Enlightened Christian Gathering Church founder Shepherd Bushiri addresses his followers outside court.
The main feature of cult-like charismatic churches is that they thrive on people’s suffering and disillusionment about the state of their lives.

This is according to Professor Maria Frahm-Arp, of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

Frahm-Arp said the preachings by leaders of charismatic cult-like churches promising “people miracles” that they would receive jobs, promotion at work or financial prosperity resonated with South Africans.

“We have an unemployment rate of 42% in this country. People are desperate. That is why they fall for anything without asking many questions.”

She said most people did not want to accept the reality of their lives. “So this message that there is evil and that there is Satan who is making things bad appeals to people. It gives them hope.

“People eat snakes because they believe they are demonstrating how strong their faith is and expect some form of reward, they expect that their life circumstances would change,” she said.

Even educated people easily fell for such messages, she said.

Frahm-Arp added that leaders of such churches won the confidence of people as they were often well-spoken.

“They can articulate themselves very well. The good public speaking coupled with powerful praise and worship gives them credibility. If you speak to many congregants at this churches they would tell you how powerful is the praise and worship, they do it very well.”

She said churches that sought to indoctrinate members in a cult would ensure that they cut ties with their family members and communities .

“It becomes all about church. Most of them stop supporting their families and take everything to church.”

Ordinary church members would not have easy access to the leaders and would be required to pay a certain amount for prayers, she said.

Such cult practices were prevalent in South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria and many other African countries, said Frahm-Arp said.

However,she cautioned that a cult, by its nature, was a complex practice that was not easily identifiable.

“In some churches people twist scripture, some come up with their own version of the Bible. It is very tricky.”

The Saturday Star