Many could not fight back tears when names of those killed were called out and a procession of giant mortuary trucks carrying the bodies, slowly drove past the gathering to the tune of the “death march” played by the police band.
A total of 116 people — including 81 South Africans — were killed on September 12 when a multi-storey guesthouse collapsed at a Lagos mega-church.
The bodies were flown home aboard a cargo plane, two months after the accident, leaving behind another 11 victims to be repatriated after the DNA identification process is complete.
People were crushed when the guesthouse that provided lodging for foreign followers of popular Nigerian preacher and televangelist Temitope Balogun Joshua, commonly known as TB Joshua, was reduced to a pile of shattered concrete and twisted metal.
“This is indeed a sombre moment for our nation, the nation is in mourning,” said South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, leading the ceremony in Pretoria.
“This tragedy in many ways has united us in grief, it has reminded us of our shared humanity,” he said.
Ramaphosa shook hands with bereaved family members, many of whom wore white TB Joshua’s church scarves around their necks.
Franzette Saul, who lost her cousin Dan Samuels in the disaster, said the victims had visited the Nigerian preacher in search of salvation.
“They believed he would heal them… then the opposite happened,” said the 31-year-old from Cape Town.