Disciples of “Prophet” Shepherd Bushiri in Botswana are blaming one another for provoking a decision by their country’s government to deregister his church.
Now, unlike other Malawian citizens, Bushiri is forced to apply for a visa every time he enters Botswana.
His church’s leadership in that country said it was deregistered in 2017 because some among the churches failed to provide the state with a copy of their audited financials for three years in a row.
They said they also made “outrageous requests from the government” which has now effectively meant that Bushiri is persona non grata in the country.
Responding to a question in the Botswana Parliament, then Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs Edwin Batshu told MPs that Bushiri was indeed “too demanding”.
Batshu revealed that Bushiri wanted heavy security from state security organs whenever he was in the country and he also wanted the government to direct all entry points to be opened around the clock for his convenience.
“His church wrote a letter to my ministry requesting that we open our borders for 24 hours. They stated in the letter that given the stature of the pastor we should grant their permission of opening the borders as per their request,” he said.
“They said people would be coming from all over to see the pastor.”
Batshu told MPs that this was why his government slapped the visa requirement on Bushiri, saying it was “proper” for his government to “legislate on issues relating to religion and morality for the maintenance of law and order”.
Now Bushiri’s Botswana members are looking to the courts to reverse their government’s December 2017 decision to deregister the church.
The church’s leadership argues that this move had nothing to do with the visa regime Botswana imposed on Bushiri, but more to do with them failing to submit their financials to the state in terms of the law.
They are optimistic that the court will reverse the labour and home affairs ministry’s decision to cancel the church’s operations.
The court issued a temporary relief order for the church to continue operating pending the outcome of the case.
The Enlightened Christian Gathering Church’s national executive secretary, Pelotshweu Baeng, told City Press the trouble started when their church in Gaborone failed to submit their annual returns between 2013 and 2015.
The “procedural irregularities” he said ended up affecting other congregations in Botswana who had complied with the law.
Since then the national leadership decided to close the Gaborone church and Baeng said he hoped the church would conclude an ongoing audit before its annual general meeting.
Members of the “troublesome” Gaborone church, Baeng said, were the ones who wrote to the government asking it not to tax “anointing oil and other products” the church brought into Botswana and asking it to keep the borders open around the clock for Bushiri’s benefit.
Baeng said this was not authorised by the church’s leadership and prompted the government to place the visa demand on Bushiri because they feared he could be a security risk.
“We found it fit to issue an apology to the government for the unauthorised letter. We have withdrawn it because it was outrageous. Those demands were unrealistic hence we are pleading for forgiveness for actions that were taken by some members,” said Baeng.