Self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri has allegedly fleeced scores of followers out of millions of rands through a failed “commodity investment opportunity”.
Emails and other documents obtained by City Press show that investors were promised a 50% return within 30 banking days of placing their investments of between R100 000 and R1 million.
According to three investors City Press spoke to this week, it all began when, during a church service in March 2017, Bushiri allegedly announced that he wanted to empower members of his church and “make them millionaires”.
A follow-up email sent to selected congregants with the subject line “commodity investment opportunity is open – minimum is R100 000!” began with the words: “I hear good news … HURRY!! It’s first come-first-serve.”
Congregants were told they had just two days to get in on a hot investment opportunity and were promised the impossible 50% return.
The email continued: “For example, when you invest R100 000, you will receive R150 000 pay back after 30 banking days.
“Come with cash (not cards) to Hall A from 10am to 4pm on Wednesday 29 March (today) and Thursday 30th March 2017.”
Those who couldn’t bring cash were told to SMS a number for “BushiriBuzz” to get the banking details.
Duped investors told City Press that the hall was packed to the brim with people on those two days as congregants handed over wads of cash.
But those who could not deliver the cash were told to deposit their money into the account of a company called Rising Estates, the directors of which are well
known Bushiri lieutenants, Willah Mudolo, Duncan Oduor Otieno and Kit Ching Catherine Kum. The three have often appeared alongside Bushiri on TV.
One of the congregants who heeded Bushiri’s call from the pulpit was Sylvia Skosana, who invested R100 000, which she had borrowed for the purpose.
“When he spoke about it in church, everyone believed him. He was very convincing and I saw this as an opportunity not to be missed. I took a loan and I deposited money into the bank account,” she said.
According to Skosana, who lives in Pretoria, scores of other congregants also made deposits.
“There were two groups – there were those who invested R100 000 and above, and those who invested R1 million and above,” she said.
“I took a personal loan to invest and I know of people who went as far as selling their houses, hoping to replace them when they received the returns. We have still not received the promised harvest.”
Skosana, who works as a transport analyst and who has since stopped attending Bushiri’s Enlightened Christian Gathering Church, said she felt betrayed. It has now been a year since the big promises were made, and they have yet to receive a cent from the church.
“We have called, sent emails and SMSed the numbers they provided during the investment, but no one is responding. I went to their offices in Sandton, but they referred me to the church,” Skosana said.
“At the church, no one knows who is responsible for handling our issues. They just act as if nothing has happened and this makes me sick. I am still repaying the loan and the interest, and I know many people who are going through the same problem.”
Another investor, Francinah Ntuli, told City Press this week that she also lost R100 000 of her savings when she handed it over in cash to Bushiri’s people after being told her “money would multiply”.
“We were called to a meeting last month at Bushiri’s hotel in Rustenburg, but no one was able to say when we will get payouts or even refunds. They keep on lying to us,” she said.
In hindsight, she cannot believe she was so naive, and keeps asking herself why she didn’t question the investment more thoroughly.
Another would-be investor, who asked that his name be withheld because his relatives are still staunch members of Bushiri’s church, said he was lucky that he could not raise the R1 million within the two-day period Bushiri prescribed. Under pressure from his parents, he planned to cash in some of his investments, including a pension plan, to invest in Bushiri’s scheme, but he couldn’t get the money in time.
“I almost lost my investment. I told them I could not raise R1 million within two days because I had to cancel some of my investments and divert the funds to the church. The promised returns were supposed to be so good, and my parents were putting pressure on me to invest,” he said.
“I thank God that I did not invest there. I know people who lost their hard-earned money there. My parents still go to that church and I do not want to be seen to be despising it. You know, when it comes to religion, people are very sensitive and it looks like they have been brainwashed.”
In one email sent to the disappointed investors, Bushiri’s team sympathised with those who had lost money.
“We truly understand your disappointment and appreciate the inconvenience the delay in your harvest has caused you to date,” reads the email.
“There is no question that we have not met the very high standards you have come to expect and should continue to demand from us, and in our effort to settle all partners who opted to receive their harvest, we sent out communication based on information that all the funds will be released.”
The email further stated that they did not have all the money available as they were waiting for more money to be cleared.
Bushiri’s assets – including his private jet and a number of luxury vehicles – were taken by the Asset Forfeiture Unit after he was arrested alongside his wife Mary earlier this month on charges of fraud and contravening the Prevention of Organised Crime Act. Many have speculated about how the self-styled prophet, who celebrated his 36th birthday this week, managed to amass his wealth in such a short space of time.
Despite their complaints, the investors City Press spoke to have received no money back. Skosana told City Press that she had been sent from pillar to post when she asked for a refund.
“I believed he was a man of God and that he would never do this to us,” she said.
When contacted on Thursday, Bushiri’s spokesperson Maynard Manyowa initially denied the allegations.
He asked City Press to send him detailed questions, which were sent to him on Thursday and Friday via WhatsApp and email.
Manyowa undertook to respond, but failed to do so by the time of going to print.
– City Press