‘COVID-19 PRAYER’ ENDS IN CLASH WITH COPS
MBABANE – What was meant to be a day of prayer for the end of COVID-19, turned into a clash between police officers and about 50 congregants.
The clash was so intense such that the law enforcers had to fire teargas to disperse the congregants. This incident took place last Saturday morning at Mphundle in Siteki, where the congregants from various churches around the area had gathered to pray.
Information gathered from Pastor Aaron Ngwenya, who was leading the service, was to the effect that on the day they encountered the unfortunate incident, the community of Mphundle had gathered to pray for the end of COVID-19.
However, police are disputing that the prayer was for COVID-19.
Ngwenya mentioned that they had converged at a neighbourhood care point where they were preparing to pray for peace and God’s intervention to end the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
According to the pastor, the place where the prayer was supposed to take place was an open ground and when they were allegedly attacked by the police, they had not exceeded 100 people as per the COVID-19 regulations on gatherings.
This, he said, was because some of the congregants were still on their way to the service and according to him, even after their arrival; they would have not exceeded the required number of people allowed in gatherings. Ngwenya was quick to mention that all the congregants were wearing face masks and they had assigned an individual to sanitise everyone attending the service.
Ngwenya said while they waited for more people to come, a group of about 10 police officers, who were armed with batons and other weapons, appeared and questioned them about their gathering.
He said as the congregants attempted to respond, the police ordered them to leave the premises but as they attempted to plead with them, the law enforcers allegedly started kicking a faction of the congregants in an attempt to drive them out of the neighbourhood care point premises. He claimed that other congregants were assaulted with batons.
This resulted in commotion and that is when the police are said to have thrown teargas canisters to disperse the crowd.
According to Ngwenya, his eyes and that of the other congregants were badly affected by the teargas, to a point that he still had difficulty seeing properly.
“The police officers claimed that they were sent by higher authorities to disperse the gathering, something which shocked us as we know that the country’s leaders had requested the nation to pray for the coronavirus pandemic to come to an end, which is exactly what we were doing,” he said.
He pointed out that they tried, but in vain, to reason with the police officers to furnish them with a court order authorising them to stop the service, given the fact that according to the COVID-19 regulations on the operation of churches, they were allowed to conduct church services. Ngwenya said instead of producing the court order, the police informed them that the only court order they could grant them was the word they received from ‘their authorities’.
Mthengu Maziya, one of the residents who also claimed to have been assaulted by the police, said she was still struggling to understand why the police could assault them for praying.
She echoed Ngwenya’s words as she mentioned that they had adhered to the COVID-19 regulations as they were wearing their face masks while maintaining a distance of two metres apart.
“We also assigned a person to sanitise everyone who would come to the service and further maintained the permissible number of people per gathering, which is why we are still in the dark as to why the police decided to act violently,” she said.
Knowledge Maziya, who also claimed that he was assaulted by the police during the scuffle, said he couldn’t believe that the altercation would escalate to a point where teargas canisters had to be thrown their direction. “It was more like a movie scene,” he claimed. Knowledge claimed that he also sustained minor injuries during the attack. It is worth noting that weddings, funerals and community meetings have been regulated to a maximum of 100 people per gathering.
This is contained in a variation of gatherings directive of 2020 as part of the COVID-19 regulations. The regulations were released by the Ministry of Home Affairs during a training session of different stakeholders and religious bodies on gatherings under COVID-19 regulations.
The regulations came after an announcement by the Prime Minister, Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini, on the relaxation of the number of people allowed in gatherings.
The regulations read; “The maximum number of people who may be present at a place of worship on the day of worship shall be the equivalent of 30 per cent of the total holding capacity of the relevant place of worship.”
— Times Of Swaziland