Church administration officer Marie Swanepoel said the congregation did not hold a grudge against Gomorrah informal settlement residents who were participating in the #TshwaneShutdown demonstrations in Pretoria West.
She said what transpired was wrong since a church was a sacred place, but the congregation left everything in God’s hands.
Swanepoel said members prayed wherever they were when news broke that the church was under attack; God heard them and prevented the fire from spreading, she said.
The church has been in Pretoria West since 1954, and this was the first time it had been attacked, despite numerous protests having taken place in the area over the years.
The protesters were fighting law enforcement authorities on Thursday morning. When things calmed down, the police were called out to another informal settlement. That is when the crowd regrouped and damaged the church.
They shook the fence until it was loose and ran inside when it fell. They burnt the curtains, but the fire did not spread. The group then broke a lot of windows and damaged the benches.
The Bible on the preacher’s podium was thrown to the floor, and the organ was broken. Other protesters grabbed the opportunity to steal speakers from the walls, as well as the amplifier.
Hercules police officers managed to trap four of the protesters inside the church and arrested them. Others were arrested outside as police fought to prevent the crowd from blocking roads and burning tyres.
Swanepoel said: “Yes, we are hurting, but we do not hold any grudges against the people.
“This church has been here for many decades and we’ve lived in peace with Gomorrah residents for at least 12 years. In fact, this church gave some of those residents food and donations.
“We are not interested in arrests and all that. We just want the insurance company to come fix the church so we can hold our Good Friday service in the building by Friday. We will appreciate donations from people wishing to help.”
Metro police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Isaac Mahamba said people arrested engaging in criminal activities during protests would face the full might of the law.