A church hostage drama left five people dead and 30 arrested in Zuurbekom, Gauteng, in the early hours of Saturday morning.
According to police, the incident took place at the International Pentecost Holiness Church. Police responded to reports of a hostage situation and shooting at around 03:00.
“At approximately 03:00 this morning, various disciplines of the South African Police Service, followed by members of the South African National Defence Force, responded to reports of a shooting and an alleged hostage situation at the International Pentecost Holiness Church,” national police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo said on Saturday.
“A group of armed people came to the Modise church and allegedly attacked people who were inside, indicating that they were coming to take over the premises.”
Police are investigating the possibility that this attack may have been motivated by a feud between conflicted parties in the church.
“Four people were found shot and burnt to death in a car, while a fifth victim, a security guard, was fatally shot in his car while he was apparently attending this complaint,” Naidoo said.
“Police have arrested over 40 suspects, including six people who have been taken to hospital.”
Security forces members arrested
Among those arrested are members of SAPS, SANDF, the Johannesburg Metro Police Department and the Department of Correctional Services. Naidoo emphasised that the members were not at the scene in their capacity as members of security forces. “Instead they were there as members of the church/congregants and they just happen to be members of the different departments.”
More than 34 firearms – including five rifles, 16 shotguns and 13 pistols – were seized.
“The crime scene is still being processed and the figures of arrests and firearms seized may fluctuate as the Special Task Force, Tactical Response Team and Visible Policing members continue to comb the compound. These units have also rescued men women and children who are said to be living in the compound and were being held hostage,” Naidoo said.
National police commissioner General Khehla John Sitole praised the provincial SAPS management and Gauteng team for their prompt response to the attack. “I am certain that the speedy response by the the joint security forces has averted what could have been a more severe blood bath,” he said.
“I have tasked the provincial management to finalise its preliminary investigations in the quickest possible time and ensure that the 72-hour Activation Plan is mobilised to bring to book all those responsible for this attack,” said Sitole.
“I have embarked on a Spiritual Crime Prevention Concept which involves the participation of all religious denominations in the fight against crime. It is rather unfortunate that such an incident takes place during a time when South Africa is being plagued by a deadly virus and violent crimes.”
In November 2018, two factions from the church confronted each other outside the church’s headquarters in Silo, Zuurbekom, west of Johannesburg, News24 reported.
The clash took place when a convoy of vehicles carrying worshippers arrived and parked outside the church.
Former Gauteng police spokesperson Captain Mavela Masondo at the time said: “As they were about to enter the church premises, another group which was inside the church charged at them. They confronted each other. During their confrontation, firearms were pulled out and three people were injured.
“One was shot in his shoulder. The three injured men were taken to hospital. We managed to seize loaded firearms.”
About 12 cars belonging to church members were badly damaged in the skirmish. Items from inside the damaged vehicles were strewn on the street.