Police flee from pastor’s bodyguards
Controversial pastor Shepherd Bushiri and his armed bodyguards had a three-hour standoff with police this week, which ended with the officers fleeing.
The dramatic scene unfolded at the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria where he stays. Police had tried to obtain a statement from Bushiri, who is being investigated in connection with cases of intimidation, assault and death threats.
Bushiri is alleged to have assaulted one Martin Antonio on three occasions between March and July after Antonio opened a case against the clergyman at the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities during its investigation into churches. He accused Bushiri of allegedly destroying his marriage following his false prophecy. Antonio said he lost his wife after Bushiri told her that Antonio’s mother had bewitched and cursed her not to have children. “Bushiri sent his bodyguards to follow me everywhere I went. They swore at me, assaulted me and threatened to kill me. He wanted me to withdraw my case at the commission and the police station,” Antonio said, adding that hotel staff and guests had witnessed the incident. He vowed not to withdraw the case.
Malawi-born Bushiri is the head of Enlightened Christian Gathering, a Pretoria-based church that has thousands of followers throughout southern Africa. He claims that he can “walk on air, make the ‘lame’ walk and cure HIV/Aids” and other diseases.
City Press witnessed Bushiri’s bodyguards refusing to grant police access to him. Instead, Bushiri barked orders at the police telling them he “needs a report” before he could comply, referring to a search warrant or a subpoena. The police tried to reason with Bushiri asking to be allowed to do their work because the complainant had laid charges against him. In a bid to avoid controversy, police backed off.
“We were outnumbered by Bushiri’s bodyguards,” a police officer told City Press, adding that the pastor had “powerful connections”. “Bushiri is refusing to cooperate and we are scared because he is receiving protection from our superiors. I don’t want to be targeted, so don’t identify me. He is in charge and I don’t want to lose my job,” said the police officer.
Bushiri owns mansions and boasts of counting top politicians among his friends. He claims to own a private jet and likes to post pictures of its interior.
The pastor defiantly refused to cooperate with said commission during its investigation into churches.
The complainant, Antonio, who was present at the scene, was saved from the bodyguards by the VIP unit of Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who happened to be at the hotel at the time. “I have opened cases against Bushiri, but nothing has been done. He threatened to kill me and instructed his bodyguards to beat the hell out me, but I managed to survive.”
Vuyo Mhanga, spokesperson for Police Minister Fikile Mbalula said: “No one is above the law. Alleged cases will be looked into ... We will not hesitate to take necessary action.”
Phinza Zitha, restaurant manager at the Sheraton, said he had heard about the incident, but refused to comment further.
City Press’ efforts to get comment were frustrated by Bushiri’s bodyguards.