Streets in Johannesburg city were painted with rainbow flags and 'Major 1' as thousands took to the street in support of Prophet Shepherd Bushiri the church leader of Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) as he was appearing before the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights (CRL Rights Commission) on Monday.
The Prophet, who arrived around 9 am, was accompanied by his wife Prophetess Mary Bushiri, ECG attorney Terrance Baloyi, Health and Safety Advisor Richard Ashan, Director of Communications Ephraim Nyondo, External Media Relations Manager Maynard Manyowa, and several other church leaders, directors and pastors.
The CRL Rights Commission is an independent Chapter Nine institution in South Africa, which is mandated "to promote respect for and further the protection of the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities; promote and develop peace, friendship, humanity, tolerance, national unity among and within cultural, religious and linguistic communities on the basis of equality, non-discrimination and free association; to promote the right of communities to develop their historically diminished heritage and to recognise community councils"
The Commission is currently mediation between ECG Church, and the South African National Civil Organisation (SANCO). The latter has been protesting in Pretoria, calling for the ECG to be expelled in the wake of the stampede.
Appearing before the commission, and under oath, Prophet Bushiri expressed his heartfelt condolences to the families of members of ECG who tragically passed away on 28 December at Pretoria Showgrounds, during a stampede.
"The ECG International Church would like to take this opportunity to reiterate its deepest apology to the South African people for the accident that happened at its Pretoria Branch. Despite being an accident, as a church we took and we always do take full responsibility for the incident and we are comforted and encouraged by the level of support from different South Africans from different parts of the divide," said Bushiri.
Three women were killed in an apparent stampede at the ECG in December. At least 17 other congregants were injured as they ran for shelter during a heavy rainstorm.
Although the prophet was not there when the stampede happened, he gave a detailed account of what the internal investigation held by ECG Church had unearthed.
The prophet also clarified several issues which were erroneously raised by different stakeholders.
"The church has an onsite paramedics company which handles emergency activities within the premises. The immediate report we got from them was that there has been a stampede at one of the halls, and using their ambulances they evacuated different people who suffered different injuries," Bushiri explained.
He said the church was, however, assured by paramedics that everything was under control, and that three seriously injured people had been taken to a private medical care facility.
Bushiri said he was then advised by the church, acting on assurances from paramedics, to proceed with the service. However, during the service, it transpired that the three had died.
The prophet said his ECG church will remain "receptive to advise and constructive criticism" at the same time working with every institution to ensure that "we continue to serve the spiritual needs of our people in gatherings that are safe and secure."
The prophet asked the CRL to formally invite him, and involve him in their runnings.
The church also submitted that while it had enough marshals and security in place, the incident on the day was unforeseen and got so out of hand that marshals could not handle it.
The hearings continue.