Lagos – Lying in the rubble of the guesthouse, only able to tell if it was night or day through a tiny crack, Lindiwe Ndwandwe heard the screams of others beneath the debris slowly turn silent.
For five days the 33-year-old was trapped inside a toilet next to the dining hall of the collapsed Synagogue Church of All Nations, breathing only through a small hole in the wreckage.
In the end, she was forced to drink her own urine to survive.
“It’s like a dream to me that really, it’s me that came out from here,” the South African told media on Saturday as she surveyed the remains of the church in the Nigerian city of Lagos.
“I don’t believe it. The tears that I cry, it’s because I don’t believe.”
A total of 86 people were killed and dozens more left trapped when the guesthouse attached to the church run by Nigerian preacher TB Joshuacollapsed on 12 September.
Class action against the church
At least 350 South Africans were thought to be visiting the church in the Ikotun neighbourhood of the megacity of Lagos when the three-storey building came down during construction work.
Joshua, one of Nigeria’s best-known evangelical preachers, on Sunday pledged to go to South Africa to meet survivors and their families.
Known by followers across the world as “The Prophet” or “The Man of God”, Joshua claims to work miracles, including raising people from the dead, healing the sick and foreseeing disasters.
He observed a minute of silence at his weekly morning service, and said he would “be travelling to South Africa to meet people from South Africa and other nations… in memory of martyrs of faith”.
But South Africa’s largest opposition party on Sunday said it will push the government to launch a class action against the church, where 84 of its nationals lost their lives.
Democratic Alliance shadow foreign minister Stevens Mokgalapa said the fact that rescue workers complained that staff at the church had impeded their work in the immediate aftermath of the disaster meant there could be cause for legal action.
“The DA believes that there is now enough evidence for the South African government to, at the very least, explore the possibility of a class action suit against the [church] on behalf of the affected families,” Mokgalapa said in a statement.
“It stands to reason that the church and its members may be criminally liable for the death of a number of South Africans who could have been rescued from the rubble if rescue work was speedily permitted.”
Jeff Radebe, a South African minister in charge of Pretoria’s response to the disaster, told reporters on Sunday that a specially-equipped plane was ready to evacuate 26 wounded nationals, including three children.
He said 16 of the group were critically injured.
“The aircraft is fully equipped and staffed by a medical team, including specialised surgeons, to treat the injured for the 10-hour flight,” he added.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan visited the church on Saturday and promised to investigate the cause of the tragedy.
He said he would hold talks with stakeholders in the construction industry on how to prevent such a thing happening again, expressing his condolences to South African President Jacob Zuma.