IPHC shooting case halted by coronavirus at Westonaria court
The court case of 41 people arrested in connection with an armed attack at the International Pentecost Holiness Church (IPHC) at the weekend did not proceed as planned on Wednesday.
The National Prosecuting Authority said this was because the Westonaria magistrate’s court where the group had been scheduled to appear was closed because a person employed at the court had tested positive for the coronavirus.
The court was closed for decontamination.
“The date for formal bail hearing is 22 July 2020,” said NPA spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane.
Five people were killed when armed gunmen stormed the church premises in Zuurbekom, west of Johannesburg on Saturday.
The shooting apparently stemmed from an ongoing leadership feud between sons of the late church leader, Glayton Modise, who died in 2016.
In the running to be Modise’s successor are his sons Tshepiso and Leonard Modise. A third man, Michael Sandlana, believed to be the late bishop’s son born out of wedlock, is also in the running.
The succession feud has reportedly resulted in the church being split into three, with congregants divided over who to follow.
Saturday's attack resulted in a bloodbath which ended with four burnt bodies.
Police had said “four men were found shot and burnt to death in a car while a fifth man — a security guard — was also fatally shot in his car while he was apparently attending to this complaint.”
Women and children were among those who were allegedly held captive by the gunmen. By the time calm was restored, 41 people — among them a police officer, soldier and lawyer — had been arrested by police on scene. Two other suspects who were injured remain in hospital under police guard.
Police minister Bheki Cele met with Leonard Modise after the shoot-out, saying he had been “briefed on the leadership battle currently playing out in the church over recent years, as well as their request for the intervention of law enforcement”.
Cele stressed that police would investigate all leads.
“We wish to find a way forward on this matter with all parties involved. The SA Police Service cannot be seen to be taking sides. We will not listen to just one side, but all sides — and enforce the law,” he said.
“The law will have to be on the side of the SAPS in order for us to do our work and prevent further bloodshed.”
The Gauteng provincial legislature’s portfolio committee on community safety expressed concern after the shooting, saying the incident points to “possible challenges in police crime intelligence, and ability to detect and prevent crimes of this nature before they occur”.
“Of great concern to the committee is allegations that among those arrested are members of SAPS, SANDF, JMPD and the department of correctional services, who should be protecting citizens against crime,” said committee chairperson Mapiti Matsena.
“This points to a possibility that the incident might have been well-orchestrated and co-ordinated and should have been detected and prevented — particularly if law enforcement officers were allegedly involved.”
After the incident on Saturday, police said they had seized 68 firearms — 17 rifles, 24 shotguns and 27 pistols — as well as over 330 rounds of ammunition, explosives and nine vehicles.
Those arrested are expected to also be charged with possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition. Four of the accused are also expected to be charged with the possession of explosives.
The committee said it wanted answers. “[We] will call both the MEC for community safety Ms Faith Mazibuko and provincial police commissioner Lt-Gen Elias Mawela to appear before [the committee] and give a detailed briefing on what transpired during the day in question,” it said.
“Noting the swift response by law enforcement officers in arresting suspects in this matter, the committee will expect both [Mazibuko and Mawela] to brief it on measures that will be put in place to strengthen crime intelligence, in ensuring that such incidents are detected and prevented before they occur.”
After the incident, national police commissioner Lt-Gen Khehla Sitole said: “I have embarked on a 'spiritual crime prevention concept' which involves the participation of all religious denominations in the fight against crime.
“It is rather unfortunate that such an incident takes place during a time when SA is being plagued by a deadly virus and violent crimes.”