The locked gates at the Shepherd Bushiri’s Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church located at the Tshwane Events Centre. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Pretoria - The planned grand opening service of Shepherd Bushiri's Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church - the first service of 2019 which had been scheduled for Sunday - has been postponed to an unannounced future date.

A memo titled "important message", seen by the African News Agency (ANA), informs the multitude of ECG members that the 2019 open doors grand entrance service would not happen this Sunday as planned.

"The Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church international would like to inform all its national office [bearers], branch leaders, all stewards, church members, followers, and visitors that our 2019 open doors grand entrance service, which was scheduled for this Sunday, the 20th of January 2019, is hereby postponed, [and a] new date will be announced shortly..." reads part of the message.

"This message applies to all the branches - no services until announced..." it said.

Three women were killed in a stampede at the ECG church during a service on December 28. Nine other congregants were injured as they ran for shelter during a heavy rainstorm. The 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.

On Sunday, ECG spokesperson Maynard Manyowa said the highly popular church would open its doors "when we are ready".

"The church, from today [Sunday], has declared seven days of prayer and fasting. When we are ready we will open. The rest regarding everything is being handled by CRL commision," the church said in a brief response.

Sanco, however, said it would be improper for ECG to resume its services at the Pretoria showgrounds "without addressing matters being raised by the community".

"It [the church] cannot be open while we are still under discussion. When they are to open we must make a press release, all of us, to say we have reached consensus as stakeholders. The South African Council of Churches should be part, and all the stakeholders. Those premises belong to the community, it's a public building," said Mashishi. 

"Those premises need to be handed back to the community. If Bushiri wants to practice or to do whatever, he can find another premises. But we are still under this discussion. We have to agree on the issue of the compensation to the families [of the deceased trio] then we will say there is no reason to fight any longer."

Mashishi emphasised that Sanco's stance should not be construed as the organisation fighting a fellow African. "We are not fighting him personally. We are fighting the manner in which he has conducted himself on removing our dead bodies," said Mashishi.

The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities (CRL commission) has initiated a mediation process between ECG and Sanco. 

The South African Police Service (SAPS) is investigating the circumstances around the death of the three congregants. A case of defeating the ends of justice has been opened, relating to the removal of the bodies from the church premises.

African News Agency (ANA)