From Guardian & Mail
and Sunday Times
, South African newspapers have come hard on the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), its pastor, Prophet T.B. Joshua, the federal and state governments and the rescue agencies. As far as they are concerned, the tragedy was handled with levity.
The Sunday Times, in a report titled ‘Blood on their hands’ said the management of the tragedy has been characterised by chaos, incompetence and lies.
South African Minister Jeff Radebe yesterday urged the Federal Government to investigate the “tragedy”. Radebe said 84 South Africans who were part of visiting church groups had died in the September 12 incident. He was speaking at an air force base north of Johannesburg where 25 South Africans who were injured returned for treatment.“As the first full picture of the horror of the Nigerian church collapse surfaces, South Africans are left wondering how many lives could have been saved if Pastor TB Joshua’s church and Nigerian authorities had co-operated fully in rescue attempts,” the newspaper said.
Other newspapers, such as The City Press, also carpeted the Synagogue church for not co-operating with rescue agencies.
Mail & Guardian on Sunday, however, said the rescue efforts later improved, but it was too late.
Said the newspaper: “Nigerian authorities and church members have made a U-turn on co-operating with South Africans at the collapsed guesthouse tragedy, following a diplomatic skirmish, which saw an entire week fritter away while vital efforts to save lives were blocked.
“A diplomatic source from South Africa confirmed that the Nigerian authorities have proven to be far more co-operative since Friday, a week after the devastating collapse that has seen the largest number of South Africans killed outside of the country since even the downing of the Helderberg airliner in 1987 which killed 71 South Africans.
“The stress on scarce skills in the field followed the shock decision by Nigerian authorities to turn down help from South Africa earlier in the week, including one of the continent’s best search and rescue teams.
“Search and Rescue South Africa was placed on standby by the department of international relations, Sunday Times reported, but by Sunday last week it was too late.
“Gift of the givers, a South African-based Islamic relief organisation, were initially blocked in their efforts to access mortuaries and hospitals in Lagos to find South African hurt and deceased South Africans.
“In addition, the crucial 24 hours after the collapse, when survivors could have been found in the rubble, was missed as information about the collapse was at a black-out with Nigerian authorities failing to communicate with their South African counterparts in time, and church staff and goers proving downright hostile.”
The paper said building collapses happen repeatedly in Nigeria “because of the use of substandard material and flouted construction regulations”.
Mail & Guardian added: “It is believed that the building was in the process of having additional stories added without first securing the foundations, although Joshua has blamed it on a mysterious attack, citing the appearance of an aircraft above the building shortly before the collapse.”
The South African Press Association, the country’s news agency, also did an unflattering profile of Prophet Joshua, which were run by some of the local newspapers. The profile said Joshua claims he has power to cure anything, from AIDS to cancer.
The papers also made a mince meat of Joshua’s wealth, quoting the Forbes’ list as their proof that he had made so much money from his work as a pastor. A report sought out a past visitor and got her to reveal that each person who came on her team of 150 paid R20,000 each to make the trip. The papers were, however, fair enough to give space to people who also had good words to say about Joshua and the church.
One of such is opposition leader Julius Malema. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader said: “I am in touch with the elders of the church. They are doing everything in their power to ensure that every individual that was there is accounted for and that the rescue mission continues.”
Malema said despite what happened, Joshua remains a great man, who should continue to inspire hope. He said he was at Synagogue for seven days, adding that at the time, no less than 16 000 people were in attendance at the church “and 50 per cent of those were from outside Africa”.
He said: “Yes, I was there to create friendship and take lessons from the prophet. He is my brother, we talk now and then. I also received spiritual guidance from him. The church is very big, he has a lot of followers. He receives people from all corners of the world, both rich and poor. They go there for different reasons and they all want to be blessed by the man of God.
“When I was there, I was treated very well. The hospitality is so amazing. The people who looked after us there did it with passion. They love what they are doing and they respect people. We also would like to say to the prophet that he should find strength during this difficult time. This is a testing time for him.
“He is a very good man. He inspires hope in hopeless people. We hope he will not be discouraged. He must continue to inspire hope and feed the children of God. When I went to his church, he never asked for a cent from me. TB Joshua never preached about money and he never insisted on having contributions for the church.”
Another report queried the theory by Joshua that the building came down after an attack by Boko Haram, saying that the collapse was most likely caused by not following the standard.
The papers also focused on South African prominent citizens who have visited Joshua for one reason or the other. The legendary Ms Winnie Madikizela-Mandela ranks among South African powerful figures who have bowed before Joshua. She was interviewed on Joshua’s Emmanuel Tv in 2011 after her visit and she had nice words for the church. Others include Springbok rugby players Joost van der Westhuizen, Ruben Kruger and Wium Basson, who died at his Pretoria home on April 21, 2001. He was 25. Basson, who played for the Blue Bulls, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Doctors could not do anything to help him and gave him a few weeks to live. He flew to Lagos, to consult Joshua. But, for some reason, he could not see Joshua after waiting for hours on a queue. He returned home and died almost immediately.
Kruger, who had a brain tumour, died in Pretoria in January 2010, after battling brain cancer for 10 years. His visit to Joshua could not save him.
An article by Jacques Pauw in City Press literally tore Joshua to pieces. Pauw had visited Synagogue once to do a documentary on the church and its pastor’s miracles. His findings did not support Joshua’s claims.
His words: “Ruben Kruger, a veteran of 36 tests in the green and gold, returned after a week in Nigeria and declared that a Pentecostal preacher he called the Prophet had healed his brain cancer.
“Temitope Balogun “TB” Joshua prayed for him in the Synagogue Church of All Nations compound while thousands of people sang, danced and wailed, Kruger said.
“As Joshua bent over him and implored the demon to be gone from his body, Kruger felt the tumour leaving him. He was cured, Joshua declared, handing him oil to rub on his head.
“I no longer have to drink my chemo pills,” Kruger said on his return. “You cannot describe the feeling to anyone who has not experienced it. It was an unbelievable – or should I say believable – experience.”
“The floodgates opened and the Prophet’s newest converts were white, mostly Afrikaans and relatively conservative. They swopped the NG and Hervormde churches for a Nigerian “turn-or-burn” approach to redemption.
“It took me some time to understand why the Afrikaner psyche found Joshua so irresistible. Why were they prepared to seek salvation in a country they perceived to be drowning in greed, political rot and economic decay?
“Christianity Nigerian-style was worlds apart from the chains and shackles of Calvinism. Joshua unchained them. He allowed them to worship with a gusto and fervour previously thought unseemly.
“That the new messiah was black and his church in Africa’s biggest and maddest metropolis only added to the allure.
“A year or two after Kruger returned from Lagos, I made the same journey. On the plane was another Springbok rugby player, 25-year-old lock Wium Basson, who was dying of liver cancer. He was accompanied by his mother, Cloeté Geldenhuys, and had to get special permission from SAA to make the journey.
“I was making a TV documentary and my challenge to Joshua was straightforward: allow me to film how you heal Basson. If you succeed, I promise I will show it to the world.
“When we arrived at Joshua’s compound, the TV team and I were in effect incarcerated. For two weeks, we were forbidden to leave the grounds.
“We were told we could not drink or smoke, and had to attend services and events with the pilgrims. While I stayed in a dormitory with other pilgrims, Wium and Cloeté set up camp in a private room.
“The church took away the young man’s morphine and pain pills. During our first interview, a softly spoken, affable Joshua said it would be easy to heal Wium because he had nothing but a “little sore” on his liver.
“At Sunday sermons, the afflicted lined up with placards stating what condition they needed healed. There were lines of people seeking a cure for HIV/Aids, cancer and heart conditions, business failures, wandering spouses and dull brains.
“A festive, almost joyous atmosphere filled the compound as churchgoers sang, clapped and danced. Evil spirits were cast out and those set free by the Prophet writhed in the dirt while vomiting out the demons.
“Joshua prayed for every person in the line and declared them all healed. He ordered them to stop using any medication and trust in God.
“Among the pilgrims was Capetonian John Rindel, who was suffering from full-blown Aids and already had dementia.
“He had arrived at the church several weeks before we did, was prayed for by Joshua and declared completely healed.
“He had stopped taking his medicine and showed remarkable improvement. Scientists refer to this as the “placebo effect” of faith healing. A patient can experience genuine pain relief and other symptomatic alleviation after being prayed for.
“The relief is short-lived and the patient soon returns to his original condition. The internet is filled with reports from organisations like the American Cancer Society and the British Medical Journal that found no evidence faith healing can cure physical ailments.
“On my request, Rindel agreed to go for two independent HIV/Aids tests when he returned to South Africa. Both showed he was still positive. He died a short while later.
“The BBC recently investigated the London branch of the church and reported that three women had died after being “healed” and told to stop taking their HIV/Aids medication.
“I challenged the pilgrims to provide me with medical proof that they had been healed. None did. Ruben Kruger died in 2010 just before his 40th birthday.
“And Wium Basson? Joshua never prayed for him. He said God had not sent him a message to do so. The young man left the church broken, disillusioned and at death’s door. He died a few days after returning to South Africa.
“Before I left the church, Joshua handed me, and the camera and sound people, thick envelopes full of hundred dollar notes. He wanted to be sure we’d produce a positive programme. We gave the envelopes back.
“A year or so after the programme aired – and generated a massive response from people who called us accusing Joshua of all sorts of misdeeds – the preacher produced a video of a 76-year-old South African man named Moses he said he’d brought back from the dead.
“Moses was among a group of South African pilgrims in Lagos when he had a heart attack in the dining room. Videos distributed around the world showed three pilgrims, one a doctor from Bloemfontein, trying to resuscitate Moses.
“They failed, the videos reported, and Moses was carried into another room. Joshua walked in, bent over him and commanded: “In the name of Jesus, rise!”
“Moses opened his eyes. It later emerged that Moses had been both alive and breathing when he was carried from the dining hall. He’d been resuscitated, not resurrected, and clever editing created a fake miracle.
“I understand the despair of terminally ill people and why they grasp at final straws. My father died of lung cancer and might well have made the journey to Lagos.
“I am just glad he is not here any more to become a victim of a ravenous tick that feasts on the blood of the ignorant, gullible and desperate.”
The South African media also granted space to many who have critical questions to ask about the tragedy. One of such is President of the Rhema Family Church and the co-chairman of the National Religious Leaders Council, Ray McCauley, who queried why information took late in coming.
He said: “We are in mourning and would not like to start pointing fingers. Be that as it may, we urge both our government and the Nigerian government to get to the bottom of this unfortunate incident so as to assist the families to bring closure to their pain by at least understanding what happened.”
Founder of Gift of Givers Imtiaz Sooliman also queried what he described as “the refusal of help by Nigeria”. He said his men were chased away from Synagogue when they tried to help. He said it was too late by the time officials started opening up to help from South Africa.
In all, the general opinion in South Africa, as portrayed by their media, is that the root of the matter should be determined. They obviously will be watching to see whether or not the matter will be swept under the carpet, like they claim Nigeria is used to.
With these loads of negative reports, what kind of reception awaits Joshua when he visits South Africa? He sure still has a large following, but the media will be waiting to pounce on him