AT LEAST five people have been killed and more than 40 others arrested, including security forces personnel, in a church hostage drama at the feud-ravaged International Pentecost Holiness Church in Zuurbekom, west of Johannesburg, in the early hours of Saturday morning, the SAPS said.
Police officers from various units, supported by members of the SANDF, responded at about 3am to reports of a shooting and hostage situation at the International Pentecostal Holiness Church in Zuurbekom, National Police Commissioner Lieutenant-General Khehla John Sitole’s spokesman Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said in a statement.
“A group of armed people came to the Modise church and allegedly attacked people who were inside, indicating that they were coming to take over the premises. Police are investigating the possibility that this attack may have been motivated by a feud between conflicted parties of the church,” he said.
Four people were found shot and burnt to death in a car, while a fifth victim, a security guard, was also fatally shot in his car while he was apparently attending to the complaint.
Police arrested over 40 suspects, including six people who had been taken to hospital. Among those arrested were members of the SAPS, SANDF, Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD), and the Correctional Services Department. Over 34 firearms, including five rifles, 16 shotguns, and 13 pistols had been seized, Naidoo said.
The crime scene was still being processed on Saturday and the number of arrests and firearms seized may fluctuate as the SAPS special task force, tactical response team, and visible policing officers continued to search the church compound. These units had also rescued men, women and children who were said to be living in the compound and being held hostage, Naidoo said.
Sitole praised the Gauteng SAPS management and officers for their prompt response to the incident. “I am certain that the speedy response by the joint security forces has averted what could have been a more severe bloodbath,” he said.
“I have tasked the provincial management to finalise its preliminary investigations in the quickest possible time and ensure that the 72-hour activation plan is mobilised to bring to book all those responsible for this attack.
“I have embarked on a spiritual crime prevention concept which involves the participation of all religious denominations in the fight against crime. It is rather unfortunate that such an incident takes place during a time when South Africa is being plagued by a deadly virus (Covid-19) and violent crimes,” Sitole said.
In November 2018, a shoot-out between feuding factions of the church left three people wounded outside the church headquarters in Zuurbekom. The factions have been at loggerheads since the church leader and founder Comforter Glayton Modise died in 2016.
At the time, police spokesperson Captain Mavela Masondo said one group had driven towards the church, allegedly to ambush the rival group that was inside the building. The group inside the church saw the approaching cars and a shoot-out ensued, Masondo said.
The rival group retreated under heavy gunfire and at least 13 vehicles were damaged. “The other group then used stones to damage the cars,” Masondo said.
Police confiscated a number of firearms to be taken for ballistics checks.
In 2017, the warring factions of the church went to court over claims that more than R110 million was missing from the church coffers.
– African News Agency (ANA)