The Star has established that crime intelligence discovered that some police officers in Engcobo were to be “individually killed” at their homes by the gang.
But their plan was aborted on Friday night when the task team - activated by national commissioner General Khehla Sitole - shot dead seven of the gang’s 20 members, who had murdered five police officers and a retired soldier on Wednesday.
The gang members, who the police said were the first to open fire on officers, were shot dead on the premises of the controversial Mancoba Seven Angels Ministries Church in Nyanga, about 3km from the police station where the officers were massacred.
A day after the bloodbath, some officers fled their homes, fearing further attacks on their lives.
An Engcobo landlord said their tenant, who is a detective, fled his flat after fearing for his life.
“He told me they had received information that further attacks on them had been planned. He said he feared being killed at night in his flat,” the landlord said.
Provincial police spokesperson Captain Khaya Tonjeni said trauma counselling for police officers was being offered through the SAPS’s employee health and wellness programme.
In a televised interview on Sunday, Mancoba Seven Angels Ministries Church leader Banele Mancoba said he had heard that his brother Thandazile was involved in the massacre at Engcobo police station. Thandazile was among the gang members shot dead by the police on the church’s premises.
Some gang members are reportedly still on the run.
The slain gang members were: Mhlazane Mfazwe, Siyasanga Mfazwe, Xolisa Mancoba, Michael Mancoba, Thandazile Mancoba and Loyiso Dlambulo. The seventh one is known only as Luzuko.
Eastern Cape Community Safety and Liaison MEC Weziwe Tikana said the number of members working night shift at Engcobo police station would go up from 10 to 15.
Sitole said the station would be upgraded after they discovered it was missing some key safety aspects, such as CCTV cameras.
Details of the funerals for the slain officers would be announced at a memorial service at the Methodist Church in Engcobo on Tuesday.
The massacre has triggered a campaign to outlaw religious cults and bogus churches.
A constitutional body is “gunning” for bogus churches by approaching the Constitutional Court to force Parliament to establish a structure to regulate religious practices.
Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, the chairperson of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission), a Chapter 9 institution in terms of the constitution, is pushing for tough action.
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva was reacting to Wednesday’s execution-style killings of police officers by members of the suspected religious cult, who have also been accused of keeping girls as sex slaves.
The assailants made off with 10 firearms and a police van, all of which have since been recovered.
On Friday, a multidisciplinary force comprising elite law enforcement units killed seven suspects at the Mancoba Seven Angels Ministries, where the alleged killers were being harboured.
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula labelled it a “satanic church”.
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said the CRL Rights Commission approached Parliament last year to establish a “peer-review body” for the religious sector with appropriate legislation to regulate the religious sector.
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said the regulations were intended to weed out what the commission believes to be errant religious institutions, such as the Engcobo church.
The church was one of the bodies investigated in 2016 by the CRL Rights Commission’s hearings into the commercialisation of religion and the abuse of people’s belief systems.
A report was released last year on the hearings, where the commission advocated for a body akin to an ombudsman’s office for religion.
DA MP and member of the portfolio committee on co-operative governance and traditional affairs Kevin Mileham said the massacre was a criminal matter and not a religious one.
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said Parliament’s decision was disappointing, and the commission would be approaching a higher body to settle the matter.
“We have canvassed our proposals with constitutional experts. If Parliament feels that our proposals are constitutional, then we need a superior body that’s going to help us determine how this matter ends,” she said.
Mkhwanazi-Xaluva wants the court papers filed within the next month or two.
On Sunday, Parliament chastised Mkhwanazi-Xaluva for saying the Engcobo deaths should be blamed on Parliament. Spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said Parliament would at an appropriate time engage her in this regard.
Mbalula ordered the closure of “this satanic place masquerading as a church” on Friday. The people living there were taken to places of safety, including the more than 100 alleged “sex slaves”, the youngest of whom was 12 years old.
Last year, the police rescued 21 children from the church because they didn’t attend school.
The church was established in 1986 by Siphiwo Mancoba.
The 10 suspects were expected to appear in the Engcobo Magistrate’s Court on Monday.