Africa / 9 July 2015, 08:01am / Nokuthula Ntuli, Toye Olori and Staff Reporters
Johannesburg - Some of the families who lost their loved ones when TB Joshua’s church building in Lagos, Nigeria, collapsed, resulting in the deaths of 81 South Africans, have questioned the famous pastor’s claim of innocence regarding the tragedy.
This was after the coroner, Oyetade Komolafe, said the Synagogue Church of All Nations (Scoan) should be investigated and prosecuted for not obtaining the relevant approval before embarking on the construction of the building, whose collapse led to the deaths of 116 people.
“The church was culpable because of criminal negligence resulting in the death of the victims,” Komolafe said on Wednesday.
He dismissed Joshua’s claim of an aerial attack on the church in September, and told the court the guest house’s building plans had not been approved.
Lindo Whittle, spokesman for the Maphumulo family, said: “I gave him (Joshua) the benefit of the doubt even though some of the things his church people told us didn’t add up, but these revelations now make me question a lot of things.”
His cousin Nokuphila Maphumulo is one of five people from KwaZulu-Natal who died in the Scoan disaster. Durban North couple Dickie and Dennis Ngcobo; Nomusa Nyawo, a mother-of-three from Ngwavuma; and trainee pastor Sabelo Myeni, of Nseleni, also died.
Both Whittle and Dickie’s sister, Thabisile Sithole, said the suspicions had always been there and they had hoped the inquest would bring them closure, but it had hurt them even more deeply.
“After the incident, the church gave us a DVD entitled Controlled Demolition, which had footage of a helicopter flying over the building before it crumbled. They told us that the church had been attacked with explosives,” Whittle said.
Sithole became tearful when she spoke of the inquest’s findings, saying she always suspected negligence, because they had been told that the building was being renovated when the disaster occurred.
“My question was why they allowed hundreds of people to stay in the building before construction was completed. Inspectors assured them that it was secure for occupation, but Joshua later said it had been attacked,” she added.
They said the death of their loved ones and the two-month delay in the repatriation of their bodies was a traumatic experience which would take years to heal.
“There was a lack of sincere empathy from the time the building collapsed, because we kept phoning them to find out about the wellbeing of our family members, but it took days to get a straight answers from them.
“Then South African emergency workers were denied access to the scene,” Sithole pointed out.
Joshua’s refusal to testify at the inquiry has also upset the families.
Whittle said the truth would help them heal even though it wouldn’t bring their loved ones back.
“If he had nothing to hide then he would not spend money going to court just to avoid testifying. His evasiveness and the coroner’s report make one wonder about his sincerity and innocence,” Sithole said.
The news that the contractors and architecture of the collapsed guest house must be prosecuted did not appease the Mahlwele family of Mpumalanga.
Their loved one, Kgomotso Mahlwele, 58, of Middelburg, died in the tragedy.
“I really don’t want to comment. As the family, we decided that we should move on,” said Mahlwele’s daughter, Itumeleng.
When the guest house collapsed, Mahlwele’s 86-year-old mother, Irene Lepelle, was so emotional she could barely look at her daughter’s photos.
Itumeleng was quoted as saying at the time: “I sleep in my mom’s room just to feel close to her. This feels like someone made a mistake.”