Church robberies: 'Robbing congregants during time of worship has become norm'
An alleged lack of police intervention has also not helped fearful churchgoers, who say they are now struggling to worship in peace.
Earlier this week, four men walked into the Revelation Church of God in Govan Mbeki Street in central Port Elizabeth, and asked to see the pastor demanding that (one of them) be prayed for ahead of a pending court case.
According to reports, when the men could not get hold of the pastor, they demanded that a 26-year-old worshipper pray for the man, while the other three brought out knives and demanded a cellphone. No arrests have been made.
Several burglary and robbery incidents have been reported to SAPS, to no avail. “This causes us to fear even going to church or worshipping in peace,” a member of one church told Weekend Argus.
Earlier this week, two men sought refuge at the Salvation Army Church in Bonteheuwel where 40 congregants were gathered. It is alleged that the men were running from gunmen following ongoing shooting the night before.
The church gate was not closed, as more congregants were expected. It is said that the gang members took advantage of this and ran into the church - in front of which they routinely shoot at each other.
Though most incidents were reported to police, congregants said they feared “victimisation and torture” at the hands of local criminals should they report the robberies.
A victim at one of the three Anglican churches in Gugulethu told Weekend Argus she had identified one of the men who had entered their church during a service earlier this year during a Wednesday women’s cell group prayer meeting.
“The good thing about it is that there is no money on the premises on cell meeting days, but that does not mean individuals may not have some of their own.
“Not to mention cellphones, so it is a real problem. One of the people who came into our church is a boy who grew up around here, so you can imagine the horror of being robbed by a child you know. Never mind the fact that he is robbing you at a place where you are supposed to be free and safe,” she said.
The Grace Bible Church in Milnerton has also suffered great losses at the hands of thieves over the past 12 months. Though the last two incidents happened outside their church service times, these have led the church to beef up security.
Overseer Sam Masigo told Weekend Argus the church had had to “strengthen our existing relationships with crime- combating structures in the area, including the SAPS, neighbourhood watch, the armed response company and other stakeholders. We recognise that criminal incidents are a societal issue and that it will take collective efforts to deal with such.”
Zola May, secretary of the Langa Methodist Church, said their congregation was now fearful of attending church services as “robbing congregants during time of worship has become the norm”.
“Women can’t even carry their best handbags to church any more because one never knows what could happen. What is even more sad in our case is that we are directly opposite the police station but they (criminals) don’t seem to care about that,” she said.
May also told Weekend Argus that several break-ins at their church had seen them losing speakers, sound systems and pot plants.
In November last year, a number of church robberies hit many congregants hard. At one church in Philippi, robbers escaped with more than R30 000, cellphones and a laptop.
At about the same time, armed robbers, forced their way into the Century City Hillsong Church, where they held up and robbed staff.
Though churches remain under attack, police spokeswoman Noloyiso Rwexana confirmed that at least one arrest had been made.
“Please be advised that on January 15, a 52-year-old male suspect was arrested in Khayelitsha by Milnerton Serious and Violent Crimes Unit. The suspect is currently in prison and his next court appearance is on July 19.”
In 2017, Weekend Argus reported on a robbery at another church in Langa where criminals attacked the priest, leaving him with a broken nose and other injuries.
“We are not certain of what happened, but we suspect that Father Charles heard noises in the house and got up to inspect what was going on and was met by his attackers.
Police spokesman Lieutenant- Colonel Andrè Traut confirmed the incident but said no arrests had been made.
“This office can confirm that a robbery incident occurred in Ndabeni Street, Anthony Church, Langa. “A case of house robbery is being investigated,” said Traut.
The suspects allegedly first broke into the church building.
“They gained access through a small window and broke some doors to get into the church, but no losses in the church have been reported.
“We believe that after that, they tried to gain access to Father Charles’s house, where they tried to break in through the door but found that there is a security gate on the other side.
“We suspect that they then gained access through the roof and they stole some food, liquor, his laptop... and we are not sure what else.”