Johannesburg - Nigerian preacher TB Joshua has invited to Lagos the bereaved families of the South African victims of a fatal church building collapse for a trip of "spiritual and emotional support", a spokesman said Tuesday.
A guesthouse for foreign followers of the pastor and televangelist Temitope Balogun Joshua, commonly known as TB Joshua, collapsed on September 12 killing 116 people including 81 South Africans.
Remains of 74 of the South African victims were repatriated home two months later and 11 more remained behind awaiting DNA identification.
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"The healing process is continuous but it was very important that the families be part of the year-end candlelight service, it's spiritual and emotional support," the church's spokesman in South Africa Kirsten Nematandani told AFP.
He said TB Joshua, who "has continuously supported the families", will interact with them throughout the trip. "This is about the spirit of caring."
Forty-four of the 74 families have taken up the offer for the all-expenses-paid, week-long trip starting on Christmas Day.
The rest are unable to travel because of lack of travel documents or prior commitments, said Nematandani.
Families of the 11 outstanding victims will be invited after the remains are sent back to South Africa, he said.
Some South Africans took to social media, suggesting that the trip was a bribe for the families not to launch any legal action against Joshua.
"This is a preemptive strike against any possible lawsuit," tweeted @Nothibi-Phosa.
But Nematandani dismissed such claims saying the relatives were going to the church to "pray" and not to talk about litigation.
Joshua, a self-proclaimed prophet, has said the collapse in September may have been sabotage and has on three occasions ignored summonses to testify before an ongoing coroner's inquest into the incident.
His lawyers are attempting to stop the investigation, arguing the coroner has exceeded his powers to call Joshua as a witness.
Nematandani said TB Joshua "has never been above the law, he respects the law".
The preacher's followers include influential politicians and business people from around Africa and the world, and his loyalists have suggested the collapse is part of a conspiracy to undermine him.