SA ready to re­ceive bod­ies of fallen

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

Once the green light is given by Nige­rian

au­thor­i­ties, the repa­tri­a­tion process

will go ahead

Jeff Radebe is Min­is­ter in the

Pres­i­dency N SEPTEM­BER 12 the lives of count­less South Africans were for­ever trans­formed when a multi-storey guest house of the Synagogue Church of All Na­tions in La­gos, Nige­ria, col­lapsed. This un­prece­dented tragedy claimed the lives of sev­eral South Africans and has se­verely im­pacted the psy­che of our na­tion. As al­ways after such a dev­as­tat­ing event there is a search for an­swers, for clo­sure and a quest for heal­ing.

The first step in the heal­ing process be­gan when 26 in­jured South Africans were repa­tri­ated from Nige­ria. Cur­rently only six pa­tients are still re­ceiv­ing treat­ment at the Steve Biko Aca­demic hos­pi­tal, with the rest hav­ing been dis­charged and re­united with their fam­i­lies.

The gov­ern­ment is heart­ened that we were able to re­unite those who were in­jured with their fam­i­lies; we know how­ever that there will only be clo­sure and heal­ing when the re­mains of those who died are re­turned.

Much work has al­ready been done to make this a re­al­ity and all prepa­ra­tions are in place to trans­port the re­mains back home. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives at our High Com­mis­sion in Nige­ria and our Con­sul-Gen­eral in La­gos are li­ais­ing with the Nige­rian au­thor­i­ties to en­sure that this hap­pens as speed­ily as pos­si­ble.

The gov­ern­ment is aware that the fam­i­lies are des­per­ate to bury their loved ones and we want to as­sure all South Africans that we are do­ing all we can to get them back home as soon as is pos­si­ble. How­ever, we await the go-ahead from the Nige­rian au­thor­i­ties.

The iden­ti­fi­ca­tion process has been es­pe­cially try­ing and time-con­sum­ing as fin­ger­print­ing has been dif­fi­cult in some cases. The Nige­rian au­thor­i­ties in­stead are us­ing DNA to match the re­mains of those who died.

I was re­cently tasked by Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, as his spe­cial en­voy, to meet with the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment and La­gos State au­thor­i­ties to ex­pe­dite the process. I am seized with this work and I must em­pha­sise that we are work­ing with Nige­rian au­thor­i­ties to en­sure the proper iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and repa­tri­a­tion of the de­ceased South Africans is fi­nalised.

At this time of great sor­row for so many of our fel­low coun­try­men and women such re­as­sur­ances might ring hol­low. The gov­ern­ment knows that those who lost their loved ones will only be­gin to heal once they have bid farewell to their next of kin in a dig­ni­fied and solemn man­ner.

OI want to re­as­sure South Africans and the fam­i­lies of those who were in­jured and those who died that gov­ern­ment is do­ing all it can to get our fallen coun­try­men and women back home.

Our ef­forts are be­ing led by the in­ter-min­is­te­rial task team, which was formed shortly after the tragedy. This team has mo­bilised gov­ern­ment re­sources to support the fam­i­lies and con­tin­ues to do what­ever is nec­es­sary to man­age the im­pact of the tragedy.

In ad­di­tion, the Na­tional Joint Op­er­a­tion Cen­tre, which co-or­di­nates var­i­ous role play­ers and leads the tech­ni­cal plan­ning of the repa­tri­a­tion, have been meet­ing daily since Septem­ber 16.

All our prepa­ra­tions are now in place and gov­ern­ment stands ready to re­ceive the re­mains of those who died. Once the green light is given by the Nige­rian au­thor­i­ties a spe­cial flight will de­part from Air Force Base Waterk­loof for the repa­tri­a­tion.

We con­tinue to li­aise with the next of kin and plans are in place to en­sure that they re­ceive the re­mains at Air Force Base Waterk­loof.

The gov­ern­ment is well aware of the frus­tra­tion of fam­i­lies wait­ing for the re­turn of their loved ones. There­fore we dare not for­get about the pain and an­guish of the liv­ing; as such so­cial work­ers from the Depart­ment of So­cial De­vel­op­ment con­tinue to visit fam­i­lies to pro­vide them with up­dates and psy­cho-so­cial support.

Once the repa­tri­a­tion is un­der way and the time­lines have been con­firmed the gov­ern­ment will no­tify the na­tion of the home­com­ing of those who died.

Ul­ti­mately we want to re­unite the fam­i­lies with their loved ones as soon as we can, there­fore the gov­ern­ment will en­sure that the re­mains of the de­ceased are trans­ported back to their re­spec­tive home prov­inces.

The gov­ern­ment is con­fi­dent that this sad chap­ter in our young democ­racy is com­ing to an end; we are mov­ing ever closer to se­cur­ing the repa­tri­a­tion. We call on the na­tion to re­main strong in this time of great sor­row and to take so­lace in the knowl­edge that we will bring our coun­try­men and women home.

PIC­TURE: SUN­DAY ALAMBA / AP

TRAGEDY: Res­cue work­ers search for sur­vivors in the rub­ble of the col­lapsed Synagogue Church of All Na­tions in La­gos, Nige­ria. Fam­i­lies in SA are still wait­ing for their loved ones bod­ies.

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