'We didn't know,' say Ngcobo church followers
Followers of the controversial Mancoba Angel Ministry Church in Ngcobo, Eastern Cape, said they had no idea that their leaders, whom they call "kings", were involved in any criminality.
This is the church where police shot dead seven people suspected to be involved in the killing of five police officers at Ngcobo police station last week. A retired soldier was also killed in the process.
Ten people were also arrested during the raid of the church on Friday, while others escaped.
One of the church members, Thabisa Mkokeli, 33, said the church leaders were their kings who took care of them.
"They are our kings, looking after us, healing us, feeding us and doing everything for us after getting instructions from God," said Mkokeli.
"They get a message from God." She said they never asked where the money they lived on came from and that the alleged criminal activities by church leaders "is news to me".
Asked whether she was aware that the so-called kings had been killed by the police, Mkokeli said, "they are not dead - they speak to me, they are angels".
Another church member, Nobulawu Lusafeni, 48, of Centane, said: "How was I going to know what young men were doing with their time at night in their rooms? We don't sleep together."
Lusafeni claimed church founder, Siphiwo Mancoba, who died in 2015, had prophecised about the churchyard turning into a battlefield.
"I don't even feel anything. I'm not hurt about what happened here. I knew this day would come," Lusafeni said.
Asked what followed in the prophecy, she added: "Just watch and see."
Mkokeli said they remained calm for about 30 minutes inside their zinc shelter on Friday night while a heavy exchange of gunfire erupted in the churchyard between the suspects and the police.
Mkokeli said she quit her truck-driving job in Cape Town in 2015 and joined the church after an ear infection, which she said doctors could not heal, was cured at the church.
Meanwhile, Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities chairwoman Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said: "We are not shocked. We have said it over and over that it is a cult and it is going to explode at some point.
"... everybody else is legislated [but there is no law governing churches]."
Chris Hani regional South African Council of Churches deputy chairman bishop Zamindawo Gqira said when he interacted with the Mancoba brothers last year, he discovered that their church had nothing to do with Christianity but was a mere cult.
Chief Dabulingwe Nzima said they had suspected something sinister about the church ever since it started operating there.
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula told a large crowd on Saturday: "The women have been brainwashed. They are just walking dead. That thing that has captured their minds is not a church, but is a satanist place of witchcraft."
Provincial social development spokesman Mzukisi Solani said 35 young women and 15 older women were rescued and taken to places of safety.
Safety MEC Weziwe Tikana said the state would demolish the premises where the church was.
The 10 suspects that were arrested are expected to appear in the Ngcobo Magistrate's Court today, and tomorrow a memorial service for the deceased force members will be held.l See Page 12