DURBAN – There were tears and anguish as the grieving families of 13 worshippers killed in a church collapse arrived at the Richards Bay mortuary yesterday to identify the bodies of their loved ones.
The worshippers died when a wall collapsed at the Pentecostal Holiness Church near Empangeni in northern KwaZulu-Natal last Thursday night.
The KwaZulu-Natal Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department co-ordinated with various departments including health, home affairs and the police, to assist in speeding up the body identification process.
Six worshippers were from Ulundi, four from eSikhawini and three from Maqwakazi in uMlalazi.
Describing the collapse, Phumelele Simelane from eSikhawini said worshippers had just had their evening meal and were preparing to sleep when the wall caved in.
“It just went dark and everyone started panicking as the wall collapsed on top of us. The wall fell on top of my son and lucky he survived as I had to rescue him,” said Simelane.
Simelane was with her 6-year-old son, who is recovering in hospital. She said she came to the mortuary to support congregants whose relatives died.
The Mthembu family, who lost grandmother Thembi Mthabela, 54, and Andiswa Mthembu, 10, in the tragedy were overcome with grief.
“Thembi loved going to church and she always took Andiswa with her. Andiswa was doing Grade 3 at Nyathini Primary School. As a family, we are very traumatised and it is hard for us,” said a relative, who did not wanted to be named.
Buhle Mzila, whose sister Samke, 33, died, said the family had lost a breadwinner.
Samke, who worked at the Ulundi Municipality, was with her 9-year-old daughter during the incident.
Buhle said her niece, who was in hospital, was in a state of shock about her mother’s death.
“Samke loved the church, she always made sure she attended every service. She played a big role in terms of assisting the family. We are still going to feel her absence,” said Buhle.
A sobbing Mbongeni Langa said his mother had died in a “place she loved”.
“Everyone is hurt, including her grandchildren. Since we were kids, we used to go attend the same church with her,” said Langa.
PHC centre manager Reverend Phiway Sibiya said the church had hired private security because no one was allowed on the site as the investigation into the cause of the collapse was still under way.
“We are just waiting for the disaster management team to remove the bags and blankets from the building before allowing the families to take their relatives’ belongings,” said Sibiya.
Sibiya said he was devastated by what happened and needed counselling.
“We appreciate the support that we are getting from everyone as people from all over the world have sent their condolences to the families,” he said.
Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, who was at the mortuary yesterday and visited the church on Friday, said: “We have to wait for the report from the engineers because they’ll be the ones who decide whether they want to renovate or demolish the building.”
A memorial service will be held tomorrow.