Africa / 21 December 2014, 08:06am / NKULULEKO NENE
Johannesburg - TB Joshua has invited families of the South African victims who died while visiting his church in Nigeria, to spend Christmas with him – and they have accepted.
Forty-four families of the deceased are expected to be flown to Nigeria on Christmas day after receiving an invitation from Joshua’s Synagogue church of all nations (SCOAN). About 84 South Africans were killed when a Lagos guesthouse attached to the church collapsed on September 12, resulting in the death of 116 people.
The incident occurred when three storeys were being added to the existing two. Church spokesman Kirsten Nematandani said travel expenses would be paid for by the church. He said this was the first lot of families invited, but the second group, including the four families from KwaZulu-Natal, would follow early next year, after their passports have been sorted.
“The Man of God has invited families to join him for “the candle light” – a build-up to the new year's celebration. It will be celebrated through prayers. This is a good gesture by the prophet, which is part of the healing process… They’ll be staying on church premises. All the logistics will be covered by the Man of God,” he said, adding that the guests were expected to spend one week, and return on January 2.
The Ngcobos, whose family members Dickie and Dennis perished in the building collapse, had already planned for Christmas, but would be travelling in the next group, while the Nyawo family, whose daughter Nomusa had died in the collapse, still had to be assisted with passports, was also expected to join the next batch.
The family of deceased Sabelo Myeni, whose father is a reverend, could not be available because he had to be with his parishioners over the Christmas period. Nokuphila Maphumulo's family was also expected to travel early next year.
Nematandani said he had no idea how much has been allocated for the trip. He insists that TB Joshua is not interested in the costs, but that his focus is on seeing that the families heal after the disaster.
“The invitation has been well received by families. Those going there for the first time will experience a life-changing moment. The feeling of being there is difficult to describe in simple language. People go there with different problems, ranging from illnesses to emotional stress, but come back healed with spiritual revival delivered by the prophet,” Nematandani said.
He said the prophet had been praying day and night for the remaining 11 bodies to be returned to South Africa.
“The Man of God will [not] rest until these martyrs are brought back. What I know is that these families have not lost hope on receiving the remains. It is a painful period for the families. But the SA government would be in a suitable position to explain the repatriation process,” he said.
Nematandani declined to comment on why Joshua failed to appear before the coroner when he was obliged to give evidence during an inquest.
“I wouldn’t like to comment on the inquest because that process is under way. The matter is sub judice. But what I know is that he’s a law-abiding citizen.” He added that the pastor would never shy away from court, “but only when things are done perfectly”. Phumla Williams, speaking on behalf of the Inter-ministerial Committee on Nigeria appointed by President Jacob Zuma, said that they were unable to indicate when exactly the DNA testing would be completed, after they had visited all the 11 families to collect fresh samples.
“Unfortunately, as we have said before, the laboratory in Cape Town doing the work has been commissioned by the Nigerian government. The feedback from the laboratory process is provided to South Africa by the Nigerian government. We have not been given any latest information on the completion of the verification process,’’ Williams said.
Alpheus Manafa from Centurion, Gauteng, whose brother Robert Manafa, 44, and sister Magdalene Maponga, 40, died in the tragedy, said that he hadn’t expected the invitation, but was excited to be going for the second time.
“I was overwhelmed by the invite. It came as a surprise. It will be interesting to spend Christmas with the Man of God. This is exciting. I’ve been wanting to go there again after I went three years ago,” Manafa said.
Mawela Phillip Mbedzi from Limpopo, whose 31-year-old daughter Mpho Victoria had died in the tragedy, will be travelling to Nigeria with his son Gundo. He said it would be a privilege to touch the ground, and see the rubble of, the building where his daughter’s life had ended.
“It is a mixed feeling. We still haven’t recovered from the grief. We have not received the final details of the trip, but I think that the first thing I’ll do after landing in Nigeria is to jump for joy. I will greet the prophet and thank him for caring, and for the support that he’s shown after the disaster,” Mbedzi said.