I told God that I did not want to die: girl, 11, on KZN church collapse

21 April 2019 - 00:00 By ORRIN SINGH
Forensic investigators access the wall on the eastern side of the largest building on the premises of the Pentecostal Holiness Church in northern KZN which caved in on Thursday April 18, 2019 killing 13 people
Forensic investigators access the wall on the eastern side of the largest building on the premises of the Pentecostal Holiness Church in northern KZN which caved in on Thursday April 18, 2019 killing 13 people
Image: Orrin Singh

When the wall collapsed and the wailing started, 11-year-old S'bani Phiri spoke to God from under a heap of rubble.

"I started praying. I told God that I did not want to die and I asked him to please save everyone," the grade 8 pupil said hours after surviving Thursday night's storm disaster at a KwaZulu-Natal church in which 13 people were killed.

Speaking from her hospital bed in Empangeni, S'bani said hundreds of worshippers attended a Passover service at the Pentecostal Holiness Church, in Dlangubo, before men and women retired to separate buildings at about 10pm.

The storm began with drizzle, then thunder and lightning, said S'bani, an orphan who lives with her grandmother, Peggy Ndabandaba, in Empangeni.

"Then it started to hail," she said.

Part of the roof blew off and S'bani joined a stampede towards the middle of the building. "I bent down, I can't remember why, but as I did a massive window came flying straight towards me and hit me at the back of the head. I fell flat onto my face," she said.

I started praying. I told God that I did not want to die and I asked him to please save everyone
11-year-old S'bani Phiri.

Before she could stand up, hundreds of bricks came toppling down from a retaining wall on the east of the building, crushing her and at least 50 women. "I cried and cried but then I started to pray as I heard the screams from the other ladies," said S'bani.

A male congregant dug her out and a woman carried the schoolgirl to safety. "I got onto her back and she took me to the pastor's house where we waited for help," she said.

S'bani had a broken pelvis, and was among five people taken to hospital. Eleven more were treated for minor injuries.

Her grandmother said she had almost reached home after dropping S'bani at the church when she got a call about the tragedy.

"I turned around and drove back, praying the whole time. When I got to the site, I couldn't believe what I saw and that my granddaughter, despite her injuries, was alive. God definitely has a plan for her. It's really a miracle," said Ndabandaba.

Mbongeni Langa, 38, drove to the church from Durban on Friday with his sisters and niece after hearing that his 71-year-old mother, Alta Langa, had died.

"She came to the church on Thursday. She called me that day and asked if I was coming home for Easter. I told her that I was working - I regret that decision," said Langa.

KwaZulu-Natal premier Willies Mchunu has called for a probe by police and provincial authorities.

- Additional reporting by Lwandile Bhengu


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