Tempers flared outside rape accused Timothy Omotoso’s JDI church in Port Elizabeth as civil society groups and political parties protested. Picture: Raahil Sain/ANA

Port Elizabeth - Tempers flared outside rape accused Timothy Omotoso’s Jesus Dominion International (JDI) church in Port Elizabeth on Sunday as civil society groups and political parties protested, demanding a shutdown of the service. 

The church service in North End was suspended and congregants left the premises as angry protesters sang and demanded that the church shut down permanently.

The "Citizens In Unity" group included members of the African National Congress Youth League, ANC Women’s League, and Economic Freedom Fighters, as well as representatives of trade union federation the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) and the South African Students’ Congress (Sasco).

Police and metro police officers guarded the building and were engaged in a few scuffles with angry protesters. Congregants also clashed with protesters as police stepped in to defuse tense situations. ANC women's desk member Nomafa Sinetile pleaded with protesters to exercise discipline, but protesters demanded that the JDI branding with Omotoso’s face be removed from the building.

Most congregants remained inside the building and were said to be fearful of leaving. They eventually vacated the premises amid screaming protesters who shouted “We are not fighting, we are here to save you from people who pretend that they are God but are not! We don’t have a problem with you! Just save yourselves and leave! Run Omotoso run! Run for your lives!” 

ANCYL regional secretary Luyolo Nqakula said the protesting group had achieved its objective with the services being suspended on Sunday. He had engaged the church leadership earlier on Sunday, who were “arrogant”, and explicitly stated they had a right to congregate, he said. 

But Nqakula said feedback from the metro indicated that the zoning for this particular building was meant for business premises. “They came back with a response that the zoning for this premises is for a business meaning that a church can’t operate there,” said Nqakula. 

EFF regional spokesperson Luvuyo Ponase said the closure of Omotoso’s church was indefinite. "[The church] is within the CBD and in terms of zoning you can’t have a church in a business area, this is a business area. And thirdly and most importantly the closure is not for today’s [Sunday] service, it is indefinite. This church is not going to be opened again they have even agreed to remove that poster..."  

Citizens In Unity vowed to continue protest action and supporting rape survivors as the trial continued in the Port Elizabeth High Court, Ponase said. 

The Nigerian pastor faces 63 main charges and 34 alternative counts, including human trafficking, rape, sexual assault, racketeering, and conspiracy in aiding another person to commit sexual assault. 

His two alleged henchwomen, Lusanda Sulani and Zukiswa Sitho, are accused of recruiting girls from all over the country for purposes of sexual exploitation. The 58-year-old televangelist allegedly trafficked more than 30 girls and women from various branches of his church to a house in Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal, where he allegedly sexually exploited them.

African News Agency (ANA)