JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – President Jacob Zuma on Thursday vowed his government would do everything it can to help the families of 67 South Africans believed killed in last week’s church collapse in Nigeria.
Facing allegations that the South African government’s response to the tragedy was tardy and inadequate, Zuma said he had appointed a ministerial task force to respond.
“They will support families and do whatever is necessary to manage the impact of this tragedy,” he said.
A multi-storey hotel linked to controversial preacher and televangelist TB Joshua collapsed on Friday, but it was Tuesday before Zuma announced any South African fatalities.
An advance team of 10 disaster management personnel, including doctors, only flew to Lagos on Wednesday, when hopes of finding remaining survivors had dimmed.
Almost a week after the collapse, doubts remain over the final toll.
“Rescue missions are still continuing after which we will know for sure how many citizens we have lost,” Zuma said.
The South African government has played down suggestions that the delay was caused by the Nigerian authorities being slow to provide information about the tragedy.
International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said Wednesday that Lagos was cooperating, describing relations between the two governments as “very cordial and good”.
But rescue workers on the scene have complained that Joshua’s staff at the “Synagogue Church of All Nations” impeded their work.
Dubbed “The Prophet” by fanatical followers who believe he can predict the future, Joshua is politically well connected in Nigeria and beyond, counting presidents and prime ministers among his flock.
Nkoana-Mashabane did, however, say that “working together with the Synagogue people has not been easy”.