Soweto churchgoers march against cops
Johannesburg - Some Soweto worshippers have vowed to use all resources at their disposal to protect themselves from alleged harassment by the Joburg metro police department.
They said the acts of harassment were a violation of their human rights.
On Monday, about 1 000 worshippers braved the cool weather to march through the Joburg CBD to raise their grievances. The enraged congregants said they have had enough of the police’s conduct towards them, which included a raid at their premises in Midway, Soweto.
The police had apparently raided the premises after receiving complaints about worshippers making a noise
Members of the Unity Fellowship Church (UFC) and other religious denominations from Soweto marched from Pieter Roos Park in Parktown to the office of executive mayor Park Tau in Braamfontein to hand over their memorandum of demands.
During the almost 3km route, the large crowd sang and danced in the streets, carrying posters denouncing the police raids.
“Stop harassing us for praising God,” one of the posters read.
Once at the municipal offices, UFC director Theopilas Mukhuba read out their memorandum of grievances while being cheered on by his congregants.
The trouble started in 2009, when the police visited the church, saying they were responding to residents’ complaints of noise, which they said violated the city’s by-laws.
But Mukhuba said Christians have the right, as South Africans, to practise their religion.
He added that the church was based in an industrial zone and that the city could not “justifiably apply residential noise regulations to an entity based in an industrial area”.
Tension escalated last month when a large contingent of JMPD officers allegedly jumped over the church’s walls and broke the gate in a bid to raid the building following complaints from residents.
“They pepper-sprayed our workers and threatened to shoot them,” Mukhuba said.
He alleged that the officers did not have a search warrant or a court order to conduct the raid.
Mukhuba said the council was intent on thwarting the growth of the church, and that they had purposely stalled approving land earmarked for the building of a new church in Eikenhof, south of Joburg.
In the past six years, the church claims that city officials failed to show up at meetings and ignored a petition signed by about 65 000 people.
Mukhuba said the memorandum was the church’s last resort to address the city’s “apparent total onslaught against the Christian churches”.
In the memorandum, the congregants said they were demanding that Tau take immediate action to stop the raids or face their full wrath.
They also demanded that city officials, its associated functionaries and the officers who participated in the raid be investigated and sanctioned accordingly.
UFC also wants Tau to ensure that the JMPD desists from harassing Christian churches and that the land applications for the church’s use be expedited.
Municipal spokesman Virgil James said the council would give a response after studying the memorandum.