The majority of congregants killed when a wall collapsed at the Pentecostal Holiness Church in Dlangubo were women and a 13-year-old child, Minister of Labour Mildred Oliphant confirmed on Friday.
Oliphant on behalf of national government said it was a "devastating tragedy" that lives were lost in a church during a Passover service.
The incident is believed to have happened around 22:15 following a short prayer service.
"This happened as congregants were preparing to rest, when a large part of the front wall collapsed causing the traumatic disaster...
"It is even more devastating that the majority of the deceased are women and a child of 13 years. The norm according to Reverend Phiwayinkosi Sibiya, is that women sleep separately from males during the church service. The building whose wall collapsed would have served as a sleeping area for the female congregants."
She confirmed that preliminary information indicated that 13 people were killed, while 11 were taken to the Ngwelezane Clinic for minor treatment and a further five who were critically injured were admitted to Ngwelezane hospital.
Disaster management teams from Heatonville, just outside eMpangeni were dispatched to assist.
"We understand from the preliminary reports that this area [on Friday] experienced inclement weather conditions with heavy rainfall and violent storms," Oliphant said.
Delegation at the scene
A "high-powered delegation" from national and provincial government is attending the scene.
"We are here to conduct inspection and to provide comfort and support to the bishops, reverend, congregants and bereaved families that are directly affected by this unprecedented disaster. This horrific accident has underlined the need for communal support during these most trying times," Oliphant said.
"The government and municipalities will be working with the church and the families in an effort to mitigate the impact of this disaster. It is heartbreaking that the Easter holidays have commenced with such a catastrophe."