South Africa

Stampede Aftermath: Religion meets politics as Bushiri church threatens interdict against Sanco

Religion and politics are going head to head after prominent charismatic prophet Shepherd Bushiri’s church has threatened the South African National Civic Organisation with legal action.

The move by the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) comes after the criticism by the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) Tshwane branch of the manner in which the situation was handled after three people died in a church stampede.

Shepherd Bushiri has taken steps to interdict Sanco after its members protested outside his church.

In an email to the Sanco leadership, including the organisation’s chairperson Abraham Mashishi, attorneys representing the church spelt out ECG’s intention to apply for an interdict against Sanco. In terms of the email from Baloyi Ntsako Attorneys, Sanco was asked to give a written undertaking within 48 hours to “refrain from inciting its members or any community member privately or publicly to block the access gates to the church and/or to prevent church congregants from attending church services”.

Should Sanco fail to give the undertaking, lawyers have been instructed to bring an urgent application for an interdict in the high court to prevent protesters from blockading the church.

They will also seek an order against Sanco chair Mashishi in his personal capacity, and a cost order jointly against Sanco on account of any planned unlawful conduct.

Please note that this letter is in prejudice, thus will be used in support of the application for an interdict. Should you not give the requested undertaking, we will also copy this letter to the South African Police Services, CRL Commission, and the Commissioner for Human Rights.”

A separate letter from Ogboro Attorneys, representing the Nigerian Union SA, was sent to Mashishi demanding that he retracts, and apologises for, his statements to the media on or around 4 January 2019 about the church’s activities.

We take exception on behalf of our clients that you regard churches not established or led by South African citizens, particularly those you hold to be led by Nigerians, that they are bogus. We submit and put it to you that the law does not recognise such a blatant xenophobic thought practice and attack on freedom of religion, but that it frowns upon conduct with sinister designs of promoting religious persecution,” read the letter.

The very fact that you led a protest whose primary design was to stop people from entering into a place of religious worship and of their own choice means that you were arrogating to yourself or Sanco the power to overrule the constitutional right of one not to be forced or compelled to accept any creed or practice of any worship or another merely because you believed that the church was led by a Nigerian.”

It said that the actions defeated the rights safeguarded by the Constitution, which supported freedom of religion. The attorneys’ letter read further:

You have persistently in the interview referred to prophet Bushiri as Nigerian and that he hails from Nigeria. It is our client’s instructions to put it to you that you are a liar or ignorant or both. In actual fact, Bushiri is not Nigerian, but Malawian.

We demand that you withdraw remarks and utterances in that connection and apologise. We demand that you make and issue a written statement of retraction and apology, for which at your cost, shall be posted as a frontline advertisement on the public media widely circulated in Africa. We also demand that at your own labour and pain, you arrange for the same retraction to be aired on the same television news channel you appeared on and made these utterances.”

The interview with Mashishi aired on the SABC.

Three Sanco members who participated in the protests outside the church appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday on charges of public violence. The three were each released on R500 bail. Sanco members staged protests outside the church last Thursday and Friday (January 3 and 4 2019) and blockaded the entrance with burning tyres.

In the aftermath of the stampede, the South African Police Service opened a case of defeating the ends of justice against the Bushiri’s church. The charge stems from the ECG’s decision to remove the bodies of the deceased before to arrival of the police. All three people who died in the stampede were women, identified as 69-year-old Sarah Matshila Mohlala, 60-year-old Maria Lehlogahlo Segodi and 59-year-old Patricia Pringane.

The incident was allegedly neither reported to the police nor the families of the victims.

Ogboro Attorneys said they were demanding two things: Mashishi should apologise and retract his comments made on SABC TV.

We just want him to retract the comments and make an apology on the same media platform on which he made those remarks. We have given him 10 days to do so, and if he doesn’t, we are on instruction and will be forced to test the whole thing in a quality court,” attorney Omoregie Ogboro said.

You can’t go on air not knowing what to talk about. He is inciting xenophobia. The next thing we know all Nigerian churches will be attacked, and Bushiri is not even Nigerian,” he said.

In a further warning to Mashishi, Bushiri’s lawyers said:

Your conduct by inciting your members to block the entrance to the church and the past and proposed intent of your members to again block the entrances to the church when the church services resume, is unlawful.”

Commenting on the legal threat, Sanco spokesperson Jabu Mahlangu said the gist of the matter on which their actions are based concern the church’s failure to adhere to the Constitution of the country, based on the actions the church took after the deaths of the three.

Our main concern is the Constitution and rule of law, which were clearly not taken into account when such comments were made by Sanco. We can’t have a situation where people die in your house and you don’t follow the prescribed procedure. That church was a crime scene and only police attend to crime scenes. What the prophet did was that he interfered with a crime scene, which is police work,” Mahlangu said. DM

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