All church collapse victims may be exhumed

DNA results could force the government to exhume all the Nigerian TB Joshua Synagogue of All Nations church collapse victims buried in South Africa after a family disputed the identity of the body given to them.

The family of 47-year-old Phumzile Mkhulisi, a mother of two, said when their sister left for Nigeria she had a distinct gap between her front teeth.

But the body returned to them by the state two weeks ago had none. Instead, the body of the woman they received has a full set of teeth with no gap.

Raising the Benoni family’s suspicions is that the body has no broken bones.

The family claims the body they received also has no skin.

Driving their suspicions is the government’s attempts to force them to cremate their sister without them opening the bodybag, apparently because of fears of Ebola.

“Our government thinks we take everything as gospel truth and when we challenge the status quo we are labelled troublemakers. We are not going to back down on this,” Mkhulisi’s brother, Lwandle, said.

Mkhulisi said they had every reason to dispute the identity of the body they received, saying his sister could be in any of the 84 graves around the country.

Of the 116 people who died in the collapse in September last year, 84 were South Africans.

Mkhulisi said as soon as the government learnt of their suspicions, their private undertaker received a call from a state official ordering that the body be immediately cremated, which they refused.

They became even more suspicious when the death notice form which came with the death certificate did not have his sister’s thumb prints, he said.

Their biggest concern was that government officials said they did not know where the bodies were kept in Nigeria, forcing the family to question whether DNA tests were conducted and the bodies properly identified. Mkhulisi said the family met stiff resistance from the government over them wanting to have DNA tests conducted on the body.

It was only after he wrote a letter to the Health Department insisting on DNA tests that permission was granted.

Mkhulisi said he was pleading with other families to come forward with their concerns.

“If the DNA results come back negative [the body is not Phumzile] . . . we will have all the bodies dug up.”

-Sipho Masombuka

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