KZN church wall collapsed on area ‘reserved for sleeping women’

19 April 2019 - 14:01 By MATTHEW SAVIDES
Thirteen people died when the wall of a church collapsed in heavy rain on Thursday night.
Thirteen people died when the wall of a church collapsed in heavy rain on Thursday night.
Image: Supplied

Labour minister Mildred Oliphant said on Friday that she was devastated by the deaths of 13 worshippers in KwaZulu-Natal, who died when a wall of their church collapsed shortly after 10pm on Thursday.

A further five people were critically injured and taken to hospital, while 11 others with minor injuries were treated at the Ngwelezane Clinic in Empangeni.

Speaking from the scene of the tragedy, Oliphant said: “It is with deep sadness that we have converged here to mourn the horrific incident that befell the Pentecostal Holiness Church on the eve of what was supposed to be a weekend of worship and spiritual revival.”

Outlining what might have happened, Oliphant said preliminary reports showed that “inclement weather conditions with heavy rainfall and violent storms” had hit Heaton Village area, just outside Empangeni in northern KZN.

“This happened as congregants were preparing to rest, when a large part of the front wall collapsed, causing the traumatic disaster. Most of the deceased church members come largely from three areas: six are from Ulundi, four from Esikhawini, and three from Maqhwakaza.

She added that it was normal, according to reverend Phiwayinkosi Sibiya, that women slept separately from men during the church service.

“The building whose wall collapsed would have served as a sleeping area for the female congregants,” said Oliphant.

“This is indeed a devastating tragedy, all the more that these lives were lost in a church during a Passover service. It is even more devastating that the majority of the deceased are women and a child of 13 years,” said Oliphant.

She said a “high-powered” government delegation, which included herself, Cooperative governance minister Zweli Mkhize, KZN health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and the mayors of the Zululand and King Cetshwayo district municipalities, would conduct an inspection and provide comfort.

“The government and municipalities will be working with the church and the families in an effort to mitigate the impact of this disaster. It is heartbreaking that the Easter holidays have commenced with such a catastrophe,” she said.

Meanwhile, EWN reported  that KZN premier Willies Mchunu had called for a full investigation into the collapse.

“These are unnecessary deaths that could have been avoided if we had taken the necessary precautions. We would like some kind of clarity through an investigation which is led by police and the relevant department, which is Cogta,” EWN quoted Mchunu’s spokesman, Thami Ngidi, as saying.