The death of 11 people at a stadium in Kwekwe where the Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries held a crusade, made very sad reading.
Sunday Opinion by Ropafadzo Mapimhidze
But I saw this coming.
Whilst most people want to blame other people for having caused this stampede, it is wrong-headed to blame crowd disasters on the behaviour of the crowd.
More often the real problem is poor organisation — too many people in one place — or inadequate venue design.
Crowds can be described as “the fourth emergency service” because lives are at stake — an attitude not often shared by police and other stakeholders.
I experienced a nasty encounter at PHD Ministries on New Year’s Eve where a candlelight service was held at the main church along Beatrice Road, opposite Zindoga Shopping Complex.
It was a nightmare getting into the venue as it was packed to capacity, with rains that apparently fell that night.
There was hardly any space to sit because the faithful had started moving into the blue roofed shelter that had limited space for the thousands of people that had come.
Magaya is no doubt a crowd puller, a very down to earth person, humble and who — unlike other prophets around the city — is approachable and open to new ideas.
But as more and more people flock to his church for solutions to their illnesses and other social matters, he has to ensure that safety of these faithful is also of paramount importance.
The Candle Light Service was a spectacular event which I thoroughly enjoyed. Each and every person in the church held a lit candle as the choir sang songs while the clock ticked away into the New Year.
It was such a memorable event.
But as the morning dawned, it was time for the congregation to leave and that is when I experienced serious problems.
As I started walking towards the exit way from the front row where I had been seated, I fell down as people were pushing their way out.
A woman with a baby strapped on her back crash landed on my back as I struggled to get up.
One man came and helped me get up and I have up until today, experienced pain in my back.
I could have been seriously hurt had it not been for the quick-thinking young man who came to my rescue.
Crowd control is very poor at church service. The place is also not adequately designed to carry the number of people that flock to this place.
The toilets are also too few and queues could be seen meandering around the premises.
Those that were hard pressed would go behind these toilets and relieve themselves. The smell of urine and faeces was just nauseating and unbearable.
I have written a lot about various churches and one that comes to mind is Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa’s United International Family Church (Ufic) which holds its church services at the City Sports Stadium.
This church is an example of a well-run church that has excellent crowd control measures in place.
The Judgment Night, which Ufic organised sometime this year at the National Sports Stadium, was something that was so splendidly planned.
People left the stadium in an orderly fashion and hence no casualties were recorded at this event that also attracted thousands of people from other parts of the world.
The stadium had various exit points and that made movement of people flow according to plan.
Such cannot be said about PHD Ministries, which is no doubt one of Africa’s largest attendances on a Sunday, where confusion reigns when people start moving out.
Prophet Magaya should try and find a place out of town, maybe a farm, and establish his church on vast grounds. Or he should move to the National Sports Stadium which is more than enough to meet his needs . . . from toilets and parking space for vehicles.
The man of God foresaw disaster and had requested that the precast wall at the stadium in Kwekwe be pulled down to avoid a stampede.
But council authorities refused to grant him that wish.
Blame should hence be apportioned to all these parties, including the police who overlooked safety measures to ensure smooth exit of people from this packed stadium.
Obviously many churches will celebrate this disaster because there is a cold war being waged against these mass churches.
It is a soul winning warfare.
Because of this experience, I have vowed never to attend church services with such enormous crowds. I have gone back to my small church where each and every person knows each other, get visited when ill and where home visits are regularly conducted by the pastor.
This is not an attack on the man of God, but a humble plea for him to improve operations at his church by involving or recruiting more people to control crowds otherwise death will continuously stalk this rapidly growing church.