Lauren Isaacs8 July 2024 | 5:46

Spate of attacks on churches across SA leaving many congregants worshipping in fear

Over the past three weeks, robberies have been reported during religious services in Cape Town and Pretoria.

Spate of attacks on churches across SA leaving many congregants worshipping in fear


CAPE TOWN - Faith or fear, it's a decision many worshippers are now faced with following a spate of attacks on churches across the country.

Thieves targeting congregants and clergymen is not a new phenomenon, but these crimes seem to be escalating.

Over the past three weeks, robberies have been reported during religious services in Cape Town and Pretoria.

In one of the latest incidents last week, a church service turned violent.

Africa Evangelical Church congregants were gathering for a religious conference at a resort north of Pretoria when armed men stormed the venue demanding personal belongings.
In Cape Town, there have been at least three church robberies reported in Goodwood in recent weeks, while in Gugulethu, a pastor was robbed of his cellphone at gunpoint at the entrance to his church. 

The incident, caught on the church's live streaming channel, shows two men wearing caps, buffs over their faces and blue latex gloves , approaching the front of the hall.

The band and singers then stop singing and can be seen bending down and leaving the front of the church.

At least one of the assailants can be seen holding a firearm. It's been reported that a number of congregants sustained injuries.


In Goodwood, situated in the Northern Suburbs of Cape Town, there have been three robberies at churches in recent weeks -- in which mostly cellphones and jewellery were stolen.

No arrests have yet been made.

The Goodwood Community Policing Forum (CPF) say none of the robberies happened during Sunday morning services but in the evening, during the week.

The CPF's John Ross said policing this crime proved difficult.

"We have over 50 places of worship in the Goodwood area, and that includes Tygerdal, Glenwood and Monte Vista and they all worship at different times, so it's extremely difficult. But we have had discussions with neighbourhood watches, we are going to draw in as many organisations...We want to draw on all their knowledge and resources to curb this problem."

Ross says while it may be difficult, a possible solution may be for churches to lock their doors once worshippers are inside.

"I know that's difficult. Churches are generally open to the public and open to anybody walking in...Again the problem is that we will not know if a car pulls up outside the church, it's very difficult to identify if this person has come to worship or if this person is coming to rob them."

Meanwhile, Ross has urged the community to refrain from fear mongering and only share verified information.


Leader of Kingdom of God Ministries in Mfuleni, Apostle Siniko Nxesi, was held at gunpoint when robbers targeted his church several years ago.

"One time after church, they came in to rob us and they shot me four times, but by the grace of God, I survived. So I have been a victim of church robbery and I know three pastors that have been victims....There was a time in Easter, when they went into a church in Site C [Khayelitsha] and they even raped and took phones, so it's been a growing trend."

Nxesi believes criminals see robbing a church as an easy way to make a quick buck. He said while businesses in many Cape Town communities continued to be targeted by extortionists, churches had not been spared.

 "Youth unemployment in South Africa is very high...these boys don't have anything to do, so it's a contributing factor to what is happening...they resort to go robbing churches and businesses."

Nxesi said his church had established a security department that sees a group of volunteers guard the church and its congregants during services.

They are members of the church, and some of them work as police officers or security officials.

"Obviously when you go to church, you want to be free. It's a place of freedom, a place of worship. You are not expecting to be robbed at church. Generally, people as human beings, they respect a place of worship, but it seems these days people have gotten to a place where even places of worship are no longer respected."

Nxesi said with the appointment of a new police minister, he hoped radical steps would be taken to address the issue of crime.

He said church leaders may have different approaches in response to this scourge.

"Those who want to lock doors, they should but that is a tragedy that we are locking churches because of robberies. It should be a place that is open to everybody but what can we do, that's the time we are living in."


Other reliegious leaders have suggested that apart from locking church doors and establishing watch groups, churches should also refrain from collecting money - or an offertory - and rather resort to transferring money into the church's account.

Co-ordinator of the Gugulethu Spiritual Crime Prevention Forum Bishop Zamuxolo Mfihlo said he was extremely concerned about the ongoing attacks on churches across the country.

"These days we put burglar bars on windows and doors because we fear that anyone can come in and rob us. We saw on social media, some places they even shot the pastor. Our church is like a jail now, it's not free as usual."

The last incident of this nature reported in Gugulethu happened last month when a pastor was robbed of his cellphone at gunpoint at the entrance to his church.

 "He couldn't even fight back because they were two boys and you ask yourself, where are these guns coming from? These are very young boys we are talking about, 15,16, carrying guns. And the question is, who is sending these boys to attack the churches?"

Mfihlo said police ertrnot doing enough to keep churches safe, and that they relied on neighbourhood watch groups to patrol and keep them safe while church services were underway.

 Mfihlo said faith-based leaders should unite and demand that government take action against crime.