Controversial prophet Shepherd Bushiri may have another legal battle on his hands, with at least six of his congregants claiming they were “duped” into investing in a scam by senior members of his Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church.
Bushiri and his wife Mary were each released on R100,000 bail this week, three days after being arrested on charges of fraud, money-laundering and contravening the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.
The contravention is in relation to exchange control regulations allegedly involving foreign currency of $1.1m (about R15m).
Several congregants said this week that Bushiri must face more charges of corruption as the church had links to a scheme operated by Palambano Investments.
The money was deposited into the ECG church account “as Palambano was still in the process of opening an account”, said Nelisa Dlutu, one of the company’s three directors.
Six congregants, from East London and Pretoria, told the Sunday Times they had been approached at church by senior officials and asked to invest a minimum of R5,000 in a Palambano scheme. The money was to be invested in Zambia in “gold minerals”.
The two other directors of Palambano are Johnson Setor Kwame Tettey Klu and Khanya Nqabile Ntwasa.
Nombeko Dwesini of East London said she handed over R30,000 last April. “I invested with the hope that the money was going towards assisting in the building of our church,” she said.
The Sunday Times has seen proof that Dwesini paid the money into ECG’s First National Bank account. This week, following Bushiri’s arrest, she opened a case with the police.
“In September they said they will pay us. Then they said by January 31 2019 we will get our money. That never happened.”
Cambridge, East London, police spokesperson Capt Mluleki Mbi confirmed a case had been opened against Palambano Investments and its directors.
Amanda Jasons, a church member in Johannesburg, said she put R50,000 into the scheme almost a year ago, but had received nothing back.
“Today they are out [on bail] of R200,000 and that’s our money. We are tired of being lied to when we demand our money,” she said.
Jasons said the church had many other schemes in which senior officials encouraged people to invest “to help Major One” realise his dream of making the church one of Africa’s biggest.
An East London church member who asked not to be named said other congregants had turned on him when he began asking about returns from the R7,000 he had “cautiously” invested. “We were told that in six months’ time dividends would be paid, but to date nothing has been paid. I was called a troublemaker when I started raising questions about this,” he said.
Nombasa Maweni, also an investor, said she came to the church for prayers when her businesses were failing. “Today, Bushiri and his people have left us. I would not be surprised if his expensive lifestyle is bankrolled by our investment money.”
She recalled when a pastor Nicholas came to Port Elizabeth in September last year and introduced himself as “son of Major One”. She said: “He told us he is helping us, the other sons and daughters of Major One, to prosper.”
Dlutu, secretary of the Palambano Investments scheme, confirmed that people were owed money but denied that Bushiri “was part of this” despite the money being paid to his church’s bank account.
“The money had to be paid into that ECG account while we were still registering Palambano. But the money never went to Major One,” she said.
The idea for the investment scheme came from one of the senior pastors working with Bushiri in the church’s Pretoria headquarters, she said.
She said they would pray for people’s money to be repaid. “We’ve been praying about this and hope that it will be fixed.”
She denied knowing about the case opened by Dwesini.
ECG lawyer Terrance Baloyi said the church was not aware of all allegations and needed time to “clearly comprehend what transpired” and “investigate the matter thoroughly”.
● In August last year, the Financial Sector Conduct Authority fined Shepherd Bushiri Investments R50,000 for contravening the Financial Markets Act by illegally trading in foreign currency.
– Sunday Times