Cape man missing after Lagos disaster
Cape Town - The Cape Town family of Ponko Ka Masiba, a veteran journalist who had travelled to Nigeria to write an article about TB Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations when a guest house there collapsed, say they can do nothing but pray that the 52-year-old is still alive.
Masiba’s brother Vuyo, speaking to Weekend Argus at his Gugulethu home this week, said the family were shocked at news of the collapse which killed 84 South Africans, but said he was optimistic that Masiba was still alive.
“We will remain positive and strong until we see his body if he is dead,” said Vuyo.
Masiba, born in Sada in the Eastern Cape, is a journalist who has worked at City Vision, Sunday Sun and the Daily Dispatch, before starting his own national gospel magazine Let’s Pray, published from East London.
Vuyo said Masiba had travelled to the famed Nigerian megachurch to write about it.
“Ponko usually visits churches covering their stories, and then does a special edition on them and sends them copies,” he said. Masiba is an active elder at the Church of God and Saints of Christ. According to his family, he uses his magazine to spread God’s message.
“We are a very strong family that believes and trusts in God. During this difficult period, we know that he is with us,” said his brother, who last spoke to Masiba at a family funeral in Queenstown.
Masiba’s aunt, Nombulelo Mshudulu, said she was “shocked and hurt” by news of the Nigerian tragedy.
“I have hope that he is still alive and will come back to us,” she said.
News of the guest house collapse and Masiba’s disappearance came at a very difficult time as his father’s health was poor, she said.
Andile Masiba is bedridden in his Montana, Eastern Cape, home.
Vuyo said if Masiba had died in the collapse, his family would be happy he died in a church, a place he truly loved.
They would wait and see what information was forthcoming from the Department of International Relations and Co-operation but, for now, could do nothing but remain optimistic and keep praying.
Acting cabinet spokeswoman Phumla Williams said on Friday that a South African team in Nigeria had not concluded the verification process of South Africans who had died in the collapse.
The government would contact the families of the victims first, before releasing names to the media.
A total of 84 South Africans died when the building collapsed in the early afternoon of September 12.
Williams said 62 had been positively identified, leaving 22 unidentified.
Earlier this week Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, said a rigorous five-step process of identification was under way on the bodies of the South Africans killed in the collapse.
“A South African team of experts on the ground in Nigeria are working closely with their Nigerian counterparts to ensure that this process is completed as soon as possible,” said Radebe, addressing the media in Pretoria.
The process of verification was “methodical and time consuming”, and it would not be possible to predict when it would be completed, he added.
The process involved either identification of bodies by next-of-kin, through photo identification, from fingerprints or dental records, or – if all these were not possible – through DNA.
Twenty-five injured South Africans had been flown home following the collapse.
One injured citizen had chosen to stay in Nigeria.
Williams said teams of social workers had visited families of people on the list of those who are presumed to have died, to collect DNA samples.
The government would provide an update tomorrow.
There are a further 265 uninjured South Africans who are making their own way back to the country, some, it is understood, with the aid of the Synagogue Church of All Nations.
When Weekend Argus spoke to Masiba’s wife Tobeka Tongo-Masiba on Friday, she denied that the government had contacted her, although her brother-in-law told Weekend Argus he understood that she had been contacted.
Tongo-Masiba worked with her husband at Let’s Praise, in the post of managing editor.
She said she was the only person who could give more information on Masiba’s fate, adding that she would announce it – if there was any information – as soon as she became aware of it.
In the March 2010 edition of his magazine, Masiba thanked his wife for her support, writing: “I must admit my wife is a slave driver and has been instrumental in taking the initiative. I fully agree with the saying that goes: ‘Behind every man there is a good woman’.”
Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba wrote in the same edition of the magazine that Let’s Praise was a publication Christians could be proud of. “At last a magazine that would cater for all our needs is here. I take my hat off for its publisher Ponko Ka Masiba for unleashing this vehicle,” he said.