A veteran Malawian journalist, who wrote extensively about a 2011court case in which a woman sued ‘Prophet’ Shepherd Bushiri over allegations that he impregnated her sister, spoke to New Era about the man who pulled a crowd of thousands of Namibian followers last weekend in Windhoek. The journalist, who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisal by Bushiri’s faithful followers, worked for Malawi’s leading media houses, such as National Publications Limited and Times Group.
From which part of Malawi is Bushiri?
Bushiri is mixed blood. His father comes from Ntcheu in the central region of Malawi while his mother comes from western Rumphi in the northern region of Malawi. He grew up at Hewe in Rumphi where his father was working with the Malawi Young Pioneer (MYP), a paramilitary wing associated with the one-party rule of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). The wing was forcefully disbanded by the Malawi Defence Force in 1993 after killing some soldiers following a fight between members from the two camps. At the time of disbanding, Malawians had just chosen a multiparty system of government and there had been fears that the wing would align with MCP. By that time it was also being rumoured that it was absorbing Renamo fighters who were escaping from Mozambique with the intention of starting a civil war in Malawi.
When did he rise to fame?
He rose to fame in 2009. After conducting some ‘deliverances’ at his church, he prophesied that a Mzuzu University bus would be involved in a road accident and kill everyone on board ‘because it is filled with demons that makes students on board hurl insults at innocent passersby.’ That hasn’t come to pass. He later told the national TV that he was himself a student at the university and left after being called to God’s ministry. Details at the institution point to the contrary.
Apart from church activities, what enterprises is Bushiri involved in?
There was talk of him starting a money-lending institution, but that hasn’t taken off. Currently, there is talk of him starting a bank.
We hear he has businesses outside Malawi, but does he own any inside the country?
No. Actually, his ministry doesn’t even own a church building here. In Lilongwe and Blantyre, prayers are conducted in rented premises such as other churches’ or private multipurpose halls or stadia. In Mzuzu, the church structure is made of wood left over during logging and milling. The latest prayers in Mzuzu were conducted in a stadium.
Does he live in Malawi?
Since he moved to South Africa, he no longer lives here. That should be in 2013 or thereabout. At first, he was living in Mzuzu. He then moved to Lilongwe when the stories about the pregnancies broke out in Mzuzu.
What notable miracles has he performed in Malawi?
There is nothing, though he has paraded on TV people saying he cured them of various ailments or babies he says were conceived with one sex but born with another. He just likes fame. I guess you have something on the iPad gaffe and the walking in the air fiasco.
How is his status in Malawi in general, especially in relation to his religious work?
There are some people who praise him as God-sent and even spread cloth so he walks on. But there are more others (including myself) who doubt this given that he publicly declared that he was anointed by some woman from DRC whom he says is his godmother. Actually, those that have gone to his church or know him personally say he is an agent of the devil and is just interested in sponsored lavishness.
Does he extract any form of payment from his followers in Malawi?
Yes. When he came to Malawi for a ministry recently, there were reports that he charged up to K50,000 (about $75 at current rate) if an individual wanted to see him. There were also reports that there was a bank kiosk outside the stadium in which he ministered, and the money he got was banked instantly.
What else is of interest that you recall about Bushiri?
There have been reports of him having a very powerful intelligence team amongst his ushers. People he claims later to be prophesying on unknowingly reveal their details to the ushers during the pre-interviews they undertake prior to entering Bushiri’s church. These people are assigned where to sit and it is said that this information is relayed to him.