Angry protesters barricade WF Nkomo Street with burning tyres as they demand that controversial prophet Shepherd Bushiri leave the Tshwane Events Centre (Pretoria showgrounds) where his church is situated. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Pretoria - As authorities seek a way to end the bedlam at Shepherd Bushiri’s Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church, the City of Tshwane is looking into the contract which allows the church to operate at its current premises at the city’s old showgrounds.

The past weekend saw renewed protests which led to services at the church, which operates from a site at the Tshwane Events Centre, being halted.

Three women were killed in a stampede at the church during a regular service on December 28. Nine other congregants were injured as they ran for shelter during a heavy rainstorm.

The women were identified as Patricia Pringane, Matshila Sarah Mohlala and Lehlogahlo Maria Segodi.

The church has been charged with defeating the ends of justice as the incident was not reported immediately. Family members were distraught that the bodies were removed to a private mortuary and they were not informed, only finding out later that their loved ones had died.

The South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco), and community members protested outside the church premises on Friday and called for Bushiri to pack up from “our” Pretoria, and for people to stop praying there.

They blamed him for the death of the women and for “hiding” the fact that they had died from family and the authorities. They burnt tyres to block off the entrance to the premises.

The flamboyant Bushiri, known as Major 1 and Papa, is originally from Malawi. He started his ministry in 2002 and is today one of the continent’s richest pastors, possibly even one of the richest in the world, with branches in a number of African countries, and supporters from near and far.

It is understood he was not at the church when the tragedy occurred.

Sanco Ward 58 deputy chairperson Kabelo Tladinyane said they wanted the controversial evangelist evicted so that the youth of the area could make use of the facility and for the annual Pretoria Show to be brought back.

However, in Malawi, the protests were being described as xenophobic, and the protesters’ action as mob justice.

This was echoed by Bushiri’s lawyer, Terrance Baloyi, on Saturday.

MMC for health Sakkie Du Plooy said the City was due to meet Sanco again on Monday to discuss what to do next. “I will personally investigate the contract believed to be between the church and the City. I haven’t seen the contract myself but I will review it just to see if the church is there legally, and if the church is following the rules.

“I’ll also investigate how a space meant for agricultural shows ended up being a place of worship,” Du Plooy added.

Police continued to keep watch on the protesters, but no arrests were made.

Sanco dismissed Baloyi’s suggestion of xenophobia, and said that this was “avoidance of accountability on the side of the church”.

“We are not shy to express our concerns that most foreign nationals who have opened churches here are always jumping from one controversy to the other. As an organisation, we will confront the mushrooming of these churches and, if needs be, ensure they are closed down.”

Calm was restored outside the church premises on Sunday, but no services were held. Sunday services usually attract large crowds.

Pretoria News