Fourteen Johane Masowe churchgoers have been confirmed dead after they drowned in a river during a baptism ceremony on Saturday evening.
Thirty-three members of the white garment church from Alexandra went for baptism in the Jukskei River in Morningside, Johannesburg, when a flash flood occurred, resulting in the tragedy.
Eyewitnesses told the media that the congregants were standing on rocks in the river when a deluge of water poured. The church leader reportedly escaped death by a whisker when he held on to an overhanging tree branch while being swept away.
The police, fire service and specialist aquatic rescue teams, will continue searching today for three people who are still missing.
Spokesperson of the City of Johannesburg Emergency Medical Services Robert Mulaudzi told eNCA that the teams first recovered two drowned bodies on Saturday before 12 others were retrieved on Sunday from the Jukskei River, bringing the count to 14.
“Our residents, especially congregants who normally practice these kinds of rituals, will be tempted to go to these river streams. Our message for them is to exercise caution as and when they conduct these rituals,” Mulaudzi said.
Victor Ncube, a member of the Johane Masowe church, told the media that he rescued five people from the river who had been swept 100 metres downstream.
This is not the first time members of an apostolic sect have drowned during their church rituals.
In 2021, eight prophets from Vadzidzi VaJeso apostolic sect in Zimbabwe drowned while competing to retrieve a “holy stick” in Mazowe River. Ten prophets were involved in the ritual competition to select a baptist when they drowned.
One of the church leaders threw a church stick into the deep Hungumwe River and said whoever retrieved it first would qualify to baptise congregants.