'This is organised crime': Police officer describes suspects in the IPHC church murders
“This is organised crime.”
So says the policeman probing the hostage situation that left five people dead at one of SA's biggest churches.
Almost a month ago, West Rand police responded to a hostile crime scene at about 2am where a group of armed men were allegedly staging a coup at the headquarters of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC) in Zuurbekom.
The attackers “drove from as far as KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces to come and do this evil deed,” according to the affidavit by the investigating officer, Sgt George Maditse.
A total of 42 suspects were arrested. The Westonaria magistrate's court is expected to rule on their bail applications next week.
“None of the 42 applicants is a member of the IPHC in Zuurbekom,” said Maditse. “The applicants kidnapped church congregants and put them in one place. Among the congregants were the sickly, the old people and children who are so traumatised till this day.”
Squabbling in the church dates back to 2016, when Bishop Glayton Modise died intestate, the SowetanLIVE's sister publication Financial Mail reports. He left a legacy worth R400m, including R50m in cash and a number of properties. The issue of his successor is the subject of a court dispute. There are two challengers to the incumbent leader, his son Leonard.
Maditse said in his affidavit to court that at the crime scene, police found four bodies with bullet wounds. Two of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition.
A fifth person was alive but half-burnt. A member of the SANDF was rushed to Leratong Hospital but succumbed to his injuries.
There were also two vehicles burnt beyond recognition.
Many of the suspects in custody are security officers who claim they were responding to an emergency alert at the church.
Raymond Manganye is listed as suspect number 1. He was arrested driving a minibus taxi, allegedly trying to flee the crime scene.
“One 9mm pistol with a filed-off serial number was found inside this vehicle. Accused numbers 1 to 14, who were the occupants of the White Toyota Quantum, told the police that they had no knowledge about the said pistol,” said Maditse.
Manganye has a criminal record, the court heard. He was previously found guilty of assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm and theft. He had also been arrested for possession of stolen property, malicious damage to property, and attempted common robbery, said Maditse. These matters were withdrawn, however.
Manganye, a 45-year-old single father of three, told the court during the bail application that he was transporting security guards and was apprehended by police before reaching the church. He intends pleading not guilty.
Suspects 15 to 18 were arrested inside a white BMW and 10 shotguns and six pistols were recovered, said Maditse. Three of the pistols belong to Black Waters Security Company.
Geoffrey Dikgale, suspect number 15, through his lawyers, provided the Westonaria magistrate’s court with a letter dated October 31 2019 with the IPHC letterhead stating that Black Waters Security was appointed as a security provider of the church premises effective from November 1 last year.
But, Maditse told the court, “When one takes a closer look at the church stamp, it says International Pentecostal Church Choir [IPCC] and the address is [in] Jerusalem City, which is the breakaway church in Brits, North West.
“The leadership of IPHC furnished an affidavit stating that they have not appointed Black Waters Security to provide them with any protection services. They said that the letter is a forged document,” said Maditse.
The suspect has no previous conviction and no pending cases.
Suspects 19 to 38 were arrested as they were coming out of the church yard.
“The accused were armed to the teeth and as they found the police waiting for them outside the yard, they went flat on their stomachs and surrendered their weapons,” Maditse said.
Tseko Victor Mofokeng, suspect number 22, was arrested together with accused numbers 19 to 38.
“The accused is the alleged director of Black Waters Security Company. He was not on duty when he was arrested because he had no security uniform on,” Maditse added.
He and suspect number 15, through their legal representative, submitted letters claiming the church had appointed them for security services.
According to police testimony, he was previously arrested for attempted murder, and twice for malicious damage to property, all of which were withdrawn.
Richie Govender, the owner of 1Track Security Company, and his employee Michael Moolman are also among the accused.
Police state that this firm was not contracted by the church leadership “and it has come as a surprise to them that the accused 34 and accused number 35 found themselves at the crime scene”.
“The security company contracted by IPHC church in Zuurbekom is called Ipholeleng Security Company and its employees reside in the barracks inside the church premises,” Maditse said. “The accused’s security company has a contract with IPCC Church [faction] which is situated at Jerusalem City, Brits, in the North West province.
“One of the accused's employees was shot and killed in the chaos at the crime scene,” Maditse said.
Semakale Rankhabe, suspect number 39, is a Mosotho national.
“His parents told the investigating officer that the accused does not have any form of identity. He was arrested together with accused number 40 to 42. He was also not posted as the church’s security officer. The accused was not wearing any security uniform when he was arrested. The accused has no previous convictions or pending cases,” Maditse submitted.
During argument on their bail applications this week, the state said it opposed bail, as the suspects were accused of involvement in serious crimes which were carried out with unlicensed, stolen and prohibited firearms.
Maditse accused the suspects of being on a mission to take over the church at the barrel of a gun. Their being out on bail would put the church and the community at risk.
This argument was reiterated by prosecutor Moses Tshamano, who said that based on the sequence of events that led to the murders, the state was of the view that the attack was planned.
“It’s not something that just happened. [More than 15 suspects] were part of the group inside the church. Accused number 22 [Mofokeng] was communicating with them. Suspects number 1 to 18 work for Mofokeng’s security company. They were requested to come there. It’s our view that they were going there to attack and join in the other accused inside the church,” said Tshamano.
He further argued that the defence was not taking responsibility for a firearm that was found in one of the vehicles on the scene.
“They didn’t mention a firearm with an erased serial number. Where does it come from, because it was not hidden or concealed? There was a prior agreement to attack,” Tshamano said.
On Tuesday, defence attorney Barry Roux, representing some of the accused, argued that the police were not impartial in dealing with the case and questioned whether they had taken due care in establishing who had opened fire on whom.
“Maybe they could have been shot by people from inside the church,” Roux suggested.
Maditse disputed this by saying he had taken statements from people inside the church who asserted they had not fired any shots.
“I couldn't interview the accused because their lawyers said they must not speak to us.”
The sergeant said: “They must sit in jail until the matter goes to trial. The accused were not supposed to be at the church, what was their business going to the IPHC?”
He added, “Those who were at the church are still traumatised. They don't even trust us when we go to the church that we are cops.”