Friday, 19 September 2014

Africa's Giants Tense Up Over Synagogue Church Tragedy

Confusion reigns over the death toll and Nigeria refuses to allow South African search teams access to the site of the collapsed church building.
Rescue workers clear the debris of a collapsed guesthouse at the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos. Not a single body bag has arrived in South Africa yet. (Pius Utomi Ekpei, AFP)
Diplomatic tensions between South Africa and Nigeria have escalated as the government struggles to get answers about the collapse of a church building in Nigeria last Friday that killed the largest number of South Africans outside the country since the downing of the Helderberg airliner in 1987.
Pretoria’s diplomats are contending that “Nigeria is obsessed with its competitive attitude towards South Africa”.

“The Nigerians have fWhile the death toll stands at 84, missing people from a collapsed church in Nigeria could be dead, lying in hospitals or still under the rubble. (Reuters)latly refused our search and rescue missions, the same way they initially refused international assistance during the search for the missing girls,” said a senior South African government official involved in the mission to bring the bodies of citizens home.
“They feel that this could send a politically worrying message that they don’t have capacity. The reality is that our search and rescue teams and sniffer dogs are the best on the continent,” said the official.
South Africa’s rescue teams have remained on standby.
‘Secrecy and superstition’
“Making matters worse is Nigeria’s culture of secrecy and superstition. You find even government officials believing in the cult of this prophet and not asking questions during such disasters. It’s unbelievable. But there is also an element of cover-up by [preacher TB] Joshua, because there is a possibility of litigation cases against him for negligence,” said the government official.
The South African government was forced to find out about the collapse through its own diplomats. This led to President Jacob Zuma announcing the fatalities more than four days after the incident, a delay that has provoked questions over the relationship between the two countries.
The Nigerian government, it seems, did not inform South Africa immediately and, as the tragedy has unfolded, it has issued fatality numbers that differ markedly from South Africa’s own figures.
The Mail & Guardian understands through diplomatic sources that 18 South Africans are unaccounted for. Nigerian authorities are disputing the 67 deaths that Zuma announced and the West African nation has continued to refuse Pretoria’s offer to send a search and rescue team.
The missing people could be dead, lying in hospitals or still under the rubble.
Bodies identified
Department of international relations and co-operation spokesperson Clayson Monyela confirmed that South Africa has identified most of the bodies through passports, and that the government will work with family members to identify the remains of their loved ones.
Without sniffer dogs and the country’s search and rescue experts, the chances of finding survivors buried under the rubble “diminish by the hour”, the government official said.
He said, without maximum co-operation, South Africa fears that the death toll of its nationals could rise.
“Some of the bodies have been crushed beyond recognition. It’s going to take DNA and other tests, verification through clothing or other items by family members,” said the official, adding that not a single body bag had arrived in South Africa by the time of going to press. “It’s going to take time.”
Zuma said on Tuesday that at least 67 South Africans had been killed when the building in the compound belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos collapsed.
But Nigerian emergency services on the same day put the total death toll for the accident at 62. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.
Offensive reaction
The disgusted senior official said the reaction from Nigeria was offensive. “The worst thing to note [is that] the Nigerian government has not issued any statement: no condolences to our government, nor to the families.”
Dr Oladiran Bello of the South African Institute of International Affairs told the M&G that the relationship between the two countries has ebbed and flowed in the past 20 years, with “irritants” on both sides.
“The current spat between authorities on both sides stems from the fact that South Africa announced hard figures while the Nigerian counterparts are saying we’ve spoken too soon, before facts have been established.”
But International Affairs Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane refused to point fingers or raise doubts about the strength of the diplomatic ties between the two countries when she spoke to journalists on Wednesday afternoon, saying the countries had to focus on the crisis at hand.
She did note, however, that South Africa had obtained its information primarily through its own sources.
“We do have a consul general office in Lagos, so that is where we were getting information from the time the building collapsed and we had to work with Nigerian authorities,” she said.
Diplomatic relations
She would not respond to questions about when exactly Nigeria had first contacted South Africa about the incident.
But Bello said the diplomatic relationship between the two countries will recover.
“It’s a relatively minor thing in the broader scheme of things between the two countries,” he said.
“There is a tendency for irritants to build up in this relationship, but the fundamentals and economic complements are such that they have to work together.” – Additional reporting by Andisiwe Makinana and Moshoeshoe Monare

Millionaire charismatic preacher an accomplished performer

Two days after the collapse of a six-storey hostel in Lagos housing followers of Nigerian preacher TB Joshua, the famed prophet did not seem particularly shaken as he conducted a service at his colossal Synagogue Church of All Nations building. “Don’t be afraid. You are not the target. I am,” he told worshippers.
Joshua did not give full details of the accident and focused instead on a plane repeatedly flying low above the building an hour before its collapse and read out a message from a supposed Boko Haram would-be bomber seeking conversion.
Famous and controversial for performing ritualistic “miracle” healings, Joshua attracts a large South African following that has included visits from South African politicians such as Winnie Madkizela-Mandela and EFF leader Julius Malema, and the late Springbok rugby players Ruben Kruger and Wium Basson.
Stephen Hayes, a Pretoria-based missiologist, called Joshua a manifestation of the third wave of Pentecostalism (1980 to 2010), which he describes as neoPentecostalism. “[This wave] gathered people who were frustrated by the opposition to the charismatic renewal movement in the mainline churches,” he said in an email. “The main emphasis shifted away from speaking in tongues to healing and exorcism, and, in some instances, an emphasis on material prosperity.”
Nigerian sociologist of religion Asonzeh Ukah, from the University of Cape Town’s school of religion, described Lagos as the world capital of Pentecostalism.

TB Joshua is renowned for ‘miracle’ healings and has a large following among South Africans, including some celebrities.
In July this year, an article in the Economist declared that Pentecostal church attendance in Britain grew by 25% between 2008 and 2013, with 430 000 people attending West African and Brazilian Pentecostal churches. These have altered practices in traditional churches; the Anglican Church in England now does outdoor baptisms.
In 2011, Joshua was third on the Forbes list of Nigeria’s five richest pastors, whose net worth was estimated at close to $15-million.
Joshua cannot be understood as a Christian enterprise, said Ukah. “He has improved as a performer from when he started many years ago [he started his ministry in 1989],” said Ukah. “In the early Nineties, his performance could be characterised as that of a magician, an entertainer in the mould of popular street performers. He has refined his practice. Now he can speak for a long time in fairly good English. In the early Nineties he could not preach a sermon because he couldn’t speak English. But he remains controversial in his mode of practice. He does not have a theology.”
Ironically, it was pressure from the fellowship that allowed Joshua to flourish even further and set up Emmanuel TV. On April 30 2004, a law by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) came into effect, making it illegal to broadcast material containing the performance of miracles that have not been verified before the broadcast.
“It was instigated by the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, with the NBC acting as a gatekeeper,” said Ukah. “[The president at the time, Olesugun] Obasanjo saw himself as a Pentecostal pastor. He fraternised with Pentecostal pastors and moved from church to church. The law forced TB to set up Emmanuel TV [which operates out of Johannesburg].”

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