Enlightened Christian Gathering church leader Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary. Picture: Dimpho Maja/African News Agency (ANA)

Tshwane - The arrest of self-proclaimed Prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary on charges including fraud and money laundering is a ploy to shut down his highly popular ministry, the Black First Land First (BLF) party, led by Andile Mngxitama, said on Monday.

The Hawks arrested the couple on several allegations including contravening Exchange Control Regulations in relation to $1 147 200 worth of foreign currency. They are expected to appear in the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crime Court on Monday.

The radical BLF said the arrests were part of a white capitalist ploy "to shut down certain black churches with massive followings that are problematic to the ruling class".

"At the same time the sins of the clergy including sexual offences, fraud, corruption and money laundering in white churches go unpunished," BLF deputy president Zanele Lwana said.

"BLF has opened multiple cases with the SAPS which are high profile against white offenders involving similar allegations to that of Bushiri – of fraud, corruption and money laundering."

"None of the perpetrators have been arrested and/or interrogated by the Hawks. BLF believes that this is because the prevailing white power structure allows whites to act criminally with impunity. Blacks, on the other hand, are guilty without any proven prior transgression," Lwana added.

The arrest of Bushiri and his wife comes in the wake of the death of three women in a stampede at his Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church during a service on December 28. At least 17 other congregants were injured as they ran for shelter during a heavy rainstorm.

In the aftermath of the incident, the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) led protests at the ECG, with community members calling for the church to be expelled from the Pretoria showgrounds and for Bushiri to be deported to his home country Malawi.

On Monday, the BLF called the anti-Bushiri protests "opportunistic", noting that the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities cleared him of wrongdoing in the December 28 incident.

This followed a mediation process in which Bushiri, then city of Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga and Sanco's Tshwane chairman Abram Mashishi were called to testify before the Commission.

African News Agency/ANA