The search and recovery operation for two bodies that were washed away during a cleansing ritual on Saturday night has been called off.
City of Johannesburg emergency management services (EMS) spokesperson Robert Mulaudzi said on Monday afternoon that the operation will resume on Tuesday morning.
“Due to the intense search and recovery operation we had [started] from around 8am, we have decided to call off the search for the today,” Mulaudzi said.
“We want to allow the river streams to give off so that tomorrow we can have options to explore.
“We have given the river streams [time] to give off from now until tomorrow morning when we resume our operation.”
Earlier on Monday, the EMS’ aquatic rescue unit and police’s water wing resumed the search for an 18-year-old woman and 21-year-old man.
The pair was swallowed by the water along the Klip River stream in Olifantsvlei in the south of Johannesburg.
Plea to prophets, pastors
The search for the two bodies begun on Sunday morning and was called off later in the day without the police having located the bodies.
“Residents, traditional healers, prophets and pastors are urged to ensure safety of congregants while conducting these cleansing or baptism rituals, so that they can be able to prevent incidents like this one,” said Mulaudzi.
Sunday World reported earlier in the year that rivers seem to have become death traps following a spate of drownings during baptism rituals.
The South African Council of Churches (SACC) leadership told the paper at the time that it has no authority to intervene and prescribe how the practice should be conducted, a matter disputed by a church leader of one of the mainline churches, who described the SACC’s position as “a cop out”.
According to a survey conducted by Sunday World for the period dating between 2017 and New Year’s Eve 2022, at least 38 congregants and pastors drowned during river baptisms.
These baptisms and deaths shocked many across the country, especially after 14 church members of Masowe church drowned at the Jukskei River in Alexandra in December 2022.
The survey revealed that most of these drownings happened in Gauteng, Limpopo, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and the Free State.
SACC general secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said at the time: “It must be noted the SACC has member churches of many diverse traditions, who in accordance with their traditions and beliefs elect to conduct their baptisms in various bodies of water such as rivers, baptism pools, swimming pools or in the church with a small amount of water poured on the forehead.
“It is therefore a matter of the individual member church’s faith tradition that would dictate which method of baptism they prefer.
“Simply put, baptism is a doctrinal matter and as the SACC we do not pronounce on that to any church”.