Fourteen members of the Johanne Masowe Baptist Church, believed to be Zimbabweans, have been confirmed dead after drowning during a baptism ceremony that went wrong in Jukskei River in South Africa.

Reports indicate that more people may have been swept away during the weekend baptism ceremony at Jukskei River in Morningside, Johannesburg.

According to eNews Channel Africa (eNCA), the search for the 14 resumed yesterday morning.

“Many of the more than 30 people taking part in the ceremony were thought to have been swept away,” eNCA claimed.

“Fourteen bodies have been recovered after flash floods swept worshippers during baptism at the notorious Jukskei River near Bramley/Alexandra. Search and rescue for the missing people is underway.”

Jukskei River runs through the densely populated Alexandra township of Johannesburg, where religious groups frequently gather for baptism and ritual cleansing.

Johannesburg Emergency Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi was quoted saying that officials had warned residents about the dangers of conducting rituals along rivers.

Some of the more than 30 congregants were said to have been standing on rocks in the river on Saturday when a torrent of water suddenly swept them away, a witness said.

The pastor was reportedly saved after he clung on to a tree branch overhanging the river as he was being carried away, the witness added.

In a statement yesterday, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Gauteng province said: “The EFF in Gauteng mourn the lives of the 14 Johanne Masowe Baptist Church members who tragically lost their lives on Saturday during their sacred baptism practice along the Jukskei River. We also extend our condolences to the families who lost their loved ones in such a tragic manner.

“We also call on the provincial government of Gauteng to intensify the rescue efforts of the added three members who are said to be still missing. As Africans, our faith and spiritual beliefs are entrenched in our DNA. The churches, rivers, mountains and oceans have always been our places of refuge when we seek spiritual guidance. No one would have thought that such a sacred practice would be marred by such a tragedy. In the same breath, we cannot ignore the permanent flood threat that the Jukskei River poses to the Alexander community, particularly in Stjwetla.”

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