Eleven worshippers die in Zimbabwe stampede

AFP , Friday 21 Nov 2014

At least 11 people died and many more were injured in a stampede in Zimbabwe as thousands packed a stadium for a service by a celebrity preacher and self-styled miracle-worker, police said Friday.

Police said around 15,000 people were crammed into the stadium in Kwekwe southwest of Harare Thursday evening for an event held by Walter Magaya, a Pentecostal preacher who models himself on Nigeria's controversial Pastor TB Joshua.

When the service ended worshippers rushed to the only exit, with four dying in the crush, said Shadreck Mubaiwa, police spokesman for the area 280 kilometres (175 miles) from the capital.

Seven others were declared dead on arrival in hospital.

"Because of the pressure, some people fell resulting in the deaths and injuries," Mubaiwa said.

A witness who spoke on condition of anonymity told AFP: "Common sense did not prevail, especially on the security side."

Church authorities could not be reached for comment but state television quoted spokeswoman Catherine Nyangoni confirming the deaths and saying the Pentecostal church was working with the police to establish the cause of the tragedy.

Speaking on local radio Thursday night, the preacher Magaya -- who counts current and former government ministers among his flock -- said he was "gutted" by the incident.

"I rushed back to the venue and it was very sad, the saddest moment of my life," he said.

"This was our event and as a church we have to take the blame for the tragedy. It is still too early to say what caused the stampede but the fact that the stampede took place at the venue means that part of our system failed to function."

The government had yet to react.

Magaya's is among a number of emerging Pentecostal churches whose followers are drawn by promises of miracles.

An event organised by his Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries in the capital two weeks ago was attended by around 200,000 people, according to local media.

Magaya says he is a protege of Nigeria's TB Joshua, who made headlines worldwide in September followng a fatal collapse at his Lagos megachurch in which 116 people died.

In May 2013, four people were killed in a stampede at a church run by the Nigerian preacher. The incident occurred when the church began distributing free holy water, purported to cure illnesses and protect against evil forces.

Just six months later, 28 died in another stampede in Nigeria when about 100,000 worshippers gathered at a church about 300 kilometres south of Abuja to celebrate All Souls Day.

Pentecostal churches preaching prosperity are on the rise in Africa, with impoverished and desperate people travelling lost distances to attend sermons, some seek healing from terminal diseases.

Walter Magaya started his church in the working class Harare suburb of Chitungwiza in 2011 with less than 40 people.

By last year the congregation had grown to 5,000 prompting him to move his church from a board room at a sports club to a more spacious shed that previously served as a warehouse in Harare's industrial district.

Prominent figures who attend his services include Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi, former information deputy minister Bright Matonga and former football association chief Henrietta Rushwaya.

Magaya refuses to give his exact age save to say that he is in his early 30s. He was voted in a survey among the most influential Zimbabweans under 40.

He courted controversy when a local businessman sued him for adultery. The businessman later withdrew charges and apologised to Magaya at a church service.

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