The unravelling of Bushiri

City Press quoted multiple church members who claimed they invested in the scheme but had not received any returns.

23 October 2020 | International

GREG NICOLSON

PRETORIA

Months ago, Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) leader, 'prophet' Shepherd Bushiri, was mocked for his prophecy that 2020 would be a “great year”.

Bushiri and his wife Mary appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on charges related to fraud and money laundering worth R102 million on Wednesday, the couple's second court appearance in two weeks.

They have been remanded in custody at the Kgosi Mampuru prison in Pretoria until today.

In an interview published on the ECG website, Bushiri said men of God “who have been blessed with a fortune” are often vilified, “but, if you read the Bible, you will note that men of God were rich”.

Bushiri (37) and Mary (39) appeared in court after they were arrested by the Hawks the previous day.

Hundreds of churchgoers were reported to have gathered outside the court to support the controversial 'prophet', whom they call 'Major One' or 'Papa'.



Private jets, luxury vehicles

Bushiri has been referred to as one of the richest religious leaders on the continent, worth an estimated US$150 million, and is often pictured with his private jet or luxury vehicles. ECG operates in multiple African countries, with 110 branches and a million worshippers in South Africa, the church leader said in recent court papers.

Bushiri's Sandton-based company, Shepherd Bushiri Investments, has interests in mining, real estate and an airline, according to ECG's website.

In 2018, he launched the Sparkling Waters Hotel and Spa in Magaliesburg, one of eight hotels he reportedly owns across the globe.

“According to Bushiri, he ventured into business to support his family as he does not believe the church must support his family,” states ECG's website.

Bushiri, who has claimed he can walk on air and perform miracles such as curing people of HIV, has often been accused of swindling church members, most notably by rival evangelical pastor Mboro Motsoeneng.

The National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa has not released details of the latest allegations against the 'prophet', and the couple's bail hearing continued at the time of writing, but the Hawks said Willah Mudolo and Zethu Mudolo were also arrested on Saturday, 17 October, in the same case.

Mudolo is the founder of the African Development Funding Group and according to his LinkedIn and personal website, he is a major supporter of former first lady Tobeka Zuma's foundation. He also leads property development company Rising Estates. According to City Press, in 2017, Bushiri told congregants they could earn a 50% profit within 30 days if they joined a “commodity investment opportunity”, with the minimum investment starting at R100 000.

The publication said church members flocked to invest and arrived at the church on the allotted days with cash, as advised. Those who could not deliver the cash were advised to deposit their investments with Rising Estates.



'Scheme'

City Press quoted multiple church members who claimed they invested in the scheme but had not received any returns.

According to ECG spokesperson Ephraim Nyondo, the Hawks asked to meet 'Prophet Bushiri' and 'Prophetess Mary' on Tuesday morning to discuss Rising Estates.

Police arrested Mary, a director at Shepherd Bushiri Investments, at a Sandton property, and her husband, whom the Hawks said handed himself over with an “entourage of attorneys” after “attempting to evade the team”.

In a separate case, the couple was arrested on fraud and money laundering charges, involving over R15 million, in February 2019. In that case, they appeared in a pre-trial conference last week and the case is scheduled to be heard in the Pretoria High Court in May and June 2021.

Also included in that case is the couple's alleged illegal violation of exchange control regulations for purchasing a 1984 Gulfstream jet for R19 million in cash.

Thousands of congregants attend Bushiri's sermons and in recent years, he has reportedly filled up the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg during his “crossover service” on New Year's Eve.



Stampede

In 2019, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities said he was not responsible for a stampede at his Pretoria Showgrounds church the previous year, where three people died and 17 others were injured.

While expressing his willingness to be subjected to the law, the 'prophet' has dismissed the various allegations against him.

He claimed his detractors are either jealous of his church's success or focusing on his wealth due to racism.

“I am a businessman and that is separate from being a prophet. My prosperity is from private businesses. Such questions are not asked from leaders of white churches, but when an African man prospers, then it's a problem,” he told BBC in 2018.

Video clips of Bushiri telling congregants he foresaw that 2020 would be a “great year” have been widely circulated on social media. Part of the year, however, could see the Bushiris await trial in prison as prosecutors on Wednesday argued that the couple should be denied bail.

- Daily Maverick

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