Jeff Radebe writes that the Lagos church guest house collapse is not just a tragedy for the victims and their families, but for all South Africans.
On September 12, a multistorey guest house of The Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos, Nigeria, collapsed, claiming the lives of 84 South Africans. About 350 South Africans were in Lagos on matters connected to the church at the time of the tragic incident.
The impact of this devastating event reverberated around the world as many citizens from all nations are known to worship at the Synagogue Church of All Nations. It has since emerged that 115 people lost their lives, including the 84 South Africans, and there were also several injured.
The government would like to convey its heartfelt condolences to the families, relatives and friends of the affected people. We also call on all South Africans to extend their support to the families during this trying time.
It is almost unthinkable that such a tragedy would befall so many of our compatriots. From the moment it unfolded, the government began to work around the clock.
An advanced team of disaster management personnel were deployed to Lagos to assist in search-and-rescue missions. Twenty-six South Africans survived and 25 were evacuated back to the country on Monday, September 22, with one of our citizens choosing to remain in Nigeria.
About 25 people suffered life-changing injuries and will require extensive rehabilitation. The government, however, stands ready to assist them in any way possible as they learn to adjust to their new circumstances and way of life. This tragedy has impacted on the very psyche of our nation and we all will take time to heal. I will never forget the tangible feeling of emotion welling within me as I awaited the return of our injured countrymen and women.
For those few hours on Monday, the country seemed to stand still. We were a nation united in relief at the return of our compatriots.
The successful return of the injured was made possible through the efforts of our dedicated team at the High Commission in Nigeria which worked tirelessly to get our compatriots home.
In every sense of the word, this mammoth task was a team effort that required co-ordination and forethought. The 24-hour Consular Services Operations Centre in Tshwane, which was activated by the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, was our starting point in providing assistance. Behind the scenes, the inter-ministerial task team brought together all relevant role players.
This hard work ultimately culminated in the largest evacuation since the dawn of democracy in South Africa.
The government is grateful to the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure and SANDF. The government is also grateful that the dedicated staff at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital attended to the needs of the injured with utmost care. The Department of Social Development has begun the process of providing counselling and support to the victims and their families.
However, this is by no means the end. Our officials are working tirelessly in Nigeria and back home to repatriate the bodies of all South Africans who lost their lives in the tragedy. The importance of this task cannot be overstated and we will move heaven and earth to ensure that the families of the victims can find closure.
I once again take this opportunity to thank the Nigerian government for its help and co-operation in ensuring the swift return of the injured. We will continue to work with them as we plan to repatriate the bodies of all South Africans killed in the tragedy.
An important aspect of ensuring closure is to find answers to this tragedy. The families and loved ones of our fallen compatriots deserve no less.
We are therefore heartened that an investigation by the Nigerian government into the cause of the accident is under way and we are confident that they will leave no stone unturned in the search for answers.
Going forward, the inter-ministerial task team will continue to lead government efforts in supporting the families and doing whatever is necessary to manage the impact of the tragedy. We are in contact with the affected families and will continue to provide them with new information as and when it is received from the authorities in Lagos.
We are under no illusion that the coming weeks and months will be very trying for the injured and for the families of the deceased. The government pledges to support all those affected, every step of the way.
During this time of great sadness, we urge South Africans to support the affected families. This is not just their tragedy, this is a national tragedy. Never before have so many lost their lives in such heartbreaking circumstances.
* Radebe is the Minister in the Presidency.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.