Protests outside the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church run by charismatic preacher Shepherd Bushiri in Pretoria West. Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/African News Agency (ANA)

Tshwane - Christians of South Africa (Cosa) on Thursday criticised the SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco) over its attacks against controversial pastor Shepherd Bushiri of the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) in the wake of a stampede at the church which claimed three lives.

Three activists affiliated to Sanco have been released on bail after being arrested on Sunday during a protest at the premises of the church over the death of three women and the injury of nine other congregants during a rush for shelter from a heavy rainstorm.

The Sanco protests began on Friday, with community members calling for the ECG church to be expelled from the Pretoria showgrounds where it holds its services.

"These misguided attacks against the church by Sanco is evidence enough to prove that faith in South Africa is under attack and Christians should prepare themselves for a volcano of persecution, perpetuated by the ANC government," Cosa president Pastor Derick Mosoana said.

"South Africa is not immune to stampedes and it is only normal that in every uncontrolled crowd a stampede is unavoidable. South Africans died during soccer matches and concerts but none of these agents of Satan ever lobbied support against the affected artists or soccer teams."

He noted that 43 people died at Ellis Park stadium during a 2001 stampede, while a mother died at the University of Johannesburg while trying to find a place for her child a few years ago, and two people were killed during a soccer match in 2017 "and this activism was never witnessed".

Cosa members were planning to visit the ECG premises in Tshwane on Sunday in support of Bushiri, Mosoana said, calling for support from other church denominations.

He said Cosa had sent its condolences to the bereaved families of the deceased women, identified as Patricia Pringane, Matshila Sarah Mohlala and Lehlogahlo Maria Segodi.

On Tuesday, Sanco said it would reignite protests at the ECG church in coming weeks.

Meetings were scheduled with the Tshwane mayor's office and the national police commissioner, Sanco Tshwane regional chairperson Abram Mashishi told journalists.

"Our demand that Bushiri must leave the country must be heard," he said of the Malawian pastor. "Somewhere next week all the people of Tshwane will be mobilized to demonstrate our dissatisfaction and the way the police have handled our people."

African News Agency/ANA