National Police Commissioner General Khehla Sitole has tasked Gauteng police to quickly finalise its preliminary investigations into an attack that took place at the International Pentecostal Holiness Church in Zuurbekom, west of Johannesburg on Saturday.
The church hostage drama left five people dead, more than 40 others arrested and firearms seized.
National police spokesperson Vish Naidoo says those arrested include law enforcement officers. He says four people were found shot and burnt in a car, while the fifth victim, a security guard, was fatally shot in his car.
Police also rescued men, women and children said to have been living in the church compound. Police are now investigating the possibility that the attack may have been motivated by a feud between conflicted parties in the church.
Naidoo says six of the arrested were wounded and taken to hospital.
“We’ve arrested over 41 suspects including six who have been taken to hospital, purportedly after suffering injuries and gunshot wounds. We’ve also seized over 40 firearms including rifles, shotguns and handguns. Among those arrested are members of the SAPS, Johannesburg Metro Police and Correctional Services. We are investigating certain theories. When the attackers arrived, they indicated that they have come to take over the premises because there is an existing feud between conflicting groups in the church,” explains Naidoo.
IPHC pleads with courts to intervene to resolve church leadership issues
The 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.
The church, one of the biggest in Southern Africa, has about three million members.
#sapsGP Early hours this morning #SAPS was alerted to a hostage situation & shooting @ International Pentcost Holiness Church, Zuurbekom, 30 suspects arrested & seized more than 25 firearms. 5 fatalities are confirmed. The scene is still active with SAPS Hostage Negotiators. TM pic.twitter.com/5sMjYkYFjg
— SA Police Service 🇿🇦 (@SAPoliceService) July 11, 2020
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.”
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:
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.”