'More Zimbabweans could have died in Prophet TB Joshua's church disaster'

A sombre atmosphere engulfed the home of 40-year-old Catherine Ndlovu of Mpopoma, Bulawayo, following the news that the mother of two was among more than 115 people who died when a guest house belonging to Nigerian preacher TB Joshua collapsed.

For close to a week, the Ndlovu family had been kept guessing regarding her fate with TB Joshua's church - the Synagogue Church of Nations - insisting that the then already dead Ndlovu was unharmed and would be home soon.

And then SCOAN told the Ndlovu family that Catherine was dead and they must provide a DNA sample before claiming the body.

The way the whole matter has been handled has raised fears that more than the two reported Zimbabweans could have died in the disaster.

It also raises questions about Zimbabwean authorities' ability to track its citizens abroad and determine their welfare at any given time, particularly in times of crisis.

According to the Constitution and the country's foreign policy objectives, every Zimbabwean citizen is entitled to the protection and improvement of the standards of living wherever that person may be.
'More Zimbabweans could have died in Prophet TB Joshua's church disaster'
The Government, through its embassies, is mandated to offer advice and assist citizens in foreign countries.

There is suspicion in Bulawayo that some of the dead who have been reported as South Africans are actually Zimbabweans who travelled to Nigeria using illegitimate travel documents.

Some 350 South Africans were thought to be visiting the church when the building came down during construction work. Eightyfive of them have so far been confirmed dead.

In an interview with The Sunday Mail Extra, the deceased's brother, Jabulani, pleaded with Government to intervene and help the Ndlovu family bring Catherine's body home.

"Many Zimbabweans might actually have died in Nigeria. From my own observations, the Government seems not to have a record of its people that are in Nigeria. I am pleading with the Government to intervene," Jabulani said as he choked on tears.

The Ndlovu family did not have a clue how and where they could conduct the expensive DNA tests.

As was the case with the death of Catherine, the family of Greenwich Ndanga, the MDC-T provincial chair for Mashonaland West who also died at the guesthouse, had to work alone to identify and repatriate the body.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry was widely quoted in the media saying it was waiting for a briefing from Zimbabwe's Embassy in Abuja.

At that time, South Africa was busy organising an emergency rescue team that went on to successfully evacuate its citizens.

Meanwhile, the death toll of Zimbabweans could have been higher were it not for the prohibitive accommodation costs charged at the collapsed hostel.

"Most Zimbabweans could not afford the US$3 000 that one was required to pay for a 12-day stay . . . Although that amount covered airfares and food, it was still too much for locals who then resorted to occupying cheaper accommodation," said a survivor from Bulawayo.

A Bulawayo businessman who had taken eight family members to SCOAN said they had survived because they were staying in cheaper lodgings adjacent to the collapsed hostel.

"Since we were many, it was going to be expensive for us to occupy the guest house. We then opted for cheaper accommodation elsewhere and that decision saved our lives," another of the 24 Bulawayo residents who had travelled to Nigeria said.

Bulawayo has a network that organises trips to TB Joshua services.

TB Joshua is one of the best-known Nigerian televangelists and is often referred to as "The Prophet" or "The Man of God" by his followers across the world.

And despite the recent tragedy, Zimbabweans say they are still eager to travel to SCOAN.

"I facilitate trips to Nigeria and I have had several inquiries from people who are eager to travel to that country," said Mr Desire Masuku.

TB Joshua's website says the church was formed in the late 1980s with eight members. Today an estimated 20 000 people attend his Abuja services weekly.
Source: Sunday Mail

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