Pretoria - Civil rights movement #NotInMyName on Monday commended Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church leader Shepherd Bushiri for "maximum cooperation" in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against the charismatic preacher and his lieutenants.
In February, #NotInMyName criticised the popular self-proclaimed prophet, saying several women within the vast church were complaining about "being taken advantage of".
"With maximum cooperation from the ECG leader Shepherd Bushiri and the whistleblowers within the church who made the initial claims, #NotInMyName closely examined the allegations made. From our side, #NotInMyName could not authenticate the claims made against the preacher," said the movement's secretary-general Themba Masango.
"Ironically, what was unearthed in our intense investigation were widespread attempts to blackmail Bushiri by several people within his church, community leaders, law enforcement officers and leading political parties. The engagements between #NotInMyName and the ECG are understandably still ongoing, as the church comprises of thousands of members whose actions can be traced back to the name and image of the church."
Masango said as part of that engagement with the Bushiri and his popular ECG church, "programmes are currently underway, as #NotInMyName does in different mass gatherings like churches, private companies, political parties and communities to educate and teach men about gender sensitivities and the respect for women".
Masango said from the time the numerous allegations of sexual misconduct were brought to #NotInMyName and others via social media platforms, the civil rights movement "has been on an extensive fact-finding mission within the church, and externally".
"One will remember that after the allegations were brought to light, #NotInMyName led the charge in expressing disgust and shock - vowing to scrutinize the veracity of the claims. In February, #NotInMyName took an immediate radical stance, warning the ECG leader that if the claims were true, strong, decisive action – including closing down the church – would be imminent," said Masango.
"In reaction to the #NotInMyName stance, it will also be remembered that Bushiri himself publicly opened his doors, and that of the ECG, inviting emissaries from the civil rights movement to closely probe him and his church leaders. As part of that process, investigative meetings and interactions were held with the ECG leadership, particularly Bushiri himself."
In February, after #NotInMyName issued threats against the ECG, Bushiri called on the civil rights movement to work closely with him to address the allegations of sexual misconduct.
The ECG church, headed by the charismatic Bushiri, draws thousands of people to its services on several days each week in Pretoria.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) is investigating a case of defeating the ends of justice against the church following the death of three congregants in a reported stampede and at least 17 injured in December.
In the aftermath, 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 Events Center forthwith, and for Bushiri to be deported home to Malawi.