The Pretoria showgrounds used for worship by thousands who follow charismatic preacher, Prophet Shepherd Bushiri of the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG), has been found wanting in terms of fire and emergency regulations of the City of Tshwane.
Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga today said his administration would issue “remedial instructions” in the form of an official order to comply (OTC) to the ECG Church, following the December 28 stampede which killed three congregants during a service.
“The City of Tshwane Emergency Services Department conducted a joint site inspection at Hall D and H,” said Msimanga in a press release.
Msimanga said that the fire safety section discovered a number of non-compliance items during the inspection. The team found the escape routes leading to the escape doors are obstructed, escape doors to be used during an emergency are obstructed, insufficient firefighting equipment, and no emergency lights provided in the facility.
Other non-compliance found at the venue was no available emergency evacuation plan and improper storage of dangerous goods, as a diesel trailer was stored inside the building.
“There was also no proper seating arrangement during the inspection. The department can therefore not comment on the population load. It was, however, noted by the number of chairs stacked in the halls, that the population is perceived to be high during sermons,” said Msimanga.
The mayor said the population load for the Pretoria venue “may not exceed 778 for Hall D and 1,900 for Hall H – provided that all the emergency escape doors are operational.”
“It is for these reasons that the City will issue an order to comply. If after 30 days the requisite levels of compliance have not been met, it may result in a prohibition notice being issued which requires the occupier to cease any and all activity until such time measured compliance is achieved,” said Msimanga.
Earlier during a press briefing, Bushiri’s attorney Terrence Baloyi said the church venue was compliant, and that he had a copy of the compliance certificate.
“For us to host an event, which is as big as our crossover event which was normally [previously] held at FNB Stadium, we had to comply with a number of issues. Who makes sure that we comply, it’s the City of Tshwane. How did they confirm that now we comply? They issue what we call a compliance certificate.” Baloyi told journalists..
“I have a copy with me of the compliance certificate issued by City of Tshwane for the 31st December 2018, authorizing us to to hold our crossover event at the same place.”
He said he church had been issued certificates of compliance on a monthly basis.
“We are fully compliant. Yes, a natural disaster occurred, caught us off guard in some of the areas and we are saying it’s a natural disaster. We are open for improvement.”
Earlier, Maynard Manyowa, external media relations manager for Bushiri, apologised for the tragedy: “It is, and it was unimaginable to fathom that a church, our home, a place of peace, a place of worship, where people come to refuge, where people seek and receive salvation and eternal life, can be the scene of a disaster. We appreciate this and wish to also convey our condolences and unreserved apology. We are sorry,” , told a media briefing in Pretoria.
“We would like to convey the same messages of condolence and express our regret to members of our own family, our fellow brothers and sisters, congregants at the ECG church.”
Manyowa reiterated that the ECG believes it has done nothing wrong.
“While we believe we did no wrong, our systems were well prepared, and that in the face of a pounding storm, itself a natural disaster for which there was nothing we could do, we want you to know that we are sorry, and we take full responsibility for the pain, sadness, anger, and grief this has caused,” said Manyowa.
The ECG said apart from engaging the families of the deceased, it is cooperating with the South African Police Service in the charge of defeating the ends of justice opened in connection with the removal of the bodies after the stampede.
“We have engaged community members, carried out internal investigations, engaged experts and analysts, hired more local personnel, improved on our security training as well as disaster management procedures, and taken action against those implicated in our investigations,” said Manyowa.
“Right from the very start, we have not had the slightest desire to cover our tracks, as we believe our hands as an institution are clean and remain so, and furthermore, the only way we can learn and be better from this is by understanding exactly what went wrong.”
– African News Agency (ANA)