Five people have been killed in an attack on a church west of Johannesburg, South African police have said, with some of the attackers taking hostages who were later freed.
At least 40 people were arrested and 40 firearms, including rifles, shotguns and handguns related to the attack on the International Pentecost Holiness Church in Zuurbekom, were seized, police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo told the local eNCA television on Saturday.
Police said they rescued men, women and children who had been held hostage and appeared to have been living at the church. It was not clear how many were rescued.
The early morning attack by a group of armed people “may have been motivated by a feud” between church members, the police statement said.
The church is one of the largest – and reportedly richest – in South Africa.
Photos tweeted by the police showed more than a dozen men lying on the ground, subdued, along with rifles, pistols, a baseball bat and boxes of ammunition – including at least one marked “law enforcement”.
#sapsGP Early hours this morning #SAPS was alerted to a hostage situation & shooting @ International Pentcost Holiness Church, Zuurbekom, 30 suspects arrested & seized more than 25 firearms. 5 fatalities are confirmed. The scene is still active with SAPS Hostage Negotiators. TM pic.twitter.com/5sMjYkYFjg
— SA Police Service 🇿🇦 (@SAPoliceService) July 11, 2020
The response by security forces “averted what could have been a more severe bloodbath”, national police commissioner Khehla John Sitole said.
Among those arrested were members of the police, defence forces and correctional services.
The church’s Zuurbekom headquarters has been the scene of violence between factions more than once in recent years, with shots fired, rocks thrown and cars smashed, according to local news reports.
“Trouble has been brewing at the church following the death of its leader‚ Glayton Modise‚ in February 2016,” The Sowetan newspaper reported in 2018.