Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church members have taken to social media platforms following the arrest of charismatic "prophet" Shepherd Bushiri, whom they affectionately call "major one", sharing messages of support and solidarity.
Some of the devotees went the extra mile – already casting aspersions on the validity of the serious charges of fraud and money laundering. Many have labelled the arrest of Bushiri and his wife a “persecution”.
With the 2019 general elections approaching, award-winning South African gospel musician Swazi Dlamini – a well-known Bushiri devotee – wrote on her official Facebook page with 150 000 followers that the arrest was tantamount to persecution of Christians. She even said she and many other prophet Bushiri's followers won't vote in this year's elections, a move that will probably make President Ramaphosa and his ANC party suffer a great loss.
“I will not vote in a country that persecutes Christians, never again! My vote is my right,” she wrote.
The message had received almost 3000 emoji reactions and more than 600 comments by Saturday morning.
Rachel Ramaru replied, “That’s my prayer that all daughters and sons and all who support prophet Bushiri do not vote.”
Doreen Kwetsi replied, “How can I vote to be denied my right as a Christian to worship… never. I’m keeping my X”.
Neo Precious Babeile, however, had other plans with her vote. “No my brothers and sisters, you vote and vote them out coz ECG has numbers”.
Bushiri’s spokesman Maynard Manyowa also led the charge on social media, writing on his Facebook page that numerous previous attempts by certain individuals to “assassinate, extort, and bring fake charges” against Bushiri had come to nought.
“I want to avoid going into much detail about what happened [on Friday]. From being asked why a black man would buy a private jet to the guys who were asking for $1 million to make false charges go away. So for today, I will remain quiet, but I do know one thing, like many of these mountains we have faced, this will be overcome,” Manyowa wrote.
Pretoria-based media personality and Bushiri devotee Nobuhle Jesicca Banda wrote, "Our father in the Lord has prepared us for all manner of battle and his words are engrained in our hearts as we witness this phase of the journey unfolding. It is the prophetic movement evolving. Those who know have discerned the hour. This is our prophet, this is our day… this is our generation! We are not moved because we are ECG," she wrote in support.
Twitter was abuzz with messages of support for and against Bushiri. Other followers began the "#FreeBushiri" hashtag.
A statement released by the ECG church on Friday evening alleged that police officers – later identified as members of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) – "stormed" the Sparkling Waters Hotel in Rustenburg at around 7 am.
The Hawks also said in a statement on Friday evening that a "prophet" and his wife had been arrested, without naming the pair.
According to the statement released by Bushiri's church, "They took the prophet and our mother prophetess Mary Bushiri in handcuffs to Pretoria. They have charged our father with fraud and money laundering. As you will remember, from last year, we have struggled with reports that our father was guilty. We have repeatedly learnt from different media houses that we were under investigation. At some point accurate reports pointed out the fact that certain people within the police had demanded bribes amounting up to R10 million," the statement said.
Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said in his statement, "The Hawks’ case against the pair concerns alleged offences of fraud, money laundering, and contravention of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA) committed from 2015 in relation to Exchange Control Regulations related to foreign currency in an amount of $1 147 200."
Mulaudzi said the couple, who run several business enterprises in South Africa and abroad, were expected to appear in the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crime Court on Monday.