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COPS INVADE ABOUT 10 CHURCHES IN BID TO BOOST NUMBERS

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NHLANGANO – It was a typical case of ‘rent a crowd’ as officials allegedly turned to the church in order to boost numbers at a certain polling station yesterday.

It is understood that police officers found themselves rubbing some clerics the wrong way after they barged into their churches unannounced, allegedly to ‘encourage’ worshippers to suspend their business of worship over politics. The rare episode was played out around Mathendele in Nhlangano yesterday morning. This was reportedly after it was realised that the attendance at the polling station wasn’t impressive, way after the scheduled time for the nomination process was set to begin. Worshippers from several churches (close to 10) had to abruptly slash the length of their services after police officers arrived to convince them that the nomination process was also an essential part of their lives. Witnesses said it was shortly after 10am when the officers embarked on the church door-to-door visitations.
Onlookers said worshippers showed a mixture of reactions to the impromptu stopovers by the men in blue: great disappointment for some, while others elected to acquiescence.

Several interviewed worshippers said the police officers invaded their church while a service was ongoing and accused those gathered there of not taking important national assignments seriously. “They simply said yesterday was not a day for worship since it was declared official nomination day. We were asked to cut the service short and leave,” explained one of the worshippers from a church which is situated about 200 metres from the polling station. A cleric from another church in the vicinity also confirmed the visit by the police officers. The pastor said the officers requested them to shut down and attend the national assignment. “Yes they came and asked us to stop. They said it wasn’t a day of worship,” he said. The man of God, however, refused to comment further on the subject. Sources revealed that in some of the visited churches, the officers were given a tough time by church leaders, who demanded written proof that worshipping was ‘banned’ on the day. A bystander narrated how he overheard some frustrated elderly worshippers singing, “Eyethu indaba ayipheleli lapha,” (meaning, we have committed to the life above, and not on earthly things) as they walked away from the church premises, in visible dissatisfaction.

When approached for comment, Acting Chief Police Information and Communications Officer Assistant Superintendent Phindile Vilakati said since people were busy on a national assignment, officers were all out conducting patrols to ensure that order prevailed.
Vilakati, however, cast her doubt over claims about officers causing disturbances around some churches yesterday. “It could happen that officers might have also gone to places where people had gathered for other purposes, but the intention was to keep law and order. I can’t really be sure about cases of causing disturbances to churches because we haven’t received that kind of information,” she said. Meanwhile, Communications Officer at the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), Mbonisi Bhembe, is on record saying voting was voluntary and that anybody above the age of 18 was eligible to exercise their voting rights, save only for a few exceptions.

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