Picture: Jonisayi Maromo/African News Agency (ANA)

Pretoria - The South African Police Service (SAPS) on Sunday released the names of three women who died in an apparent stampede at the Shepherd Bushiri-led Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church in Pretoria West last month.

"First deceased was identified as Ms Nondumiso Patricia Pringane, a 59-year-old, from Nyanga East in Cape Town. She was positively identified by her sister," Pretoria police spokeswoman Captain Augustinah Selepe told the African News Agency (ANA).

"The second deceased Ms Matshila Sarah Mohlala, aged 69 years, from Soshanguve, was positively identified by family members. The third deceased was Lehlogaholo Maria Segodi, born in 1958 on 21 December. She has been positively identified by family," Selepe said.

The SAPS is investigating the death of the three female congregants who died during the stampede at the ECG church 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. 

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

"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 ECG leader, 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 church was currently in "recess" until January 20. The last service at the church was held on New Year's Eve.

African News Agency/ANA