Did a Pastor Die After Being Buried Alive in Zambia?

The story has been reported by multiple outlets but the details seem to vary with each telling.

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Pastor dies after being buried alive
Image via Screenshot, Mr m@yor music-promo YouTube channel

In August 2021, various websites reported that a pastor named James Sakala in Zambia had insisted his fellow churchgoers bury him alive in order to demonstrate that he would be resurrected, like the biblical story of Jesus.

“Zambian prophet who believed he could recreate the resurrection of Jesus dies after getting his followers to bury him alive for three days,” the British tabloid Daily Mail reported, for example, on Aug. 24. In another example, Mwakilishi.com, a news site for the Kenyan diaspora, published a headline on Aug. 22 that read “Zambian Pastor Dies After Being Buried Alive Hoping to Resurrect Like Jesus.”

The details of the story have been reported inconsistently, and we have so far been unable to independently verify any of the details.

Some versions of the story claim Sakala was underground for three days, others state he was buried for 30 minutes. Some outlets describe him as the pastor of the church, others report it was the church’s pastor who helped bury him.

The story appears to have originated months earlier, and was originally reported in less sensational terms. We reached out to police in Zambia asking for independent confirmation on the details of this story and will update if we receive a response.

On March 23, 2021, the Zambian TV news station Diamond TV ran the disturbing story in detail, which included sending a reporter to the location and interviewing family members and witnesses.

Per Diamond TV, the 22-year-old deceased man, described as a “traditional healer” named James Sakala, had demanded that parishioners and the pastor of Zion Spirits Church in Chadiza, a remote town in eastern Zambia near the borders of Malawi and Mozambique, bury him alive so he could resurrect himself from the grave in the manner mimicking the Gospel story of Jesus, who was crucified, died, and was resurrected three days later.

The Diamond TV report, which is narrated in English but includes untranslated interviews conducted in the local language, indicated that Sakala had pulled the stunt before, but survived. In March 2021, sadly, he apparently did not. The DiamondTV report was posted on YouTube by a third-party YouTube user, but we reached out to the station by email and confirmed that the video below is their news report:

DiamondTV reported that Sakala was laid to rest near his home and had left behind a pregnant wife.