70 bodies have been recovered from the rubble of a collapsed church building in Lagos, however, according to Nigerian officials, they remain unidentified.

South African President Jacob Zuma said last night that at least 67 of his compatriots had died in Friday's accident at the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Nigeria, describing it as one of the worst tragedies in his country's recent history.

Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), however, said it was too early to know how many South Africans had been killed in the collapse.

Speaking to Reuters news agency NEMA spokesman Ibrahim Farinloye said: "The president (Zuma) is not in Nigeria. We are working on what we have.

"The church management up until now has not estimated or given us any list of people trapped, so we are just working on blind guesswork until we get to the last rubble."

Mr. Farinloye added that 131 people had been rescued alive.

The collapse occurred when three extra stories were being added to the existing two of a guest house of the church compound, where visitors from abroad come to stay.

The Lagos Pentecostal church is led by the charismatic T.B. Joshua, whose followers describe him as a prophet.

The church attracts a global following of Christians who believe Joshua is able to perform miracles, including curing the ill and raising the dead from the grave.

The regular influx of visitors from abroad for the church's services, which can last up to a week, creates demand for accommodation that the church's own guest house has been unable to meet, and often spills over into local hotels.

Several African leaders have travelled to Nigeria to meet with spiritual healer Joshua, including former Malawian President Joyce Banda and Julius Malema, the leader of South Africa's ultra-leftist opposition Economic Freedom Fighters.

Church members initially prevented emergency officials from participating in the rescue, making it difficult to establish death and injury tolls.

South Africa described the search and rescue operation as "very fluid", but defended its count of 67 dead, saying it was based on records and information on the ground from five tour groups that had arranged for South African worshippers to go to Lagos.
"This number is based on credible information," South African foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said.

Last night Zuma told the SABC national broadcaster that an unknown number of South Africans were "not yet accounted for" and that the nation needed to "grieve together".

Spokesman Mac Maharaj later said the government believed around 300 South Africans from four to five groups were visiting the church on Friday but it was not clear how many were on the spot when the building collapsed.

"It's a very popular church with South Africans," Maharaj said.

South Africa and Nigeria share strong business and diplomatic ties but have had occasional quarrels in the past, notably when South Africa deported 125 Nigerians in 2012 over suspicions their yellow fever certificates were fake.

Nigeria responded by briefly refusing South African residents entry and branding the country xenophobic.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation and overtook South Africa as the continent's largest economy this year, heightening rivalry between the two countries.