It is not the first time that such sudden floods kill people taking part in baptism ceremonies.
At least 15 people, including a toddler, died in South Africa on 3 December, after they drowned during a flash flood along the Jukskei River in Johannesburg, local emergency services reported.
Emergency services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi, said they were swept away during a baptism ceremony, where 33 people in white robes had gathered along the banks of the river.
“We’ve got some areas that we still need to explore, which might also add into the 14 that we have. We found out that there are some families who couldn’t locate their family members. We are hoping out of the ones that we might recover, maybe tomorrow, we will be able to help them find closure”, said Mulaudzi in an interview with local news station eNCA after working in the area.
@CityofJoburgEMS @CityofJoburgZA @CoJPublicSafety Search
for Alex missing 15 continues this morning along the Juskei river stream 2 bodies recovered last night and one person was rescued recieved medical treatment on site later transported to the nearest health care facility. pic.twitter.com/375dlHPQgd
— Cojems Spokesperson (@RobertMulaudzi) December 4, 2022
Eyewitnesses also confirmed that the church members were standing on rocks in the river when the floods suddenly rose.
The emergency services had already warned those who often gather to conduct church rituals along the Jukskei River, to be more aware of storms and flash floods, which are common at this time of year.
— City of Joburg EMS (@CityofJoburgEMS) December 6, 2022
In June, four people drowned at baptism ceremonies in the Limpopo province, and over Easter this year the Water and Sanitation Department sent out a special warning against holding baptism ceremonies in rivers.
The victims belonged to a group called Apostolic Church of Johane Masowe, which was founded in 1932 in the south of former Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
According to the group, its pastor Shoniwa Masedza had a serious illness that prevented him from walking again. He then claimed to have been sent by God and changed his name to Johane Masowe (John the Baptist).
His followers do not believe in the Bible as God's Word and claim that God speaks directly to them. According to their own data, the group is active in nine countries in southern Africa and has over half a million followers.