Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church leader Shepherd Bushiri, seated next to his wife Mary, testifies at the CRL Rights Commission, which is mediating between the ECG and Sanco. Photo: Jonisayi Maromo/ANA

JOHANNESBURG - Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) leader Shepherd Bushiri on Monday, told the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission) that his church makes a significant contribution to South African communities and makes considerable injections towards the fiscus.

"Beyond evangelism, our church has done, and continues to do so much to contribute to the South African society both through direct injection to the economy and, also, through our charity programmes. The South African economy, through the City of Tshwane, has benefited so much through the religious tourism engineered by our church," Bushiri testified at the commission in Johannesburg.

"Unlike Cape Town and Durban, Gauteng is not so much of a tourist destination. However, through our fortnight [sic] International Visitors Programme and other events, we have over 9,000 people coming to Gauteng every month, Pretoria to be specific or rather Tshwane."

Bushiri said there a research conducted by Dr Acha-Anyi from Tshwane University of Technology which revealed that ECG congregants "noted 90% stay between one to two days and 20% stay in commercial tourist accommodation. This basically proves the economic impact of religious tourism due to the operation of ECG in Tshwane".

The charismatic preacher said the ECG has been "robust" in doing charity work in South Africa through its charity arm -- Beacon of Hope.

"For instance, in 2018, during Nelson Mandela Day, the church launched a School Adoption Programme at Kloofwaters Primary School in Rustenburg. We made several donations to the school to the tune of $40,000," said Bushiri.

"The programme continues this year as we target five more schools. Further, the church has, for the past three years, been working with different child care centers and social welfare centers within Gauteng and North West Province."

In his opening remarks, Bushiri also narrated the history of the ECG church.

"ECG Church is an arm of the Prophet Shepherd Bushiri Ministries (PSBM) which was founded by me, Prophet Shepherd Bushiri in the city of Mzuzu in Malawi. The church began its operations in Malawi in 2010 and, over the years, it expanded through establishment of branches in different countries, among others, Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania and Kenya," said Bushiri.

"Operations in South Africa began in 2012 wherein it was formerly constituted and legally registered with CIPC. Prophet Bushiri joined the South Africa branch, as the general overseer, later in 2015."

He said the ECG currently has branches in over 178 countries across the world.

Three women were killed in an apparent stampede at the ECG church during a service on December 28. Nine other congregants were injured as they ran for shelter during a heavy rainstorm.

The three deceased women were identified as Patricia Pringane, Matshila Sarah Mohlala and Lehlogahlo Maria Segodi.

Earlier this month, three South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) activists, arrested for public violence at the ECG church, were released on bail by the Pretoria Magistrate's Court.

The three were arrested during a protest which shut down the usually busy WF Nkomo Street in Pretoria west, at the Pretoria showgrounds which is hired by the popular ECG church.

The Sanco activists have been calling for ECG to be expelled from the Pretoria showgrounds. The CRL Rights Commission has intervened to mediate between ECG and Sanco.

African News Agency (ANA)