- Published on 24 September 2014
- Written by Chronicle
A DESPERATE Bulawayo woman who paid thousands of dollars to visit Nigeria seeking divine intervention for her hospitalised daughter will return home in a body bag – one of at least 115 people now confirmed to have died after the collapse of a church building owned by the controversial prophet, TB Joshua.
Yesterday, the family of Catherine Ndlovu, 40, accused TB Joshua and his church of erecting a "wall of lies" in the aftermath of the September 12 disaster, including insisting that the mum-of-two was unharmed and would be returning home.
"We called them [TB Joshua church] every day, asking where my sister was and they said she had boarded a plane back to South Africa and would be back on Sunday last week. We became suspicious when other Zimbabweans who had travelled to Nigeria came back via South Africa and she wasn't part of the group. It became clear they'd been lying to us and withholding information from us all along," Catherine's brother, Jabulani, said from the family home in Mpopoma.
Catherine becomes the second Zimbabwean to have died in the disaster after Greenwich Ndanga, the MDC-T chairman for Mashonaland West, was reported to be among the dead by his family.
At least 84 South Africans were killed and dozens trapped when the multi-storey guesthouse attached to TB Joshua's Synagogue Church of All Nations caved in, apparently after TB Joshua ordered the construction of additional floors without reinforcing the foundations.
He claims it was a conspiracy, insisting that a mysterious plane flew, four times, too close to the structure causing the collapse.
TB Joshua, who inspires an almost fanatical devotion from his thousands of followers around the world, who are drawn to his services by claims of miracle-working and prophecies, has offered to hold services in South Africa once every month, claiming that six out of every 10 visitors to Nigeria from Southern Africa are coming to his church.
But the youth wing of South Africa's ruling African National Congress yesterday demanded that he be denied a visa.
"TB Joshua should not be allowed to come to South Africa until we know what happened to our fellow countrymen at his church," ANC Youth League spokesperson Bandile Masuku said in a statement.
"We will engage with the department of international relations and co-operation to make sure they do not issue him with a South African visa."
Catherine's family said she left Zimbabwe on September 11, a day after her 19-year-old daughter – Prioress Tshuma – who has suffered from seizures since 2007, was admitted at Mpilo Central Hospital. She believed the seizures were caused by an evil spirit, and hoped TB Joshua would heal her.
It would have been just hours after she touched down in the Nigerian capital, Lagos, before her life was snuffed out by falling concrete blocks and cement dust – leaving a daughter in hospital and a nine-year-old school-going son, Progress Sibanda, both orphaned.
Their uncle, Jabulani, is still battling with a lot of questions – and he accuses the besieged church of attempting a clumsy cover up.
"When we heard news of the collapse, we feared the worst. There was no communication from the church until my cousin, who lives in South Africa, called them. They just put up a wall of lies and kept telling us she was safe. It would be only several days later that they confirmed our worst fears," he said.
But the family's hope of getting Catherine's body any time soon were immediately dashed after TB Joshua's aides asked them to provide a DNA sample for positive identification.
"We don't even know if that's true, and our only hope now is that our government can get to the bottom of this. Who knows how many other Zimbabweans have been kept in the dark about their relatives' fate?"
TB Joshua has been heavily criticized over his handling of the crisis, with aide workers saying they were prevented from accessing the disaster area for several days. The preacher rejected the lack of co-operation claims as "inaccurate".
"Contrary to this, we want to categorically state that the church has provided assistance when and where required and continues to do so: good Christians are good citizens," he said.
Since the disaster, at least two journalists have told how TB Joshua tried to bribe them to influence them to write positively about him.
Nigerian journalist Nicholas Ebekwe said TB Joshua handed out envelopes, each containing 50,000 Naira (R3,300 or US$330) to local journalists during a closed press conference. Ebekwe, who released a secret recording of TB Joshua offering the bribes, said he was surprised to see some of his colleagues take the money.
"What got me angry is we're talking about a tragedy, we're talking about a loss of over 100 lives. Now journalists don't have the conscience to report what is right."
South African investigative journalist and author, Jacques Pauw, also revealed that the preacher once tried to bribe his entire television crew. He said he accompanied the late Blue Bulls rugby player Wium Basson to Lagos for healing. Basson died in April 2001 aged 25.
"Basson was dying of liver cancer and while he was there, the prophet refused to pray for him. He obviously realised that it was going to be bad publicity for him and then he handed an envelope full of $100 notes to me and the sound person. We told him we couldn't accept it and he said it was a gift from God."
He said Joshua wasn't very forthcoming in the interview.
"It was difficult to find out where he comes from, how much money he has and how much power he wields. The church is also very suspicious because after we broadcast the documentary, there was a campaign against us in Nigeria. On their website, we were described as the disciples of the devil."
Pauw said he and his crew were incarcerated in his church for almost three weeks and not allowed to leave the compound.
"You aren't allowed to leave without the group you came with. These groups normally go for a week. You can't leave to go to a restaurant and the gates are locked."
TB Joshua founded the church in the late 1980s with only eight members and at the moment he has between 15,000 to 20,000 people who attend his sermons every Sunday in Lagos.