Three children and a pregnant woman were among the 11 people killed during a stampede at a stadium in Zimbabwe as thousands of people at a church service tried to leave through the same exit.
BBC News reports that nearly 30,000 people packed into a stadium in Kwekwe on Thursday evening to listen to Walter Magaya, a popular Pentecostal preacher who claims to be able to heal people by performing miracles.
When the service ended the congregation rushed towards a single exit, in a stampede that killed four people on the spot and injured dozens of others. 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. According to witnesses, concrete walls were broken down as the congregation tried to get out of the stadium. Police have also been accused of firing teargas into the crowd, causing the stampede.
"Police tried to rescue people but they were overwhelmed by the crowds," Senior Assistant Commissioner Shadreck Mubaiwa told Reuters:. "It is unfortunate that people wanted to rush out, which made it difficult to contain the situation."
After hearing about what happened, Magaya, who had left the stadium before the stampede, expressed his sorrow and said his church would take responsibility for the tragedy.
"I am gutted...I rushed back to the venue and it was very sad, the saddest moment of my life."
"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."
Faith healing is a popular concept in West Africa, and particularly in Zimbabwe, a country of 14 million where various forms of evangelical Christianity are practiced passionately in churches on every corner. Believers donate millions of dollars are donated annually to "prophets" such as Magaya and controversial faith healer T.B. Joshua to further their ministries.
Magaya, who founded Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries, is one of the country's most prominent faith healers, drawing massive crowds to his all-night prayer meetings. According to the ministry's website, Magaya "always reminds his Ministry that he is not the healer, but Jesus Christ is the healer, and he is but a vessel being used to do the works of our Lord Jesus Christ."