Ten years have passed since Princess Sibongile, the daughter of a South African woman known only as Sonny, died in the September 12, 2014, building collapse of the Synagogue Church of All Nations.
The mother revealed that her daughter was buried under the debris during the collapse in an interview with BBC Africa Eye for a three-part series titled “Disciples: The Cult of TB Joshua.”
Sonny stated that after learning of the numerous miracles carried out by the late Prophet Temitope Joshua (TB Joshua), her daughter made the decision to travel to Nigeria.
She said, “My daughter Sibongile Princess, died on her first trip to the synagogue. She was looking forward to being there just like everyone that you see on TV. She still has her favourite teddy bear in her room, which she had asked her siblings to keep for her. She was such a perfectionist.
“We all saw the miracles every day on television and we thought that this could only be the hand of God.
“However, on September 12, when I heard the news of the collapse, I tried to call my daughter, tried to send an SMS but there was no response. That was when I could not breathe. I could not sleep.”
The mother said she waited for days to get a call from the church on her daughter’s safety but got none till after five days.
“I waited for days for a phone call to tell me of my daughter’s whereabouts. The next Sunday, TB Joshua came on a live service and said there was a bombing.
“On television, they were showing us that the building had been bombed and showing this aircraft.
“I heard from SCOAN after five days and they told me that they were afraid that my daughter did not make it. My daughter died in a place where I thought it was safe. Because the Bible says, ‘Bring your child in the way of the lord,’ I always made sure that my children were always in church. I did not know I was taking them to church to be killed. That part was one I was not expecting. My daughter was buried alive,” she said.
Sonny’s son, Lwandle, also speaking, said his sister, fondly called Phumzile, was the golden child of the family.
“She was injured when she was at work. She had a back problem at work. She couldn’t get any assistance. Somebody referred her to this church in Nigeria, promising all these miracles and whatever.
“There were all these news flashes coming in that this church building had collapsed with South Africans inside and they did not have any details and the whole family was panicking. When we asked for information, they could not give us anything concrete. We were only asked to wait and pray. How?
“A delegation from the church came and pronounced that my sister had passed on. I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to her,” he said.
According to HowNG, the six-story structure collapsed on September 12, 2014, killing at least 116 worshipers—mostly South Africans—who were seated on the ground floor for lunch.
When Babatunde Fashola, the then-governor of Lagos State, arrived on the site, he ordered all church employees to leave so that trapped bodies could be appropriately rescued.
Additionally, the government asserted that prior to construction, the church did not receive government approval.
A few days later, though, Prophet Joshua made an appearance on a live broadcast and stated that the building had collapsed because of an unusual aircraft that had “hovered” over it for hours earlier.
That same day, a video that appeared to be of a plane flying about the building was released and posted on YouTube.
Joshua was deemed “criminally liable” for the fatalities in the coroner’s findings, which determined that structural failure was the cause of the deaths.
After examining the site, three government organizations—the Building Collapse Prevention Guild, the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, and the Nigeria Building and Road Research Institute—discovered a number of shortcomings.
Part of the report read, “Inadequate beams of 750mm by 225mm (should have been 900mm by 300mm) were used.
“Inadequately reinforced columns (should have been reinforced with 12 x Y25 bars or 20 x Y20mm bars. Instead, they used 10 x Y20 bars (as seen in the video released by SCOAN) were also used.
“Other structural failures include inadequate bearing pressure for the central column due to the 2m x 2m x 0.9m foundations; failure to introduce rigid zones for bracing the structure and did not design the frames as an unbraced structure; failure to provide movement joints that could have absorbed any movement due to creep, contraction, expansion and differential settlement etcetera; and eight out of the 12 main beams of the structure failed because they were undersized, under-reinforced (both in tension and shear), the tension bars were poorly anchored to the column supports and 8 x Y20 was used instead of 14 x Y20.”
However, Joshua failed to appear at a November 2015 hearing and the church lawyers were said to have filed multiple applications to stay the proceedings.
Until Joshua’s death on June 5, 2021, he was not prosecuted.