Fourteen members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Zambia, most of them young, lost their lives after the banana boat they were traveling in on Lake Bangweulu, in the province of Luapula, capsized amid strong winds on March 31. According to press and Zambia government reports, the boat was carrying members of a church choir.
The Lusaka Times reported that in a statement, Member of Parliament Chushi Kasanda, who serves as Minister of Information and Media and chief government spokesperson, said the government was shocked due to the nature of the accident and the loss of so many lives.
“The pain of losing so many lives of young people in a single tragedy of this magnitude is unbearable,” Kasanda said in a long Facebook post on April 1. “Our hearts go out to the families of the missing and presumed dead. We share in their pain and grief.”
According to Kasanda, the boat was reportedly carrying 44 people from the Kashita area to Chishi Island. After the boat capsized, 30 people were immediately rescued from the waters, but the other 14 were initially missing. Eventually, military marines who assisted in the rescue operation managed to retrieve the 14 bodies from the waters.
The government, which is led by President Hakainde Hichilema, a Seventh-day Adventist church member, said it is providing the necessary transport and logistical support to the search and rescue team, Kasanda reported, adding that the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) in the Office of the Vice President has taken charge of the search and rescue operation.
“The government is doing everything possible to assist in the search and rescue operation,” Kasanda added. “We have deployed marines to comb the lake for any survivors and retrieve the missing bodies,” the Lusaka Times reported.
The newspaper also said that the government promised to provide coffins, food, and other logistical support for the bereaved families at this terrible moment. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the deceased and the [Seventh-day Adventist] Church,” Kasanda said.
According to the Lusaka Times, President Hichilema also shared an official release. “To all the bereaved families and the wider [Seventh-day Adventist] Church, please accept my government’s deepest condolences for the untimely death of your beloved ones,” he said. “As government, we sympathize with you, and we will ensure that the funeral expenses are covered.”
Northern Zambia Union Conference executive secretary Emmanuel Mwewa thanked the government on behalf of the Adventist Church for its support during the tragedy. “It would have been difficult for the church to handle the situation without the full involvement of the government; hence we will always remain grateful to the government for this gesture,” he said.
A mass funeral took place on April 2, according to Bernard Mpundu, Northern Province permanent secretary. “Recovering the bodies was possible thanks to the strong collaboration by marines, community members, and police,” Mpundu said. “The government is seeking to improve water transport services to avert similar losses of life in the future.”