Johannesburg – Shepherd Bushiri's Enlightened Christian Gathering Church (ECG) church will resume church services in the Tshwane Events Centre, where three congregants died in an apparent stampede, this weekend, his spokesman said on Friday.
“The information on my desk is that the first service is supposed to be on the 3rd of February. We didn’t hold services because we took our normal fortnight break [after the December 31 crossover service], and after that, we decided to extend with a seven-day period of mourning in memory of the members that we lost in our church.
"That period expired last Sunday so we expect that this Sunday we should be having church services,” Bushiri’s spokesman Maynard Manyowa told journalists at the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CLR) Rights Commission in Johannesburg.
This follows after the commission cleared Bushiri of wrongdoing, concluding that a service on December 28 in which three congregants died had been held in compliance with the relevant laws and by-laws and that the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Tshwane municipality had both failed in their mandate and duties.
Manyowa said the ECG leadership welcomed the findings released on Friday.
“We welcome their findings, although we are still studying the report. At this point as a church, we are still busy and occupied … we are trying to engage the families, trying to find out what compensation package would greatly assist and suit them. We have met with two of the families. We are still banking on the CRL to assist us in breaking the deadlock with the one remaining family,” he said.
“We are also hoping that the CRL will continue to assist us with Sanco. We believe Sanco are our brothers. We believe we exist in a community that is part of their constituency, so we still want to engage Sanco and to appeal to them. We have other grievances, other challenges as a church and we hope that we can engage Sanco and they can assist us.”
The fatal stampede happened during a heavy rainstorm as congregants ran for shelter. At least 17 other congregants were injured.
The three deceased women were identified as Patricia Pringane, Matshila Sarah Mohlala and Lehlogahlo Maria Segodi.
In the aftermath, the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) led protests at ECG, with community members calling for the church to be expelled from the Pretoria showgrounds forthwith, and for Bushiri to be deported back to Malawi.
The commission said on Friday: “Part of our findings is that SAPS did not adhere to the [Safety at Sports and Recreation Events] Act, which then makes it a very difficult situation. In terms of what happened to the bodies, who moved the bodies, we are all waiting for the police to tell us who did what and who did not do what.
"They are the experts in this matter, but the church has given us their version. We are waiting for the police’s version,” the chairwoman of the commission Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva told reporters in Johannesburg.
“The City [Tshwane] does not have a version because they were not there. They were supposed to be there [at the church service], but they were not there. They don’t have a version. Their people who were supposed to be there were on leave. No one from the City can give us any direction. So the City and the SAPS are in the same situation -- you were supposed to be there, you were not there, so you can't tell anyone what happened.”
She said the only version currently on the table is that of the ECG church “because the church was there”.
The SAPS is investigating a case of defeating the ends of justice, relating to the removal of the bodies from the scene. The investigation was said to be at a sensitive stage.
African News Agency (ANA)