On 28 December 2018, the congregants of the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church led by Shepherd Bushiri filled the Tshwane Events Centre that houses their church to receive final blessings of the year. What transpired was the last thing any of them could have anticipated.
While awaiting the arrival of their leader, Bushiri, a thunderstorm broke out and allegedly caused the crowd to flee for shelter. A stampede ensued, claiming the lives of three women and landed nine other people in hospital.
The families of the deceased said the church failed to notify them of the incident, causing them to struggle to locate the bodies of their loved ones for a number of days. They were eventually found at a private mortuary where the bodies had been delivered without the police’s knowledge.
South African Police Service (SAPS) said they were tipped off about the apparent stampede the following afternoon by a nurse at Kalafong Hospital.
Bushiri now faces charges of defeating the ends of justice and interfering with police work because the church failed to report the stampede and allegedly moved the bodies of the three women.
In a press conference, representatives of ECG said none of their vehicles were involved in the moving of the deceased or the injured. They stated their confusion at the charges laid against their leader seeing as he was not at the venue at the time of the incident.
A week later on 4 January, the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO) held a protest against ECG, calling for Bushiri to leave the country. Bushiri’s lawyer hit back by saying the demand was xenophobic.
Bushiri called for the halting of services at the ECG while the congregation mourns the loss of life.