Two weeks after the collapse, only 62 South Africans have been identified. Thirty survivors arrived at OR Tambo International Airport yesterday as calls mounted for the church’s leader, self-proclaimed prophet TB Joshua, to be denied a visa to South Africa. Joshua has said he plans to visit the injured and relatives of the dead. More than 100 people were killed when the structure gave way, allegedly because of weak foundations overloaded by the unauthorized addition of floors. Joshua has blamed the terrorist group Boko Haram for the disaster.
Minister in The Presidency Jeff Radebe said yesterday that 62 of the dead had been “identified with certainty”.
“This is an incredibly time-consuming process. It cannot be rushed.
“We must ensure with absolute certainty that the bodies of the deceased are correctly matched to their families.”
Radebe said a specialist forensic team, led by Brigadier Leonie Ras and state pathologist Gert Saayman, was identifying the dead.
Ras heads the police’s victim identification centre and is a former chairman of Interpol’s disaster victim identification steering committee. Radebe appealed to relatives to help identify bodies but said the process was “often traumatic and painful” and was not feasible in some instances because of the extent of the wounds.
In such instances, photo identification, fingerprinting, dental records and DNA are being used.
“The most reliable ways are fingerprints, [using] the Home Affairs database, and DNA. DNA [matching] takes time.”
He said everything was being done to complete the identification process as swiftly as possible.
“As soon as the identification is complete, a military health team will travel to Lagos with the necessary equipment to repatriate the bodies.” Asked about the possibility of barring Joshua from travelling to South Africa, Radebe said the government’s priority was the repatriation of the bodies.
“The issue of a visa will be entertained at a later stage.” He said the declaration of a national day of mourning would be discussed. “We are working with the families on what they want to do.”
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