortal remains at the three mortuaries,” she said.
A guest house belonging to the Synagogue Church Of All Nations in Lagos, headed by preacher TB Joshua, collapsed on September 12, killing 116 people.
They included 81 South Africans and three Zimbabweans and one Democratic Republic of Congo national using South African travel papers.
The repatriation process would follow strict safety procedures in order to safeguard the team from potential risks.
“Due to the number of the deceased, and the time period since the incident, the repatriation will be carried out in line with strict procedures to ensure that the mortal remains are repatriated in a dignified manner while also taking appropriate precautions,” said Williams.
Two aircraft had been secured for the repatriation operation.
“The first aircraft is a passenger plane that will transport the repatriation team, as well as other role players,” said Williams.
“The second aircraft is an Antonov 124 cargo plane that will transport eight vehicles and specialised equipment.”
Four of these vehicles were forensic pathology trucks, which were specially designed to transport remains from disaster situations.
“The forensic pathology trucks have sufficient capacity to transport all identified bodies at the right conditions,” said Williams.
Before the team departs from Nigeria with the bodies, it would be handed over to Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, the special envoy to Nigeria, on Saturday.
The two aircraft, transporting both the remains and the repatriation team, would then leave Nigeria on Saturday evening and would be expected to arrive at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria on Sunday morning.
Once the aircraft arrive at the base, government would host a formal reception ceremony.
The event would be private and would be restricted to accredited personnel.
“At the end of the formal reception ceremony, the mortal remains will be transported by road to the closest government… mortuaries in the different provinces,” said Williams.
“From there the mortal remains will be transported to the government mortuary closest to the place of burial where they will be received by their next-of-kin.”
Private funerals would then be held for the individual building collapse victims.
“The department of health would guide the family-appointed private funeral directors on how to manage the remains in line with the relevant health protocols,” said Williams. SAPA