South Africa-based Malawian prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary were yesterday released on a R100 000 (about K5 million) bail bond by the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Pretoria, South Africa.
Bushiri, leader of the Enlightened Christian Gathering Church (ECGC), who is answering charges of fraud and money laundering, is expected to be back in court on May 10 this year when the trial begins.
But as Bushiri was walking back to freedom in South Africa, a group of local concerned citizens marched to the South African High Commission in Lilongwe to present a petition, pressing for the couple’s release, according to one of the participants, musician Wendy Harawa.
The prophet and his wife were taken into custody by South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations, the Hawks, on Friday after a commission of inquiry had cleared him of any responsibility in a stampede that killed three people at his church in Pretoria.
The couple was charged with fraud of R15 million (about K750 million) and there were reports that authorities were filing for seizure of the couple’s assets.
ECG communications director Ephraim Nyondo in a written response yesterday confirmed Bushiri’s release, saying the church would make a formal statement on the status of the case.
He said: “We are happy as a church to have our leader out of police custody. We are indebted to the enormous support we have received from Malawians of different divides.”
Failure by the court to grant Bushiri bail on Monday sparked protests from his supporters and some South African black empowerment groups.
Bushiri, a religious leader and renowned businessperson, has over the past few years made a name for himself and his ministry which has grown in a number of countries in Africa and beyond.
According to local ECG member Harawa, the group decided to march against the continued custody of their leaders.
“We proceeded to march and deliver a petition because we felt we had enough grounds to do that. In fact, when the bail was being granted we were already at the South African mission,” she said.
In a separate telephone interview, leader of the group Maxwell Mkwezalamba said the petition raised some concerns with the South African government’s handling of the Bushiri case.
He said: “Our plea to the South African government is that they should treat Prophet Bushiri with respect because he was given diplomatic status by the government of Malawi. We feel there is a xenophobic element in the way Bushiri is being handled. So, we asked the High Commissioner to convey the message to her government that they need to stop that.”
South African media has reported that Bushiri has acquired the services of a highly-rated lawyer Barry Roux, who was attorney in the trial for popular South African athlete Oscar Pistorius.