Gun fight raises stakes at Modise church

Members of International Pentecos Holiness Church walk the grounds of the church's headquarters at Zuurbekom, west of Johannesburg, were a shooting took place.
Members of International Pentecos Holiness Church walk the grounds of the church's headquarters at Zuurbekom, west of Johannesburg, were a shooting took place.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

The leaders of the two factions at the centre of a deadly succession feud at IPHC, better known as Modise church, are blaming each other for the deaths of five people at the weekend.

The International Pentecost Holiness Church warring factions, one aligned to Leonard Modise and another to his half brother Michael Sandlana, yesterday pointed fingers at each other over the bloody gunfight at the church's headquarters in Zuurbekom on Saturday.

Over 40 heavily armed assailants apparently stormed the Zuurbekom property, also known as Silo, in the early hours of Saturday, and clashed with security guards which led to the killing of five people.

According to the Leonard's faction, the men who raided the property were allegedly sent by Sandlana and were "armed to the teeth". But Sandlana's spokesperson Vusi Ndala denied that they sanctioned the deadly attack.

He said five people who were killed in the bloodbath were worshippers who had come to Silo to pray.

Eye witnesses Kholo Mphahlele and MacLean Kalane, a security guard who was on duty on Saturday, said the men arrived at 1.30am, disguised as police officers led by a BMW 3 series which was flanked by two Toyota Quantum minibuses.

Abiel Wessie, convenor of church council at IPHC.
Abiel Wessie, convenor of church council at IPHC.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

"Upon being denied entry they [proceeded] to another entrance used by [delivery] trucks and suppliers and that's how they gained access. Because they were led by a former member who knows the premises, they were able to enter forcefully through the south gate," Kalane said.

By the time police arrived the hostage situation was still on. Witnesses told Sowetan that the armed men had removed people who live on the property from their flats into one of the halls known as the "white house".

"It all ended at 7am. I'm still grateful to God that I am alive," said Kalane.

Abiel Wessie, convener of the church's council at Zuurbekom, said the attack mirrored the one used by Sandlana to seize the property of the church in Pienaarsrivier, Limpopo, in January this year.

"A similar strategy was deployed in Blaauwberg [in Western Cape] in May 2019 on the occasion of the IPHC's Mt Zion Pilgrimage," Wessie said.

He accused the other faction of being involved in criminal activities, something the church, he said, had escalated to police minister Bheki Cele.

Police said about 46 people were arrested on the scene and recovered 68 firearms which included 17 rifles, 24 shotguns and 27 pistols.

Police spokesperson, Brig Vish Naidoo said more arrests were expected.

The room at IPHC church property where a number of people were held hostage, leading to the killing of five on Saturday morning.
The room at IPHC church property where a number of people were held hostage, leading to the killing of five on Saturday morning.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

"Forty two suspects will face charges of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition while four will face charges of being in possession of explosives," Naidoo said.

Ndala said the Sandlana faction, based at a branch known as Jerusalema, north of Pretoria was not involved in the killings. Jerusalema is yet another significant IPHC property at Lerulaneng village, near Brits in North West.

Ndala denied that the armed men were sent by his faction.

"Those people who died there were our members. But we categorically deny that they were sent to Silo. They went there on their own free will to see if they could worship there. But there was no authority given from the executive that they should go and invade Silo," Ndala said.

MaClean Kalane survived the assault on Saturday at IPHC Church in Zuurbekom.
MaClean Kalane survived the assault on Saturday at IPHC Church in Zuurbekom.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

"They were ambushed. They killed our people and it wasn't because we were the ones in the wrong. Community members know those who were killed are our members. We have witnesses and videos of them being there."

He said they were working with the police to identify the people who were shot dead and burned in a vehicle.

"We don't know who they are at the moment, but we know they were our people. They were dragged out of the church, shot, and then they burned them."

He said Jerusalema members were not allowed to worship at Silo. Ndala also denied accusations made by Wessie that the faction had been involved in a number of criminal activities including assault, theft, and robbery.

Leonard Modise, Sandlana and Leonard's older brother Tshepiso, who runs another faction of the church in Springs, have been engaged in a protracted succession court battles since their father's death in 2016.

Timeline of IPHC from inception, and the split 

History of International Pentecost Holiness Church and its leaders.

The International Pentecost Holiness Church (IPHC) is a popular South African contemporary church founded by the late Reverend Frederick Samuel Modise in 1962 - he is also known as the comforter. All his successors are likewise known as comforters.

  • The church grew in numbers and currently has more than 3 million members across Southern Africa.
Some of about 40 armed suspects who were arrested on the grounds of IPHC Silo property at Zuurbekom at the weekend.
Some of about 40 armed suspects who were arrested on the grounds of IPHC Silo property at Zuurbekom at the weekend.
Image: SAPS
  • Upon his death, Samuel Modise had only one son, Glayson who took over his seat in 1998 and set a family succession trend of the leadership in the church.
  •  Glayson was married to Marriam, the first wife and Pearl Tafu as the second. He had two sons with Marriam, the eldest being Tshepiso and the youngest is Leonard. A third son Michel Sandlana has since emerged and is laying claim to the throne.
  •  Upon his death in 2016, new church leadership was to be established between his two sons Tshepiso and Leonard. But this triggered internal wars between the family, and also among church members.
  •  Above all, Glayson had no valid will at the time of his death.
  • Glayson had more than R1bn in two separate bank accounts. And it is also believed that more millions in cash was stored in a vault in the church's headquarters called Silo in Zuurbekom, Johannesburg.
  •  Among many assets they are fighting for are vehicles such as Rolls Royces, Bentleys and Mercedes Benzs and several properties and commercial farms in Limpopo, North West and Cape Town.
  •  Three factions, each led by a Glayson' ons are squabbling over leadership, though the only recognised leader at the moment is his eldest son Tshepiso.
  •  In 2018, Sandlana took over the church's second-biggest branch in Oskraal, North West known as Jerualema.

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