A fleet of three private jets, a Rolls-Royce Black Badge, a Bentley Bentayga and an Aston Martin One-77, as well as a mansion in the leafy suburbs of Pretoria east.
These are allegedly some of the assets of Enlightened Christian Gathering leader Shepherd Bushiri, 37, presently in custody with his wife Mary and three others on charges of money laundering and fraud involving R102 million.
Bushiri, his wife, 39, as well as co-accused Willah and Zethu Mudolo and Landiwe Sindani appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on charges of fraud and money laundering. Not only is the Malawian pastor ranked second on the list of five richest pastors in SA and third in the list of top 10 richest pastors in Africa, he is also reportedly the youngest on the list of richest pastors in Africa.
An established businessman with stakes in real estate, gold mining and telecommunication, as well as the Bushiri University of Agriculture in South Sudan, the “Major One”, or “Papa” to his followers, began the ministry in 2002.
A 2017 report on the commercialisation of churches, released by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL)‚ stated religion was big business in SA.
The commission recommended that SA Revenue Service, together with the commission, conduct an investigation into tax evasion by religious leaders and that religious leaders and organisations should be registered and pay tax. Reverend Vezubuhle Mnyakeni, a pastor at United Church of Christ in Mpumalanga, said religion had been infiltrated by business people masquerading as pastors.
“The Bible make provision for the pastors’ sustenance through the 10% tithe but for the pastor to live beyond the means of his own flock is wrong,” Mnyakeni said.
In February, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni lamented that there was a particular tax treatment for public benefit organisations that includes churches, but many of the so-called charismatic churches were noncompliant. According to CRL, interventions were needed to control the commercialisation of religious organisations.