Protests were reignited on Saturday evening at the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church run by charismatic preacher Shepherd Bushiri in Pretoria West. Picture: ANA/Jonisayi Maromo

Pretoria - The local SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) in Pretoria West on Monday accused the police of conspiring with the Shepherd Bushiri-led Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) to brutalise the community activists who have been demonstrating at the church premises.

"Things turned nasty for us after Bushiri's lawyer, [Terrence] Baloyi turned up and had a chat with the police. He had a word with them and left. That is when things turned sour for us. We believe Mr Baloyi gave the police an instruction of some sort ... he came to where we were protesting, driving a BMW X5. We have the car registration and pictures of him talking to the police," said local Sanco chairperson Gopolang Makobe.

"The police shot our people in a public area. Five of our guys were hurt and three of them have been shot. Others were injured while running from the police. Three of our guys were arrested and they are in police cells as we speak."

On Friday, Makobe told African News Agency (ANA) that the protesters were seeking an audience with the ECG church, and the City of Tshwane officials over the "monopolisation" of the Pretoria showground by the ECG.

On Monday, however, Makobe said the dialogue had not gone as planned.

"The church turned around and started saying we are xenophobic. Those statements were made by Bushiri's lawyer, Mr Baloyi. He told Umhlobo Wenene FM and Ukhozi FM that they are not looking at sitting down and discussing this thing with us. Now we are not interested as well to sit and talk with him [Baloyi]. We only want his boss now, and Tshwane," said Makobe.

ECG external media relations manager, Maynard Manyowa, told ANA that allegations that the church was influencing police were unfounded.

"Regarding any protester's conflict with the police, that is purely a matter of law enforcement. If anyone was brutalised as they claim, they should engage with police on that matter. You cannot picket outside a building, blocking traffic on a busy street, burning tyres, destroying property and then expect [the] police to standby and watch," said Manyowa.

"Police have the authority to use force to stop criminal activity and we, as ECG, have nothing to do with that. We have zero influence over the police, and neither do we have the capacity to influence them."

A community member, Sello Mangwane said his peers had been "brutalised" for protesting.

"If the church approaches this matter with such arrogance, then we also take them on with arrogance. We, as the youth, are saying we want the showground to be used for recreational activities as it was meant. Now we are not even permitted to enter that place. When we protest, we get beaten up by the police," said Mangwane.

"This battle is not yet over. No one is coming to us, to address the youth of this community. We want our venue back from Bushiri. That showground is in our ward and it must be open to all of us. Now we cannot even use that street when the church is operating because of the massive congestion."

The group of Pretoria residents have been protesting outside the ECG since Friday, at times blocking the busy WF Nkomo Street with burning tyres.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) said it was investigating the December 28, death of three women congregants at the ECG premises. The women died in an apparent stampede.

"According to them, [ECG] when the rain started [on Friday evening] the congregation started to push each other and a stampede occurred, unfortunately leading to three deaths and nine injuries," Pretoria police spokeswoman Captain Augustinah Selepe said at the time.

On Sunday, the SAPS released the names of the three deceased women Nondumiso Patricia Pringane, Matshila Sarah Mohlala, and Lehlogaholo Maria Segodi.

A case of defeating the ends of justice has been opened, relating to the removal of the bodies from the church premises. 

SAPS Gauteng spokesman Lieutenant Kay Makhubela said the investigation was now at a "sensitive stage".

African News Agency (ANA)