“We are here to arrest people.”
With these words, a police officer allegedly greeted pastor JP Esterhuizen on the premises of the Full Gospel Church of God’s WRD assembly in Valhalla, Centurion, on Sunday morning.
This reportedly happened moments after the officer and three of his colleagues scaled the wall of the church around 09.40am.
The pastor and his family were allegedly accosted on the church premises following a walkabout by congregants between 8am and 9am.
“We kept a distance of at least 10 metres between one another and everyone was wearing face masks. We distributed pamphlets and congregants prayed for aspects of the pandemic in some spots.
“The last people left at 08:55 at the very latest and we complied with the regulations,” Esterhuizen said.
He claims that the officers parked in front of the church, but didn’t call any of the numbers on the sign on the gate.
“Surely they could have called me, but it seems they wanted to catch us inside the church while worshiping.
‘Looking for soft target’
“Thirty seconds into our discussion, the police officer told me they were there to arrest people. It’s as though they were looking for a soft target; as if they knew everybody would comply if they stormed into the church and ordered everyone to lie on the floor.
Esterhuizen said the police were seemingly responding to an anonymous complaint.
“They made certain that the church was locked, that there were no footprints, and then took photographs. They then apologised to us and left.”
Esterhuizen claims the officers broke a large pot plant worth R1,000 when they scaled the wall. “But that’s not the issue for me. It’s about showing respect for the church. It’s as though they wanted to catch us in the act [of something unlawful] – you don’t just expose a church like that.”
According to Esterhuizen, the ordeal lasted around 10 minutes.
National police spokesperson Colonel Vishnu Naidoo told News24 sector members from Wierdabrug received a telephonic complaint that there was an illegal gathering at the church and were requested to intervene.
“Gates at the church were locked. Members hooted and switched on the vehicle’s sirens, but no one came to open the gate for them nor to talk to them. They then jumped the fence to check what was happening and spoke to the pastor.”
In terms of the broken pot plant, Naidoo said senior officers from the station would visit the church to follow up the allegations.
“The pastor also has a right to open a case at the police station and it will be investigated properly.”