Attempts to dismiss a protest by the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) against self-proclaimed Prophet Shepherd Bushiri’s Enlightened Christian Gathering Church as xenophobic are “utter nonsense”, and is an attempt at shifting the blame away from the pastor, the organisation says.
Three people died during a stampede at the service on December 28.
Police are investigating a case of defeating the ends of justice, News24 reported, after allegations that the incident was not immediately reported to the police.
The bodies of the deceased were allegedly taken from the scene to a private mortuary. The police were only told about the incident the following day.
It is believed that the stampede occurred when congregants stormed the church building to seek shelter during a thunderstorm.
On Friday, Pretoria residents threatened to prevent the church’s services from going ahead, and blockaded the entrance to the Pretoria showgrounds where the church is situated.
Pretoria Sanco regional secretary Portia Mokwena said Bushiri’s church should not be allowed to operate until he explained what happened.
Bushiri’s lawyer, Terence Baloyi told Eyewitness News on Saturday that this was a “xenophobic attack” by Sanco.
The deceased were reportedly buried on Saturday.
In a statement, Sanco’s Greater Tshwane Region said the church, through its lawyer, was trying to divert attention from the matter.
“We would like to dismiss such utterances as utter nonsense and just avoidance of accountability on the side of the church. We are also not surprised that the whole matter seeks to place prophet Bushiri as a victim, while the real victims were buried today.
“We are not shy to express our concerns that most foreign nationals who opened churches here are always jumping from one controversy into the other. As an organisation, we will confront the mushrooming of these churches and if needs be ensure they are closed down,” Sanco said.
The organisation raised concerns about problems at certain churches, where some congregants are known to sleep outside the church gates waiting for services to start, becoming victims of crime.
“We have also taken note in recent years with regards to the happenings in churches in this country, and particularly Tshwane. We have seen our people being fed snakes, made to drink petrol and women falling prey to pastors like the recent case of (Nigerian pastor Timothy) Omotoso.
“We have resolved as Sanco to pay attention and act decisively against such and in so doing we are not undermining freedom of religion, however, leaders must account and take full responsibility of any happenings in their places of worship.”
Sanco said its leadership will meet with religious leaders in Tshwane to discuss these “challenges”.
Sanco also said the City of Tshwane should take full responsibility about the safety and crowd control measures in place for the church.