By Duncan Mlanjira
Prophet Shepherd Bushiri, who is answering alleged criminal charges of fraud and money laundering in South Africa where he is based, has returned home to Malawi, saying this is just a tactical withdrawal from his host country solely meant to preserve his and his families’ lives.
He said in a statement he and his wife, Mary “are temporarily in our home country, Malawi, because of safety and security issues since 2015, matters that got worse when we just got out on bail”.
“There have been clear and evident attempts to have myself, my wife and my family killed and despite our several attempts to report to authorities, there has never been State protection,” he said.
“These attempts have been heightened with recent spates of arrests and detentions that we felt the only way for us to clear our names before the law is to ensure that our lives are preserved.
“My wife and I strongly believe in our innocence but this cannot be proved if our lives are not preserved. We have to be alive to testify to our innocence.”
He explained that the two were arrested in 2019 on allegedly money laundering charges and it’s getting to three years now without trial because the State is not ready to give it.
“As we keep waiting for that trial to come, we were arrested again, kept in custody for over two weeks and we are not sure if we will face trial.
“Equally shocking is the fact that as we kept waiting to get the facts of the recent arrest, the State brought up immigration issues that they, not us, owe the public an explanation. But they want us to explain.
“Against this background, we have come to a painful conclusion that what my wife and I have faced in the Republic of South Africa, since 2015, is purely persecution NOT prosecution.
“What is shocking is that it was me who, in 2018, opened cases of extortion and intimidation against the officers who are, today, investigating, arresting and prosecuting me and my wife of these several allegations.
“Obviously, there can never be independence and impartiality. It’s purely acts of open vengeance. This, I must say, clearly violates rules of natural justice which says justice must not just be done but be seen to be done.
“As such, I want to make it clear, here, that our coming to Malawi is not an act of running away from being tried. Not at all.”
Bushiri, leader of the Enlightened Christian Gathering that is based in South Africa, contends that all want is to clear their names in a justice system that is fair, impartial and just.
To ensure their fair, impartial and just trial, Bushiri asks the South African legal authorities to:
* Assure their safety and security whilst in South Africa;
* Assure that their bail will not be revoked. “Our right to fair trial entails that we have access to our lawyers all the time. Revocation of the bail defeats our right to fair trial and also exposes us to further security and safety challenges”;
* That the officers involved in investigating, arresting and prosecuting them to recuse themselves. “As earlier said, this is the same team that I earlier lodged complaint against and, also, opened cases against. I won’t have a fair trial with their continued involvement”;
* Fourthly, the South African State should see to it that all the issues Bushiri lodged and opened against these officers must be pursued to their logical conclusion before proceeding with their case;
* Finally, the South African State to appoint independent and professional investigators and prosecutors who should make independent decisions on the cases they are allegedly accused of.
Bushiri also asks the Malawi government to liaise with the South African government to ensure that the above issues are met.
“Once these three issues are met and I am assured of a fair, just and impartial trial, I am willing to avail myself before the South Africa justice system.
“I am looking forward to that day because my wife and I have long waited for it to prove our innocence and clear our names,” he said adding that he will soon hold a press briefing in Lilongwe to be aired on all media networks across the world.
The case for Bushiri and his wife Mary at the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on charges related to fraud and money laundering worth R102-million and while expressing his willingness to be subjected to the law, the prophet has dismissed the various allegations against him.
He claims 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 had told BBC in 2018.
Bushiri has been referred to as one of the richest religious leaders on the continent, worth an estimated $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, as Bushiri is reported to have told the court 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, Bushiri launched the Sparkling Waters Hotel and Spa in Magaliesburg, one of eight hotels he reportedly owns across the globe.