Johannesburg - International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC) leaders claim that its pleas to law enforcement to bring an end to the violence in the church's leadership battle have fallen on deaf ears.
Chaos broke out on Saturday morning at the feud-ravaged IPHC in Zuurbekom, Westonaria, when congregants including women and children were taken hostage by over 40 armed attackers who attempted to take over the church.
Five people were shot dead during the fracas following an alleged factional battle at the headquarters of the church. Over 40 people who included members of the police, the SA army and the Joburg metro police were arrested and over 34 firearms, including five rifles, 16 shotguns and 13 pistols were seized.
Speaking during a media briefing on Sunday, IPHC executive chairperson Abiel Wessie said the church strongly condemned the attack and that its leader, Comforter Leonard Modise, was very disappointed.
Wessie said the leadership battle at the church dated back to 2016 and that it was currently under a high court process.
There has been bitter conflict to succeed former Comforter Glayton Modise, who died in 2016, between his two sons Tshepiso Modise and Leonard Modise, and Michael Sandlana, reportedly Modise's son out of wedlock - and take over the reins of the church.
The attack on Saturday was allegedly orchestrated by Sandlana's supporters.
“We are deeply saddened that these people did not approach the court if they had any disappointment, instead they chose an armed attack resulting in a tragic loss of lives,” Wessie said.
Saturday's violence is the third incident since October in Zuurbekom, allegedly by the same group.
The first incident happened in October, however the church was alerted and the police intervened, the second was similar to Saturday's where the attackers arrived at midnight and started to attack people.
“Yesterday's (Saturday's) incident was very regrettable because one life lost is one life too many, and if we count the number of people we've lost since the leadership battle ensued it would be up to nine or 10 lives that we've lost to date,” he said.
The church said it was disappointed with law enforcement because the cries of the church and congregants had fallen on deaf ears.
“We have reported several cases, about 40 cases of assault GBH, forceful entry, housebreaking, theft of church property, and realised that we are not getting any joy,” Wessie said.
Comforter Leonard Modise has also pleaded with law enforcement to bring an end to the violence.
“We are asking for help from law enforcement that the violence will end. If we don't get help from the police, then who will help us?” Modise asked.
Emmanuel Lekgau, the Modise family spokesperson, said on Sunday that the violent incident was the result of fighting between the Sandlana and Leonard factions, who allegedly worked together to chase Tshepiso Modise out of the church.
“After the late Comforter died, his family were preparing to install Tshepiso Modise as the Comforter and as they prepared, some faction in the church stood up and claimed that Tshepiso and his mother killed the late Comforter,” he said.
Lekgau said because there wasn’t a leader of the church at the time, a faction allegedly approached Comforter Leonard, Tshepiso’s younger brother and asked him to lead the church. Lekgau said the incident on Saturday was the Leonard and Sandlana factions – who allegedly worked together to kick out Tshepiso – fighting over the headquarters.
“The reality is that a large number of the congregation followed Sandlana and they are fighting to enter Zuurbekom and Leonard is guarding it,” he said. The family will be addressing the media today at 10am. Meanwhile, the president of Christians of South Africa Apostle, Derick Mosoan, called the attack an act of terrorism.
“It is disturbing to note that the ongoing leadership dispute in the church continues to claim fatalities,” he said. The chairperson of the CRL Rights Commission, Professor David Mosoma, denounced the incident that had turned the church into a war zone.@Chulu_M