SAPS, Tshwane dropped the ball in ECG Stampede: CRL Commission

Chairperson of the CRL Rights Commission Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva addressing media in Johannesburg regarding the ECG stampede which killed three congregants. Photo: Jonisayi Maromo / ANA

Chairperson of the commission Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva told reporters they were waiting for the police’s version of events.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Tshwane municipality both failed in their mandate and duties during the December 28 stampede at Shepherd Bushiri’s Enlightened Christian Gathering Church (ECG) – hosted in the Tshwane Events Centre – which resulted in the death of three congregants, said the CRL Rights Commission on Friday.

Chairperson of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva told reporters in Johannesburg: “Part of our findings is that SAPS did not adhere to the [Safety at Sports and Recreation Events] Act, which then makes it a very difficult situation. In terms of what happened to the bodies, who moved the bodies, we are all waiting for the police to tell us who did what and who did not do what. They are the experts in this matter, but the church has given us their version. We are waiting for the police’s version.

“The city (Tshwane) does not have a version because they were not there. They were supposed to be there [at the church service], but they were not there. They don’t have a version. Their people who were supposed to be there were on leave. No one from the city can give us any direction. So the city and the SAPS are in the same situation – you were supposed to be there, you were not there, so you can’t tell anyone what happened.”

She said the only version currently on the table is that of the ECG church “because the church was there”.

Three women were killed in an apparent stampede at the ECG church during a service on December 28. At least 17 other congregants were injured as they ran for shelter during a heavy rainstorm.

The three deceased women were identified as Patricia Pringane, Matshila Sarah Mohlala, and Lehlogahlo Maria Segodi.

In the aftermath, the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) led protests at ECG, with community members calling for the church to be expelled from the Pretoria showgrounds forthwith, and for Bushiri to be deported back to Malawi.

On Friday, Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said the commission concluded that the religious event hosted by Bushiri, where the stampede happened, was fully compliant with municipal bylaws and the Safety at Sports and Recreation Events Act (SSRE Act).

“The commission finds as follows: The application by ECG Church for the event of 28 December 2018 was fully compliant with the bylaws and the Safety at Sports and Recreation Events Act 2 of 2010. There are elements of non-effectiveness in the bylaws and the JOC (Tshwane’s joint operations committee) system,” said Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.

“There was, per section 17(2)(a)(i) of SSRE Act, supposed to [have] been a venue operations centre (VOC) established at the event of 28 December 2018 since the event is categorised as medium-risk. Such was not established.”

The VOC had to be composed of various bodies including but not limited to police officials, disaster management services, fire department, and emergency medical services.

“The city of Tshwane did not dispute that SAPS was not on site on the 28 December 2018 since they (City of Tshwane staff members) were also not on site.  It is on a balance of probability that the commission finds that the SAPS was not present. Accordingly, the SAPS failed to comply with the SSRE Act,” said Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.

She also cautioned that demands for Bushiri to be deported and the ECG to be closed were discriminatory.

“Regarding the submissions made by the ECG church and Sanco, the commission reminds as follows: the expressions and demands that Prophet Bushiri must leave the country are discriminatory; any issue pertaining to immigration must be dealt with under the Immigration Act of 2002 and must be addressed with the department of home affairs as the administrative department,” said Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.

“The expressions and demands that the ECG Church should be closed are unwarranted and are against the spirit and letter of the right to freedom of religion in terms of section 15 of the constitution of the Republic of South Africa. These utterances also violate the right of persons belonging to a religious community, i.e. ECG congregants, from practising their religion – per section 31 of the constitution. This also violates section 18 of the constitution outlining freedom of association.”

Mkhwanazi-Xaluva concluded: “We have emailed [the findings] to the three parties concerned. We are not asking them for comments because we are making findings and recommendations. We had hearings, so it is for us to draw conclusions and not to go back to the people and say how do you feel about these findings.

“That would be unconstitutional if we do that. We have a mandate to fulfil. The Act is very clear in terms of how we should do investigations and that’s what we have done. They can comment – it’s a free country, they can negate our recommendations, it’s a free country, but this is what we say.”

– African News Agency

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