There was a hostage situation early on Saturday morning. Police had to call army backup. It’s a power fight within the church. Forty people have been arrested in connection with the attack, including members of the South African Police Service, National Defense Force, Johannesburg Metro Police Department and the Department of Correctional Services.
Leadership of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC) in Zuurbekom, west of Johannesburg, has called on courts to play their part in ensuring that the leadership battle in the church is resolved.
Five people were killed at the church, earlier on Saturday when about 50 people stormed the building and held church members hostage.
The church, one of the biggest in Southern Africa, has about three million members.
It is alleged that the gunmen are from a faction, led by Michael Sandlana, who has been in disputes with the current church leadership since 2016.
Blood stains could be seen at the main entrance of the church. A large white sign indicating that guns and other weapons are restricted from the church premises is clearly visible at the gate. The church gate was vandalised and its iconic star is hanging.
A church member, who also serves as a security Marshall, who witnessed the incident, says, “Around after 12, we heard gunshots from the outside. We were inside. I’m a security Marshall. I ran towards the gate. When I got to the gate I saw cars parked. In my mind, I thought of alerting others that we were under siege. I ran with the siren speaker to the Whitehouse to alert security. Within seconds, I saw over 10 gunmen. I ran and never looked back.”
Spokesperson of the church, Abie Wesie says the leadership battle is out of control at the church.
“All we want is that the law must take its course and bring these perpetrators to book. But over and above is the leadership battle that is before the court … the court must speed up the process so that this leadership battle can be finalised. There will be a court order that will prevent such things from happening.”
Six of those arrested are under police guard in hospital, where they are being treated for gunshot wounds. The church has been going through a leadership battle since 2016 over who should replace the church’s late founder, Fredrick Modise.