Pretoria - The usually busy WF Nkomo [formerly Church] Street in Pretoria West was on Friday evening closed to traffic as protesters demanded answers from the Shepherd Bushiri-led Enlightened Christian Gathering (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," local chairperson of SA National Civic Organisation (Sanco), Gopolang Makobe told African News Agency.
"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 venue. 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.
"We will be here, burning more tyres. They will not be using our venue anymore," said Tladinyane.
Last week, the South African Police Service (SAPS) said it was investigating the death of three women congregants at the ECG.
A police delegation led by SAPS Tshwane West policing cluster commander Maj-Gen Daniel Mthombeni visited the Pretoria Showgrounds on Saturday afternoon, shortly after learning about the alleged stampede by congregants which is said to have caused the trio's death.
"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.
She said the three victims had not yet been identified. The exact cause of the incident was yet to be ascertained.
"An inquest has been opened for investigation. Anyone with a missing person believed to have attended the church service should visit the Pretoria West police station. The injured people were taken to Kalafong Hospital and Pretoria West Hospital. The three deceased were taken to a funeral parlour," Selepe said.
Charles Mabaso of Tshwane emergency services said a distress call was received before 8 pm alerting the emergency services about 12 injured congregants.
"We received a call with a claim that there were about 12 people that got injured. We dispatched three ambulances, but upon arrival, the ambulances found that there was one patient with moderate injuries. The patient was treated on [the] scene and then transported to Kalafong Hospital by Tshwane emergency services. That is the only patient that we transported. We are not sure if other patients were transported privately by private people," Mabaso said.
African News Agency (ANA)