8 killed in church stampede

Tue, 07 Mar 2017 07:57:15 +0000


By Kalobwe Bwalya And Dorcas Mtonga


A RELIGIOUS outreach programme initiated by 35,000 invitation cards has ended with the death of eight people following a stampede as people scrambled to enter the venue in Lusaka after the gates were opened.

And Government has suspended operations of the Church of Christ after preliminary investigations indicated that the church failed to comply with directives to produce necessary legal documentation governing its operations.

Meanwhile, President Edgar Lungu has sent his personal and Government’s sympathies to the families of the deceased and wished them God’s supreme mercy to help recover from the tragedy.

Eye-witnesses reported that participants started arriving at the Olympic Youth Development Centre (OYDC) as early as 03: 00 hours for the event scheduled for 07:30 hours.

“I heard them singing worship songs as early as 03:00 hours,” a resident said.

When the gate was opened at 06:00 hours the crowd surged forward  to get vantage seating as they had all received cards that were sent by the Church of Christ organization to the different churches in Lusaka  on the morning prayers and distribution of food hampers to the vulnerable.

The Church of Christ under the auspices of Lesedi Seven group had targeted about 35,000 beneficiaries for the programme.

One of the people injured in the stampede, a Ms Phiri from Mandevu compound, a divorcee with six children, narrated that she lost K600 during the fracas, money she was supposed to use for her charcoal business.

Police spokesperson Esther Katongo said among the dead, six were female, one male adult and one male juvenile.

Ms Katongo said five died on the spot while three died in hospitals where they were rushed for medical attention.

“The victims are among the 35,000 which the group, called Lesedi Seven, had invited for prayers at OYDC. The group had also organized food hampers to distribute to people. This Lesedi Seven is a grouping under the Church of Christ.

“The injured are receiving treatment at Chingwere first level hospital and Chipata clinic while the bodies of the deceased have been taken to UTH mortuary.

“We have since dispersed the gathering and an inquiry into the matter has been instituted,” said Ms Katongo.

According to an eye-witness, a Mr. Banda of Mandevu compound, people died and others were injured when they fell and were trampled on as soon as the gates were opened at 06:00 and the huge crowd surged forward to gain entry in the OYDC.

First-level Chipata Hospital medical officer in charge, Dr Gabriel Ngongo, confirmed receiving seven bodies which have been transferred to UTH, while the 28 casualties have been admitted at the health centre for observation.

One of the victims, Catherine Phiri of Garden compound, sustained a swollen neck and shoulders after people stepped on her after she fell as the crowd pushed through the OYDC gate.

‘‘My neck and shoulders are swollen and injured after I was stepped on by a crowd who wanted to get free food from OYDC,” said Ms Phiri.

Meanwhile, police in Chilanga have apprehended a 21-year-old man identified as Tapela Phiri of Linda compound in connection with the defiling and strangling of two girls aged three and seven years.

Ms Katongo said the suspect was reported to have gone to his sister’s house around 19:00 hours on Sunday where he picked his three-year-old niece and another seven-year-old girl, whose parents lived in the neighborhood.

Ms Katongo said Phiri then took them to the bush in Mimosa area where he allegedly defiled them and later murdered them. The suspect stuffed leaves and grass in their mouths to prevent them from screaming.

“He later dumped the two bodies of the female juveniles along Mimosa road and they were discovered by a motorist in the early hours of today (Monday) at about 02: 00 hours who alerted the police.

“The bodies of the deceased are in UTH mortuary while the suspect is detained in police custody,’’ she said.

And Minister of National Guidance and Religious Affairs Godfridah Sumaili has suspended operations of the Church of Christ after preliminary investigations indicated that the church failed to comply with directives to produce necessary legal documentation governing its operations.

“According to the law, all public gatherings are governed by the Public Order Act and I have therefore suspended operations of the Church of Christ unto further notice. Preliminary investigations have shown that leaders of the church have failed to comply with directives to produce all necessary legal documentation governing operations of churches,” Ms. Sumaili said.


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