His rise has been nothing short of meteoric. Just a few years ago, Malawian Prophet Shepherd Bushiri or “Major 1”, as he is popularly known, was just another preacher dispensing sermons in Malawi. Everything changed with his re-location in 2015 to Pretoria, the capital of South Africa. As an entrepreneur, he is now reputed to be among the 15 wealthiest men in Malawi, worth $150m. He has achieved all this despite being a young man still in his forties. What is the force behind Bushiri’s very rapid rise? Is there something special about him or is he yet another “charismatic” taking advantage of the people’s hunger for miraculous solutions to their problems? Pusch Commey was in candid conversation with Prophet Shepherd Bushiri in Pretoria, South Africa.
Q. What have been some of the difficulties you have faced running such a large ministry?
It’s very difficult running a ministry. Many churches are closing down in America, almost 1000 a year, because people are more focused on other things. But we are a prophetic ministry. Most churches have pastors, evangelists, and apostles, but God sent his prophets as well.
In Africa the prophetic ministry is not well understood so there is some scepticism. To grow up on a particular diet and to change your diet is a challenge. So there has been resistance to what we do. There has been some opposition and some persecution. However we have had a lot of success. In just two years, we have gained 300,000 registered members in Pretoria alone, and as you said, millions of followers in Africa and around the world.
Has the opposition come from traditional churches?
Religion should not be about tradition. It should be about God. Catholics have had roots in Africa for centuries, and we serve the same God. I won’t call it opposition, but resistance, where they have not yet accepted the prophetic ministry.
Some people have slated your church and other charismatic churches “as exploiting the poor and vulnerable”. They claim that these churches, many of which are in South Africa, are just self-enrichment schemes. What do you say?
There is a difference between reputation and character. You can destroy a reputation, but not character. Reputation is given by people and character by God. There are ‘men of God’; and then there is also persecution.
Some churches have gone through a phase where people have messed up, but also through a phase where there is persecution. We should be able to admonish the men of God who do wrong things. Sometimes good character gets tarnished with bad reputation.
The Bible says that in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow. That name is character. I am not for practices such as eating grass, drinking petrol or exploiting people as you mention some churches make people do in South Africa.
On the contrary, we give a lot back to the people. At the end of the day, we conquer all with love. Remember, even Jesus was given a bad name and crucified for his good works.
What about the controversies over the performance of miracles. What do you tell people who say it’s a stage-managed hoax?
It’s either you believe or you don’t. Those are things of the spirit. The things of the spirit are for those who believe. Some don’t believe Jesus healed the sick or rose from the dead. Others don’t believe he was the Son of God, others believe. My ministry is for those who believe.
Do you support the work of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL)? The body set up by the South African government to investigate and make recommendations on the commercialisation of religious beliefs and violation of the law by religious groups?
I support their work 100%. Our church was one of the first to cooperate with the commission. As I said, there is a need to root out the bad eggs who give a bad name to everyone.
So you support their recommendations such as accreditation, licensing and peer review of religious groups.
Is there any reason why you run businesses together with ministry work? Is there no conflict of interest?
I am a man of God and a family man, and I don’t believe the church must support my family. That was never my idea when I started my ministry. I am a family man with a beautiful wife and two amazing kids aged four and two. I must be a good role model for my kids and not depend on my congregation.
Yes. I have to venture into business to support my family and kids. Not only that, in Africa we have to create entrepreneurs to generate employment and make the continent prosperous. We have to break the chain of dependence. And with the blessing of God, we need champions to drive that process.
To what do you attribute your success in business?
It’s not because I am smart or anything. You must believe in yourself and believe that you can succeed. I believe I can do something for my government, not that the government must do something for me. That has been my motivation and belief.
I never thought about being from a poor background or a poor country. I believe in Africa, and I believe in supporting Africans. Donald Trump says, “America first”, we must say “Africa first”.
In the long run we must have things made in Africa and sold to the world. African problems must have African solutions. But we must not rely on others for help, or on foreign investors or governments. It is our responsibility as individuals to drive this change.
What should be the solution to the disillusionment of the youth, who do not manage to find space in the economy?
The problem is that we are being ruled by politicians whilst we need to be ruled by people who have solutions. Our generation knows little about the era of dictatorship, but all the leaders leading Africa today have this past in their memories.
All we know as youth is about development and finding solutions to problems, whilst the leaders are still driven by old school politics. The fate of African youths lies in themselves. We have a new generation that is growing up with software and technology and innovation and if we can forget about the past and change our tomorrow we will have a strong Africa.
Youth unemployment will only end when the young begin to make their voices heard and when we realise that African problems will be solved by African solutions.
Facebook was developed by the youth. Hence the importance of empowering the youth. And if our youth have the support like entrepreneurs in America do, it will be transformational. The new generation must take the mantle in developing our continent.
The Church is often underrated for its charitable work. How important is this aspect?
We do a lot of charity work. I believe the church is a solution for the people and community. I have an organisation called the Beacon of Hope, whose core reason is helping people with big problems. It’s a very big project.
I’ve been moving around Africa to help orphans and people with big problems. I have set aside $1.5m of my personal funds for this project, and it’s changing lives. We have also been involved in the sponsorship of sporting activities across the continent. We even have a soccer academy here in South Africa.
In conclusion, how do you see Africa’s future?
Africa is blessed by God. But we must find unity. There must be unity of all the African churches. All your bishops, apostles, prophets and pastors. There must be togetherness and the breaking of spiritual xenophobia. There is nothing like a Nigerian church, or Zambian church. We must simply have African churches driving Africa.
Africa was territorially conquered by the old empires not only with arms but first with religion and a unity of purpose. There is only one Africa. And we need to break barriers. On the political front there should be an improvement in the quality of political leadership. It should be positive, not negative. It should be supportive of all those who have the good of the continent at heart.
And on the economic front?
Africa must establish strong trading networks. As rich a continent as we are, we must be trading amongst ourselves. Strong African Union policies should encourage unity and intra-African trade to drive prosperity. All that lies with our political leadership. And we should not make it difficult for Africans to move freely across the continent to foster economic activity and growth.
The rest of the world knows that. We must create enabling environments for the youth to drive future growth. Look at the phenomenon called Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg is a young man, and so are the many young men in America driving technology and growth.
There are many brilliant young men in Africa who are not getting any help. African governments working with entrepreneurs must help the youth to help Africa win the future. The youth are our future.