A 37-YEAR-OLD woman has become the third Zimbabwean to be confirmed to have died after a guesthouse owned by the controversial Nigerian evangelist, TB Joshua, collapsed on September 12.
Jane Sibanda’s brother, Danford Hwature, speaking from South Africa, said his sister had gone to Nigeria “to seek deliverance and salvation” at TB Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos, but the family had since been given the dreadful news of her death.
Jane, nee Hwature, lived in South Africa with her husband.
TB Joshua inspires an almost fanatical devotion from thousands of followers around the world who are drawn to his services by claims of miracle-working and prophecies.
The church hostel, used to house foreign visitors, crumbled because it had more floors than its foundation could hold, according to authorities.
The building, which is attached to the main church, was originally built as a double storey but TB Joshua had ordered the addition of four more floors.
At Jane’s family home in Entumbane, her father, Isaac Hwature, appealed to TB Joshua’s church to bring his daughter’s body home for a proper burial.
“We’re in the dark about everything. We don’t even know where to start,” he said. “Culturally, it’s not right to let our daughter’s body lie in a foreign land for this long. We don’t know much and we’re relying on her elder brother, who lives in South Africa.”
The death toll from the guesthouse collapse continues to rise with at least 115 people — including 84 South Africans — now having been pulled from the rubble. TB Joshua’s church refuses to take questions about how many people died, and their nationalities.
The Foreign Affairs ministry has maintained that it has not been able to establish the exact number of Zimbabweans who died in the disaster, but Sibanda is the third confirmed victim.
The MDC-T’s Mashonaland West chairman Greenwich Ndanga and Catherine Ndlovu, a mother of two from Mpopoma in Bulawayo, are among the dead.
Sibanda’s brother, Danford, told Chronicle from South Africa that TB Joshua’s representatives had been to meet him and her husband to offer their condolences. The church had also pledged to help meet the burial expenses, he added.
Danford said they had also spoken to the South African government which is sending a charter plane to Lagos to bring the bodies of its dead home. The repatriation has been delayed by DNA tests which are underway to identify the bodies.
“We’re waiting for that process [repatriation of bodies] to happen,” he said.
At least two South Africans who lost relatives in the building collapse say they are preparing to sue TB Joshua.
The two men, who both lost sisters in the collapse, are appealing for more families to come together in bringing a case against the preacher.
Last Sunday, TB Joshua announced plans to travel to South Africa once every month for mid-week services to save his followers travel costs — but a campaign led by the African National Congress’ Youth League is underway to stop the government from issuing him a visa.
Emergency workers allege they were prevented from participating in the rescue, only gaining full access to the site on Sunday afternoon — accusations denied by TB Joshua who has stuck to a theory that a small plane which flew over the building four times deliberately triggered the building collapse.
Victim Ndlovu’s family accused TB Joshua’s church of erecting a “wall of lies” in the aftermath of the disaster. At first, they allegedly insisted that she was alive and only after several days did they finally admit she was not coming home.
Thanduxolo Doro and Mpho Molebatsi waited at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo airport for days after the collapse for news of their sisters. Both families had last heard from their relatives hours before the collapse, which happened at about 13:50 local time (12.50 GMT) on Friday, September 12.
“It’s not that the building collapsed, rather what was done after the collapse — we didn’t get any news from the church,” Doro, whose sister Vathiswa Madikiza died, told the BBC.
“When I contacted them, they wouldn’t tell me anything. We saw reports that emergency workers were denied access initially, access that could have saved lives. The actions of the church after the incident are very telling.”
In an open letter published in South Africa’s Star newspaper, Doro called on more families to sue TB Joshua.
“I need to do this for her. Even if I stand alone, I’m determined to see that something is done,” he said.
“I understand that some families are afraid to take on someone who purports to be God’s messenger and I don’t blame them, but I will do this.”
He has been in contact with Molebatsi, whose sister Hlubi Molebatsi was also killed. Molebatsi says he has called his lawyers.
“I’ve spoken to other families but it has been difficult because this is a time of mourning. I would like to see families get something from the church as some of the people who died were breadwinners,” he said.
Some 25 survivors of the collapse are continuing to receive medical care following their return to South Africa.
Officials say 16 of the wounded are in critical condition, with some having had limbs amputated and other complication.
Since the disaster, at least two journalists have told how TB Joshua tried to bribe them to influence them to write positively about him.
TB Joshua founded the church in the late 1980s with only eight members and at the moment he has between 15,000 to 20,000 people who attend his sermons every Sunday in Lagos.
Some of his followers include prominent African politicians, among them the former Malawian President Joyce Banda, Zanu PF Minister Chris Mushowe and MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who said this week that he once slept at the collapsed guesthouse. Chronicle