The ACDP condemns the “indiscriminate shooting of Christians who were praying at a church in Sebokeng by SAPS members yesterday morning”, says party president Rev Kenneth Meshoe in a media statement released today.
“It has been reported that an old lady was allegedly shot by police with a rubber bullet between the eyes, and is now receiving medical attention,” says Meshoe in his statement.
According to a report in Times Live SAPS spokesman Brig Mathapelo Peters said police fired rubber bullets and stun grendades at a group of about 250 people who were attending a church service in Sebokeng Zone 7 in defiance of level 3 lockdown regulations, after the congregants defied an order to disperse and started throwing chairs at the officers.
According to the report two church leaders aged 47 and 69 were arrested for contravening lockdown regulations and a 62-year-old woman was arrested for a similar contravention and for public violence.
In an interview with Gateway News today Rev Meshoe said the reported police version of events was a shock to him and he doubted its accuracy.
He said yesterday’s gathering in Sebokeng was not a church service but a media conference arranged by the church in a bid to communicate with government through the media after repeated attempts to engage with them via phone hotlines and letters were ignored. Pastors and media were invited to the event.
He said he found it difficult to believe that pastors who had “always observed the necessary protocols” had thrown chairs at police in front of media representatives and cameras.
He said that during a visit to the church today at the invitation of aggrieved pastors he had not heard anything about Christians responding violently yesterday.
“If I had I would have told them not to resort to violence in order to get government’s attention,” said Meshoe.
He also challenged the reported statement by SAPS that there were 250 people at yesterday’s outdoor church gathering, saying video footage he had seen suggested the number was well under 200.
He said about 25 to 30 pastors attended today’s follow-up meeting. One of their grievances was that government allegedly only talks to the South African Council of Churches and they are not members of the SACC.
“When the government says it is consulting with the church it means The South African Council of Churches and the South African Council of Churches consists of people who, during the hard lockdown, were given R3 000 a month every month, And those who were not affiliated were not given one cent and the pastors who were complaining were saying the government must also acknowledge our existence,” said Meshoe.
He said the pastors asked whether the government was not indirectly trying to force them to join the SACC.
In today;s media statement he urges government to broaden its consultations with church leaders in order to be more inclusive.
“Consultation is a key pillar of our democracy and any new law which government seeks to enact without proper consultation, can and has been challenged in a court of law,” he says.
The statement continues: “The ACDP questions why casinos, restaurants, bars, movie theatres, and shopping malls have been allowed to stay in operation, but churches in South Africa are not allowed to meet for prayer.
“If churches are able to comply with the same health and hygiene protocols as those in the business sector, why shut them down?
“Most, if not all, churches have been complying with the health and hygiene regulations, but it appears to us that churches have become a soft target.
“All church organisations, including those in Sebokeng, should also be consulted and informed even if they are not affiliated to the SACC.”
Meanwhile, the SACC general secretary Bishop Malusi Mpulwama has said that churches should be allowed to operate in the same way as restaurants, with a limited number of people, reports The Citizen.
Mpulwama reportedly said people were frustrated about the total ban on church gatherings but they should not break the law.
According to a eNCA video report [see below]on yesterday’s incident in Sebokeng, about 90 churches were represented at the event, where it was stated by pastors that the government’s ban on church services is unconstitutional.