All roads were leading to Mbizo Stadium on Thursday night where Prophetic Healing and Deliverance (PHD) Ministries founder and prophet Walter Magaya was to lead his first crusade in the gold mining town of Kwekwe.
A journalist is never far away from events that draw such huge crowds which were estimated to be around 30 000 by the police and 50 000 by members of the church.
Getting there was no easy feat with a traffic jam that took ages to clear. Every available space close to the venue was turned into a car park.
I parked a safe distance away, but not because I expected any violence. I wanted to sneak out early and head home after getting my story.
At 5pm Magaya arrived to share the stage with Zimdancehall sensation Tocky Vibes. The crowd went into a frenzy shouting at the top of their voices “Papa, Papa, Papa!” The atmosphere was just electric.
Mbizo Stadium was built to hold at least 9 000 people seated on the terraces but on this night it had to accommodate nearly five times its holding capacity and there was hardly any space to walk.
I used the smaller gate to get in. Far from the stage where Magaya was commanding demons to leave his followers, his ushers were collecting wheelchairs and crutches allegedly dumped by those that had been healed.
I thought to myself, I was too far from the action and maybe the news, not knowing that I was standing on shifting ground, the centre of a disaster that was waiting to happen.
Magaya began to pray for people’s bank accounts and those with no accounts were asked to put their hands over their pockets. He subsequently declared that their financial problems had been solved.
He prayed for the resuscitation of Iron and Steel company Ziscosteel, now Newzimsteel, Zimasco and businesses in Kwekwe, declaring that they would be restored and that money would soon be flowing into the city once again.
Just as he was making these declarations, a woman, who I estimated to be in her early 40s, walked in through the gate where I stood. Strapped on her back was an elderly and ailing woman who had been brought to seek salvation.
Magaya left Tocky Vibes on the stage. He walked to his car still speaking on the microphone and praying for those who were along his path.
This was all being beamed on the outdoor screens and as he left, I took my cue and walked out using the same small gate, which was no easy task.
While Tocky Vibes perfomed, other congregants, who included a few guys that were drinking beer and waving their hands in the air, had not summoned any energy to leave the venue as there was a lot of pushing and shoving at the gate.
I managed to find my way out. For a moment I was stuck between two huge fellows, who were rushing to buy some food outside the venue where a large number of vendors were selling anything and everything — CONDOMS INCLUDED!!!
Outside was a jungle: cars blocked the road and movement was just impossible.
I observed the surrounding, searching for one person who had been healed to do an interview with.
As I was standing there, all hell broke loose — music stopped and at that time everyone wanted out with police moving in and telling congregants to use one exit route.
The story changed before my eyes. What had been a crusade meant to save lives, turned into one of the worst disasters in Kwekwe.
Those who felt the police were being unfair to force them to use a single exit began scaling the pre-cast wall and a handful succeeded but for others it was unfortunate that the wall gave in.
An attempt to open the gate wider failed because it opened inwards from where people were applying pressure.
Children and women were the biggest casualities as they failed to stand up after falling down in the stampede. Over 90 people sustained injuries, some serious while others escaped with minor injuries.
In the heat of the moment some people started saying police had fired tear gas. I was there watching the stampede and the police watched helplessly. No tear gas canisters were fired.
A pregnant woman fell and was trampled right before my eyes and at that time walls continued to fall and more outlets were created by default.
Eleven congregants who had walked into the service to seek life died, while many others sustained injuries.
Police accuse PHD Ministries of using one exit, claiming they wanted to do a head count. A senior PHD member who refused to be named hit back saying they knew how to count people using bays and not head counts, adding it was the police who wanted to know how many people had attended the service.
The search for salvation and prosperity evaporated like morning dew, engulfing the city in grief.
Written by Blessed Mhlanga