No sacred ground in church leadership war

Luyolo Mkentane

FORGET hymnbooks and bibles, some worshippers arrived at a Port Elizabeth church yesterday morning with knobkerries and guns.

Shocked churchgoers watched in horror as members of the congregation exchanged punches and pointed firearms at each other over a leadership struggle at the United Ethiopian Church of Africa, on the corner of Salamntu and Ntungela streets in Zwide, at about 10am yesterday.

A section of Salamntu Street passing the church was cordoned off by armed policemen. A church official manning the gate refused to let reporters in, saying the church council was locked in a meeting in an effort to resolve the matter.

But Zwide resident Zine Wonci, who witnessed the incident, said: “Some church leaders came wielding sticks and guns. They were fighting each other, it was chaotic.”

Another resident, Khanyisa Tshive, said: “The leaders took off their jackets and trousers and stood in their boxer shorts only.

“It was crazy. People were filming the whole incident on their cellphones and uploading the photos on Facebook.”

Another churchgoer, who did not want to be named, said the church was experiencing a leadership battle.

“When church founder JM Masebe passed on about six or seven years ago, his wife took over as leader of the church.

“But a certain group of men within the church said they would not be led by a woman. They left to form a parallel church in Daku.

“But, today, they came here, saying they also wanted to use the church building [in Salamntu Street] because they contributed to its construction costs.”

It is not clear why they chose to return to the church yesterday.

One member of the group, a preacher who did not want to be named, said: “The church leaders are the ones fighting us.

“They are making a mistake by saying we are fighting them because we went there carrying our bibles but they chose to lock the church gates on us.”

After the altercation, the faction regrouped outside Toast Tavern where some sipped on tea as the police tried to calm them down.

Reporters seeking comment from the group were given contact details for “spokesman” Andile Mbali, but the number belonged to someone not in any way involved with the church.

Police spokesman Warrant Officer Dumile Gwavu said: “There was a misunderstanding between church members.

“They were called to the police station to try to make up.”

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