Pretoria - As scores of irate Pretoria residents affiliated to the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) blocked the entrance of Shepherd Bushiri's Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church in Pretoria on Friday night, some brave followers of the charismatic preacher came out to defend the "man of God" against what they called "sons of vipers".
"This is a major prophet and people are not afraid. If you look at Muslims, you don't play with their [prophets]. If you want to die, touch Muhammad's name. The Muhammad who died a long time ago. Mention anything negative against the prophet, you will die... but a fellow Christian is not afraid to fight another Christian," an emotional ECG member, identifying herself as "evangelist Beatrix from Namibia", told the African News Agency (ANA) outside the church premises.
"We are equal in fellowship, but different in rank. That's what the Bible says. [It says] touch not my anointing and do my prophet no harm. It's there you can check it."
Beatrix said the recent death of three congregants in a stampede at the church could not be blamed on Bushiri.
"It's not the prophet's fault. People are identifying the prophet's name, why? If we are so many, and the gate is so small yet there is over 500 000 people, how do you expect people to pass there? Everybody was pushing to get home first, it was slippery because it had rained. It's not the prophet's fault," she insisted.
Another ECG member "James from Malawi" was also on the scene to defend "the good name of the prophet".
"I don't understand what is happening to this South Africa country. He [Bushiri] is here to help people and he's a man of God. Everything happening here is about God's power," said James.
"He didn't invite anyone to come and sleep here, outside the gate. It's their own fault the people that are sleeping over there [queuing outside the church]. They are not only South Africans, but there are also Malawians sleeping there, Zimbabweans, and many other countries sleeping over there," he said.
Later on, a man wearing a Bushiri's Prophetic Channel television station branded cap was severely assaulted by a mob a few metres from South African Police Service (SAPS) and Tshwane Metro Police officers.
The usually busy WF Nkomo (formerly Church) Street in Pretoria West was on Friday evening closed to traffic as the Sanco protesters demanded answers from the Bushiri-led ECG over the death of three congregants reportedly in a stampede at the church premises.
"We were requesting the mayor [Solly Msimanga] and representative of the church to come and address us regarding what happened last week. We got no answers even after promising to get back to us," Sanco local chairperson Gopolang Makobe told ANA.
"We were demonstrating. We started off by blocking and burning tyres on the road so that we can get attention. We got the attention we wanted, but we haven't received the answers. The protest will carry on until we get the answers we want."
Makobe accused Bushiri of "abusing and neglecting" his congregants; the thousands he said spent nights sleeping outside the Pretoria Events Centre where the ECG is headquartered.
"How can he allow his people to sleep on the streets like this? They do this every day, even when it's raining. Why doesn't Bushiri open the gates for these people to be inside the premises? Bushiri is actually degrading Christianity," said Makobe.
Several ECG members camped outside the venue fled as the protesters descended on the area. Some of the protesters accused the members who queue for days outside the venue of relieving themselves in the open.
"We live in this area, and the whole place has been turned into a huge toilet. Bushiri is fast asleep in a comfortable house while his people are peeing on our fences. They must just go to hell," said a protester who only identified himself as Buti.
Sanco deputy chair Kabelo Tladinyane said the residents would not allow the ECG congregants to gather from now on.