Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church leader Shepherd Bushiri.
Pretoria - Religion and the controversy around belief systems has again been thrust into the spotlight, forcing society to ask questions on the who, what and why. Every day we are faced with questions around the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church led by self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri.

He has been in the spotlight, especially since he hit the streets of Pretoria. The first thing that comes to mind is the stampede of worshippers at the Tshwane Events Centre on December 28. Reports were that there were too many people at the gates when the ushers, or whoever does it, opened them for people to go in, and they clambered over one another in their rush to be in front.

As we asked ourselves who is this guy?, we were inundated with videos taken from inside the church of the young religious leader healing the sick and getting the lame up and running.

Just as we were asking ourselves questions, footage of Bushiri levitating emerged; also some in which he performed miracles by calling on random congregants and revealing intimate details of their lives, or connecting them to relatives far from Tshwane.

Wow!

Who thinks they can fool us by doing the supernatural, my family, friends and I asked, but even as we dismissed him as a charlatan, so did the numbers of those who believed in him grow. The hall he initially used became too small, we heard, so outer halls and areas of the centre’s grounds became his church, and thousands went there, never minding that they would not actually see him. All many wanted was to be in his presence, and then they knew they were right with God, we heard.

The magnitude with which his church grew, to almost 1 million people every Sunday, shocked those who preferred to go to the Anglican Church for a couple of hours every Sunday, and occasionally an hour or so during the week if the need arose.

But as I ignored his popularity, the conversation around his power and ability grew, and as it filtered down a friend of mine approached me, desperate for a miracle as things went south in her life. She asked that I accompany her to Bushiri’s church one Sunday she needed his touch.

I had seen early one Saturday morning while driving to Pretoria west a queue of people lining the fence of Tshwane Events Centre, some still in their sleeping bags, others under blankets, and a few with camp chairs, obviously waiting for something.

I approached security personnel to ask what was happening. They explained that there was a church service the next day and some people had been camping outside the grounds for two nights.

Their words translated to “madness” to me because I could not understand why anyone would do that to themselves.

So I told my friend I could not go with her. I explained that I did not think we would see Bushiri and that camping out from the Thursday evening was taking it too far.

She did go, and a month later, her fortunes changed - she got a new job and a new man in her life, both which brought her much happiness and financial benefit. I was not convinced.

Six months later she was job hunting again and the man she had met after participating in the mass prayer had abused and left her.

As we read about his shenanigans I would like to say to her and many others “I told you so”, because shady dealings mean a shady man. But I will not.

Instead, I react with horror and shock, not at what he does, but at the people who scream his innocence and curse everyone else for his persecution.