Nkosi-Malobane calls for immediate arrests for deaths at Bushiri’s church
Gauteng community safety MEC Sizakele Nkosi-Malobane on Wednesday called for the prosecution of those who removed the bodies of three congregants from the church of Prophet Shepherd Bushiri following a stampede in December last year.
She said the church needed to account for reportedly transporting the bodies to a private mortuary without the knowledge of the police, adding that she believed there was a case of defeating the ends of justice that needed to be answered to.
Nkosi-Malobane’s call comes amid an ongoing probe and an anticipated report to be released by the CRL (Cultural, Religious and Linguistic) Rights Commission following hearings it held this week into how the deaths occurred.
“While as South Africans we subscribe to the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, I am of the view that charges can be leveled immediately against suspects or organisers [of the church service] for defeating the ends of justice without having to rely on the outcomes of the hearing,” said Nkosi-Malobane.
She said she was expecting a report from the acting provincial police commissioner, Major-General Max Masha, which would form the basis of her discussion with law enforcement agencies and the National Prosecuting Authority.
“I have written to Major-General Masha to provide my office with information pertaining to this case. Some of the issues raised in the letter include being updated as to whether any person [or] persons have been arrested and charged for interfering with the scene, as well as the removal of the deceased bodies before the police attended the scene, in accordance with the provisions of the South African Police Service Act 68 of 1995,” she said.
“I also want to know whether the provisions of the Public Gatherings Act 205 of 1993 had been fully complied with and whether any additional charges are being contemplated in this regard.”
Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga appeared before the commission on Tuesday, when he revealed that various safety regulations were flouted at the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church. This included the obstruction of escape doors, insufficient firefighting equipment, no emergency lights and no evacuation plans.
He said there was also a diesel trailer stored on the premises, while people sleeping and preparing food on the property posed a health hazard.
Explaining how the incident unfolded, Bushiri said the stampede was caused by people who wanted to enter one of the overflow halls used by the church to house extra congregants. He said people pushed through to enter into the hall out of panic as there was a heavy storm on the day.
Bushiri denied claims that his church had removed the bodies of the three congregants. "The church only came to know, through the media, that there was a case of bodies being moved from the church without the police and taken to the private mortuary," he said.
"We also further learnt that the SAPS had, based on that, opened a case of defeating the ends of justice against the church."
The commission noted that the deadly stampede had been followed by a number of claims, accusations, marches and demonstrations - including calls by the SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) for the church to be shut down.
Bushiri said the church conducted its own internal investigation after the incident, which led to the suspension of a Pretoria branch resident pastor.