“Even though government officials had told us not to open the bags in which the bodies were put in, we did not heed the advice – we opened the bag and examined the remains. We definitely buried the right person,” Lindo Wittle, whose cousin, Nokuphila Precious Maphumulo was among the 85 South Africans who died in the Nigerian church tragedy, said.
Five KZN residents: Maphumulo from Ezimbokodweni, Durban couple Dicky and Dennis Ngcobo, Sabelo Myeni from Jozini and Nomusa Nyawo from Ngwavuma, were among the 85 South Africans who died in the Lagos tragedy.
Their bodies were buried in the province following their repatriation from Nigeria in November last year.
At the time of the bodies’ arrival in the country, South African government officials had advised relatives not to inspect the bodies – which were in black bags, as there were in an advanced state of decomposition.
“We heard about the incidents. However, we are not concerned at all because we opened the bag and checked her – we are satisfied as a family that we buried the right body,” Thulani Zungu, the spokesperson for Nyawo’s family said.
Myeni’s brother, Joseph Khumalo, said while he did not inspect the remains himself, the family elders did.
“Ordinarily, I would have viewed the body but was told not to. However, other members of the family did check and they told us that it was her,” he said.
A Ngcobo family relative, Thabisile Sithole, had indicated during a memorial service for the victims organised by the KZN provincial government at the King Shaka International Airport in November, that the family would heed government’s advice for the bodies not to be viewed.
Mdu Ngcobo, who is the Ngcobo family spokesperson, could not be reached for comment.
Family claim they got the wrong body
However, there are now fears some of the families might have buried the wrong bodies after a family in Gauteng had discovered they were given the wrong body.
Lwandle, the brother of Patricia Mkhulisa who also died in the church collapse says the family doubts the body they received is in fact hers. “We have no evidence this is my sister. We were given the body in a bag with a certificate which had no thumbprints on it, told not to open the bag and to just bury it,” said Lwande.
The family’s suspicion they had been given a stranger to bury peaked when they were told not to open the bag because it could contain the Ebola virus. “We opened the bag and tried to look for features that would identify if the remains were my sister.” He said they looked for a gap that Mkhulisa had in her teeth, but the teeth in the body they were given had no such gap.
“If this is not our sister, then who buried our sister?” they ask.
The Mkhulisas will not bury the body until they are certain it is Patricia Mkhulisa, a 47-year-old admin clerck from Benoni.