Of prophets, stampedes and rituals

Malawian Prophet Shepherd Bushiri

STAMPEDES and death seem to be claiming a spot on the itinerary of rising charismatic prophets who have become major attractions in the Christian Pentecostal movement.

A number of influential prophets have had their profiles tainted as stampedes have culminated in deaths of followers.

The latest personality to be haunted by the such tragedies is South African based prophet, Shepherd Bushiri who last week had to face up to protesters demanding that he leave the rainbow nation.

The protest followed the death of three people with nine injured after a stampede occurred at the Malawian’s Enlightened Christian Gathering Church service in Pretoria last month.

Protesters who are believed to be backed by South Africa National Civic Organisation stormed the streets burning tyres in a display of anger demanding the closure of ECG.

Reports that a charge had been pressed against the church for defeating the course of justice after the bodies were removed before making a police report further fuelled speculation of foul play.

ECG attorney, Mr Terrence Baloyi was quoted in South African media saying allegations that the deaths were a result of some rituals was mere vendetta against the church.

While management of crowds requires attention in these frenzied gatherings, the idea that such tragedies at places of worship are viewed with suspicion reveal a society deeply embedded in religious and cultural beliefs.

Chief Donald Kamba of the Makoni chieftaincy said it was unfortunate to lose lives in church, a place where people go for spiritual upliftment and pray for long life.

“Is it that people are worshipping someone who is not God? They should be more careful and cautious about where they host their services. I wouldn’t go so far to say that God is not present at those events,” he said.

The ECG debacle is not the first stampede to have claimed lives. In 2014, 11 people died during a stampede which occurred after the conclusion of a crusade hosted by Prophetic, Healing and Deliverance Ministries led by Prophet Walter Magaya.

The PHD leader said that their crowd control system was overwhelmed by the massive crowds and police had to use tear-gas to disperse the congregants as they exited Mbizo Stadium in Kwekwe.

While this reflected laxity in managing crowds gathered in small venues, echoes of a spiritual force at hand reverberated among the general populace.

“People do not just die. It shows that there is a bad spirit that hovering in the atmosphere. Whether it’s because of rituals or behind the scenes acts by purported men of God, we don’t know. But I strongly believe when death occurs in such instances, dark forces are present,” said Mrs Sheila Chinogwenya, who subscribes to the Christian faith.

Traditionalist, Mr Friday Chisanyu said there was need for prophets to promote public health due to their huge influence in society.

While both pentecostal and traditional churches attract masses, critics have said the frenzy demonstrated at the former is clearly associated with idolising someone.

For instance in 2013, a stampede to receive holy water from the leader of Synagogue Church of All Nations, Prophet T B Joshua left four dead in Ghana’s capital of Accra. Reports said that police were overwhelmed by the crowds. So do stampedes also occur in other religions?

In 2015, 717 Muslims reportedly died during pilgrimages to Mecca and Mina in Saudi Arabia. They were part of about two million Muslims from around the world who had gone to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, a pilgrimage that all Muslims with financial and physical capacity fulfil at some point in their lives.

Other observers say the stampedes are not necessarily about rituals or idolising some individuals but are a result of the large numbers of people as happens at football stadiums and other big gatherings.