Hymns and holy terror: fight over church noise escalates
The row between weary residents and a pastor has reached the point where some fear for their lives
To the pastor of a church it is holy noise; to residents in Katlehong it is nothing but noise disturbing their peace.
Now the fight between the residents and The Tabernacle of the Living God Ministries in Katlehong has reached an impasse, with forgiveness seemingly not an option.
An open piece of land on Combretum Drive has seen a sudden insurgence of makeshift churches popping up in the past year and half and has left residents disgruntled at the noise and the awful smell from pit toilets.
But for resident Mokhadi Mofokeng it’s become more than just an annoyance. He lives in fear ever since he first complained about the noise.
Mofokeng lives with his wife and two young children in a modest house directly opposite The Tabernacle of the Living God Ministries.
“As a concerned resident, you go and say: ‘Please pastor, can’t you put your volume down?’ And that’s when it’s started to be personal.”He claimed pastor Aaron Sandlane threatened him and said he will deal with him and that he won’t sleep peacefully at night.
“They [the pastor and church members] instructed us that we must move to Sandton as we behave like white people and they are there to stay, whether we like it or not.”
Walking through the land on a Sunday morning, singing and preaching can be heard from the various shacks made of corrugated iron.
As Mofokeng walked he pointed out the illegal electricity connections. At one point the smell of human waste flooded the air.
A white bakkie drove slowly past and Siphe Mhlangala, another resident, pointed out that it was a church member following them – a common occurrence, he said.Luan Bentley said they are used to being followed by people from the church. “I'm not even using public transport anymore. When you go to town in Alberton, they are doing that. We are not safe.”
Sandlane denies all allegations against him and said in a police statement that Mofokeng is in fact the violent one. He said he has always obliged when he has been asked to lower the music and specifically changed the shack structure into brick in order to conceal the sound.
In a statement he said: “He’s been threatening me and the church members because of the church making holy noise.”Police spokesman Andre de Jager said: “The issue about the protection order is currently in court and they will appear on April 5 as both parties have applied for a protection order against each other.”
When Times Select approached Sandlane, he along with his followers were hostile and shouted: “It’s only this one church that he has a problem with,” and: “I'm sick and tired of you people and this man. I'm going to the court about this man and again you [are] coming here. What do you want?
“You know what’s happening with this church? I’m helping people to give them clothes, and I’m helping people to eat.”The land is owned by mostly by the Gauteng provincial government and the Ekurhuleni municipality.
Residents decided to draw up a petition last year calling on the municipality to investigate the 13 illegal structures, and gathered 39 signatures. But they have been left feeling hopeless as no authority seems to be taking action.
PR councillor for the DA Jordan Lotriet said he has been trying to find a solution through the city and SAPS, “but it keeps on bouncing backward and forwards”.
“It moves from one department to another. If I contact EMPD they say it’s a SAPS problem; if I contact SAPS they say no, EMPD must come for noise control. If I get city planning involved they say the ground is provincial land, it needs to be dealt with by province. So nobody really wants to take responsibility for what is actually happening on the land.”Things have escalated to the point where Mofokeng opened a case of intimidation against Sandlane last year. The case was postponed, but a new date still has to be set.
Last month he had a protection order served on him by two officers at his home, while Mofokeng waited in the police vehicle. Sandlane then allegedly tried to attack Mofokeng but the officers managed to drive away.
This is reiterated in a statement by Constable Boy Maumu Ramapula: “As we were about to drive off, Mr Sandlane, the respondent, forcefully opened the passenger door and tried to assault Mr Mofokeng, the complainant, but fortunately we managed to drive off before he could assault him.”
De Jager said he could not confirm the incident at this point because it was still under investigation.Mofokeng said: “Now my neighbours are afraid. They don’t want to come to the newspapers and that because of what they see what’s happening to me.”
He said the noise levels have become so unbearable that he has to keep his windows and doors closed in an effort to block out the sound.
“This thing is getting ugly and its getting worse each and every time.”
Mhlangala, who has lived in the area for close to two decades, said it was a quiet place when it was just an open space. “Our houses are now worth less than the price we bought it for.”
He claimed the area has now become crime-ridden.
“These guys are hiding behind these shacks. When it’s going to be winter now, it’s going to be dark early. Every day early in the morning or night I will hear a scream. They’re grabbing people’s phones, they stab them, they rob them.”