Leadership of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC) in Zuurbekom, west of Johannesburg, has called on courts to play their part in ensuring that the leadership battle in the church is resolved.

Five people were killed at the church earlier on Saturday when about 50 people stormed the building and held church members hostage.

More than 40 people have been arrested, among them members of law enforcement agencies who are members of the church.

The church, one of the biggest in Southern Africa, has about three million members.

It is alleged that the gunmen are from a faction led by Michael Sandlana, who has been in disputes with the current church leadership since 2016.

Blood stains could be seen at the main entrance of the church. A large white sign indicating that guns and other weapons are restricted from the church premises is clearly visible at the gate. The church gate was vandalised and its iconic star is hanging.

A church member, who also serves as a security marshall and witnessed the incident, says, “Around after 12, we heard gunshots from the outside. We were inside. I’m a security marshal. I ran towards the gate. When I got to the gate I saw cars parked. In my mind, I thought of alerting others that we were under siege. I ran with the siren speaker to the Whitehouse to alert security. Within seconds, I saw over 10 gunmen. I ran and never looked back.”

Five people died following the shooting incident.

Spokesperson of the church, Abie Wesie says the leadership battle is out of control of the church.

“All we want is that the law must take its cause and bring these perpetrators to book. But over and above that is that leadership battle that is before the court … the court must speed up the process so that this leadership battle can be finalised. Because in that way, there will be a court order that will prevent such things from happening.”

In the video below, the SABC News reports on the kidnapping and shooting incident at the International Pentecostal Church that claimed five lives:

Leadership battle

Six of those arrested are under police guard in hospital, where they are being treated for gunshot wounds. The church has been going through a leadership battle since 2016 over who should replace the church’s late founder, Fredrick Modise.

The church has three factions. Wessie says those arrested were church members.

“It’s dismaying to see that these people have law enforcement members inside. The people that we saw who came in are church members. And they are the members of the splinter group that after the comfort of the church passed on thy broke away and occupied one of our buildings. So they came in and wanted to capture our headquarters. So that they take complete control.”

Cars were also set alight. Over 34 firearms, including five rifles, and 13 pistols have been recovered. Police spokesperson, Vish Naidoo explains, “At this stage, the National Police Commissioner has ordered the provincial management to activate or mobilise to 72-hour activation plan which entails mobilisation of crime intelligence, forensic experts, the Hawks and other investigators to investigate this case thoroughly and to bring those responsible to book. We are still awaiting a report on the exact injuries they sustained. But it may have appeared that they sustain gunshots wounds and other related injuries. But they are in the hospital under police guard because they are considered to be suspects as well.”