The CRL Rights Commission has called for a hearing to be held in the wake of a stampede that left three people dead at the Enlightened Christian Gathering Church (ECG) in Pretoria.
The commission said in a statement on Friday that it was decided that a hearing was necessary after several discrepancies came to light regarding the stampede at a mediation meeting at the Tshwane Events Centre on December 28.
The meeting was called to resolve several claims, accusations and counter-claims and to discuss marches and demonstrations organised by the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco), which is demanding the church's closure.
"In order to get to the bottom of these issues and to address the discrepancies that continue to prevail, the CRL Rights Commission has decided to call for the hearings in line with Section 7 (2) of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities Act, 19 of 2002," the commission's Mpiyakhe Mkholo said.
The church will be represented by self-proclaimed prophet, Shepherd Bushiri.
Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga will appear on behalf of the municipality; Abraham Mashishi will appear for Sanco and Dr Ndivho Lukhwareni will appear on behalf of the City of Johannesburg.
Panic during a thunderstorm
Three people died and nine others were injured during the stampede.
According to the police, they were only notified about the tragedy the next afternoon and immediately dispatched officers to the scene.
Police spokesperson Captain Augustinah Selepe said at the time that it was believed that a thunderstorm had caused members of the congregation to panic during the Friday evening service.
During a media briefing earlier in January, Bushiri distanced himself from the ECG Church.
Bushiri's spokesperson Maynard Manyowa told media: "There has been an incorrect tendency to conflate the person of Prophet Shepherd Bushiri and the ECG Church."
"The ECG Church is not his church, it belongs to South Africa and South Africans. The directors of the ECG are South Africans, our resident pastors are South Africans," Manyowa said.
"Even in the contracts, for example, the lease [at the Tshwane Events Centre] is not between Shepherd Bushiri and other parties, it is between the ECG Church and other parties."
While each ECG Church branch is individually owned, Bushiri is the president of the institution.
Manyowa said the deaths were not Bushiri's problem, but rather a problem with which the church should deal.
Criminal charges against church
Police have opened a case of defeating the ends of justice against the church as the bodies of the deceased were allegedly removed from the premises without the police being notified of the incident.
"The charge is added based on the fact that police have established that the deceased were [classified] dead at the church premises and the incident was not reported to the police," Selepe said.
The bodies were taken to a private mortuary called Red Ford Mortuary.
Following the stampede, irate Tshwane residents attempted to prevent services from going ahead.
A group blocked entry to the showgrounds where the church is situated in January.
At the time, Sanco regional secretary in Pretoria, Portia Mokwena, said Bushiri owed the nation answers and vowed that the church would not operate until he explained what had happened.
The City also got involved. Msimanga issued instructions for the church to be brought up to code after he conducted an inspection.
During the inspection, it was found that routes leading to escape doors that were meant to be used during emergencies, had been obstructed.
Dangerous goods, including a diesel trailer, were also found stored inside the building.
There was also no firefighting equipment, emergency lights or an emergency evacuation plan available.
The hearing is expected to start on January 28.
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