Pretoria - Self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his four co-accused will find out tomorrow if his followers' fervent prayers and the work of their legal defence teams have managed to secure their release on bail.
The State and the defence for Zethu Mudolo, Bushiri and his wife Mary, as well as Landiwe Ntlokwana Sindani delivered their heads of arguments in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court yesterday.
The first accused in the matter is Willah Mudolo, who is yet to apply for bail. However, the State will be opposing his release on bail, too.
As usual with Bushiri’s appearances in court, members of his Enlightened Christian Gathering church came out again in their numbers and flocked outside the courthouse to pray for the release of the pair, who they refer to as their “spiritual father and mother”.
Leaders outside the court spoke to the singing crowds, saying the church had many members and not just foreign nationals.
“Phantsi ngo mona, phantsi ngo xenophobia (down with jealousy, down with xenophobia). They say this church is filled with foreigners, but that is not the case; there are Shangaans, Venda, Pedi, American, DA, EFF, ANC members; every nationality possible is here because this is an international church.”
Inside the court, the State prosecutor indicated that the reason for requesting that bail be denied to the accused was due to the strength of the case, which was detailed in the charge sheet.
Moreover, she said Bushiri was more than R200 million in debt, and his Sparkling Water hotel had been attached as security .
With this in mind, she said she believed there was even more motivation for the accused to flee the country.
She said placing conditions for the accused to hand over their travel documents was of no comfort as they were by their own assertions millionaires and could afford to forfeit their bail by evading trial.
She added that while it had been confirmed last week that Bushiri and his wife were in possession of Malawian diplomatic passports, those had no bearing in South Africa.
The defence’s Annelien van den Heever once again implored that the court take the facts into account and not merely the State’s assertions.
Van den Heever said it was the State’s duty to provide evidence of its case as it was only providing the court with bits and pieces of information that were misleading.
The State had a burden to provide the full evidence to the court and not base its arguments on speculation and innuendo.
The fact that the trio she represented were more than willing to hand themselves over to the police should also count in their favour.
The accused knew about police investigations that began in January last year and still did not attempt to evade arrest or to escape the country, she said.
The defence for Mudolo urged the court to grant her bail as, he said, her absence since her arrest on October 17 had dire implications for her children, especially her 9-month old infant.
According to the defence, the infant, who had been breast-feeding, had taken ill despite the family’s efforts to put her on to formula. He said there was little evidence tying Mudolo to the alleged crimes other than the fact that she was married to the first accused and received money from the company he owned.
The group is facing charges of fraud, theft and money laundering which took place between 2017 and last year.
It is alleged they coerced members of the church into an investment opportunity within Shepherd Bushiri Investments and Rising Estates that would allegedly yield 50% in returns within just three months.
This was despite the fact that Shepherd Bushiri and Rising Estates were not registered in terms of the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services Act.
Neither were either of these companies registered in terms of the Banks Act, and as such could not enter into such an agreement. Through this scheme, the group was said to have garnered just over R106m from unsuspecting church members.
Magistrate Thandi Theledi will deliver the outcome of the bail applications tomorrow.