Zimbabwe: 11 people dead in church service stampede

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Eleven people have been killed and dozens injured in a stampede at a stadium in Zimbabwe as thousands of people at a church service tried to leave through the same exit.

Around 30,000 people packed into a stadium in Kwekwe, 130 miles west of Harare, yesterday evening to listen to Pentecostal pastor Walter Magaya. When the service ended the congregation rushed towards a single exit, in a stampede that killed four people on the spot. Another seven were pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

The Zimbabwe Chronicle says that the incident happened when police closed other gates out of the stadium, forcing the crowd to the single remaining one. Concrete walls were broken down as the congregation tried to get out of the stadium and police fired teargas into the crowd, causing the stampede.

Three of the 11 who died were children and one was a pregnant woman.

Senior Assistant Commissioner Shadreck Mubaiwa told Reuters: "Police tried to rescue people but they were overwhelmed by the crowds. It is unfortunate that people wanted to rush out, which made it difficult to contain the situation."

Magaya had left the stadium before the crush, but returned when he heard what had happened. He said: "I rushed back to the venue and it was very sad, the saddest moment of my life."

He said he would be meeting with the authorities before issuing an official statement, but added: "This was our event and as a church we have to take the blame for the tragedy. It is still too early to say what caused the stampede but the fact that the stampede took place at the venue means that part of our system failed to function."

Magaya is the founder of Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries (PHD) after having been encouraged by Nigeria pastor T B Joshua and is known for drawing huge crowds to his meetings. An all-night prayer meeting earlier this month in Waterfalls attracted more than 300,000 people and is thought to be one of the biggest crowds ever seen in the country.