Pretoria - Gauteng police have increased their presence around the prophet Shepherd Bushiri-led Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church in Pretoria, which has been targeted by protesters after three congregants reportedly died in a stampede last weekend, the South African Police Service (SAPS) said on Saturday evening.
"In terms of the protest now [Sunday], as it has been started, the police have been summoned to the scene and as you can see the Tshwane metro police is around. We are beefing up the manpower to make sure we are around this area and we get to the bottom of this matter," SAPS Gauteng spokesman Lieutenant Kay Makhubela said.
"We want to understand what is their [protesters] problem now. We don't know what prompted this. We believe that as the police engage with the community they will establish what the problem is," he said.
The SAPS is investigating the death of three female congregants at the ECG church in Pretoria West on December 28. A case of defeating the ends of justice has been opened, relating to the removal of the bodies from the church premises.
"Remember, when an incident like this [deaths] police are supposed to be the first to take over and make sure that investigations are conducted at the scene and have the bodies transferred to the government mortuary for postmortem. But because there was tampering of the scene, a case had to be opened and we are investigating that. The investigation is at a sensitive stage and we believe that we will make sure we bring the responsible people to book," said Makhubela.
However, the charge was not laid against the charismatic preacher, contrary to some media reports. "What I can tell you is that the case of defeating the ends of justice is opened. We are going to investigate to determine and find who is responsible for removing the bodies or to tamper with the scene of the bodies. After that we will know who is our suspect. At the moment we are investigating the case," said Makhubela.
ECG spokesman Terrence Baloyi said the popular church was cooperating with the police probe. "We shall cooperate with the police and observe the law." Baloyi said the ECG was currently on "recess" until January 20. The last service at the church was held on New Year's Eve.
Earlier on Saturday, protests were re-ignited at the ECG church. The busy WF Nkomo (formerly Church) Street was blocked to traffic, with protesters allowing only minibus taxis to pass via a passage of burning tyres.
Several ECG members and vendors camping outside the venue fled as protesters descended on the area. Some of the ECG members quickly packed their bags and fled.
African News Agency/ANA