Cape Town - Police Minister Fikile Mbalula on Saturday shut down a controversial church which is believed to have harboured about 20 heavily armed criminals who were involved in the deadly shooting of police in the Eastern Cape town of Ngcobo on Wednesday.
The gang, which killed five police officers and a retired soldier, had been hiding out at the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministries church in Nyanga, about 3km from the Ngcobo police station where the police officers were killed.
After the deadly shooting at the police station on Wednesday, the bodies of two police officers were found near Nyanga Senior Secondary School, about 200m from the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministries Church.
Ngcobo residents said the church leaders were no strangers to controversy, having been exposed two years ago as not allowing congregants to live anywhere except on the church’s premises.
Children of the church’s congregants were said to not be allowed to go to school, nor were congregants allowed to visit their families without the consent of church leaders.
Eastern Cape Safety and Liaison MEC Weziwe Tikana disclosed on Saturday that the children of the congregants did not have birth certificates.
On Friday night, police received a tip-off that the gang members who gunned down police officers in Ngcobo were being housed at the church.
It was just after 8:30pm that the task team, activated by the national police commissioner, General Khehla John Sitole, arrived at the church.
When the police task team members enquired about the church leaders, gunmen opened fire on them, wounding a police officer.
The task team members returned fire.
Seven gang members were killed and three wounded. Ten were arrested.
The wounded are being treated at Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha under police guard.
After the exchange of gunfire at the church, police recovered all of the weapons stolen from the Ngcobo police station during the shooting on Wednesday.
On Saturday, Ngcobo residents threatened to burn down the church. They say it has housed criminals for years.
“Our livestock was being stolen and slaughtered at this church,” said a neighbour who heard the gunshots on Friday night."
“We have been on record saying this church needs to close down. But we have had no assistance from the powers that be."
“When I heard the gunshots I immediately took cover and got all my children to hide themselves."
“The noise of the guns was horrifying,” the neighbour said.
Police said congregants of the church had been taken to a place of safety and would be relocated to their families in due course.
Mbalula on Saturday slammed the church leaders and said police had discovered links with a criminal syndicate operating across the country.
“This is a satanic church with a criminal syndicate. We will close it down,” the police minister said.
Mbalula appealed to Ngcobo community members to not burn it down.
He praised the police task team members involved in the operation, saying they deserved to be honoured.
Sitole said a plan was in place to upgrade the Ngcobo police station with modern technology.
The police station does not even have a CCTV camera.
Plans for similar upgrades to other small police stations in the Eastern Cape and across the country were in the pipeline, he said.
A memorial service for the five slain police officers and the retired soldier will be held at the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Ngcobo on Tuesday.