She was just a teenager when she met and fell in love with self-styled prophet Shepherd Bushiri.
Then, when she fell pregnant with his child, members of her family claim that he tried to convince her to have an abortion and tried to “bribe” her to do so with a R1 500 cheque.
The cheque bounced.
Three of the woman’s furious family members have broken their silence about Bushiri’s repeated public denials – but private admissions – that the now seven-year-old girl is his.
To protect the child’s identity, City Press cannot name the mother or her relatives.
One said that, as a family, they are ready to expose the man “who hides behind the pulpit”.
“As a family, we are challenging Bushiri to do a paternity test publicly because we are confident he is the father. The daughter is the spitting image of Bushiri and it is widely known in the district that he is the biological father,” he said.
“The mother feels it is time for Bushiri to take responsibility and do what is right.”
The relatives of the woman, who is now married, said that the family kept quiet out of fear.
One said: “For the sake of the baby, we have decided to speak out. The child is grown now, and she is aware that her father is none other than Major 1 [a name Bushiri is called by his congregants].
“The whole village broke the news to her before we did as a family. She once come back from school and told her mother that her schoolmates were teasing her for being the spitting image of Major 1.”
The relative said the child should be supported by her biological father.
“The mother doesn’t care about Bushiri’s wealth. When she met him, he was young and poor. Her concern is that Bushiri should support the child emotionally and financially. She also wants her daughter to attend the best schools, just like her father’s other children,” the family member said.
Bushiri was arrested alongside his wife, Mary, with whom he has a six-year-old daughter, early last month on charges of fraud, money laundering and contravening the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.
His lawyer, Terrence Baloyi, did not respond to emails, text messages and calls seeking comment.
Bushiri and the woman met in 2007 in their home town, Mzimba in Malawi, through a mutual friend.
“When he met our sister, he was just nobody – he was just a simple guy who feared God and I guess this is one of the reasons she fell in love with him. He was her first love,” said another relative.
He said that the family didn’t take Bushiri seriously at the time because he was always broke. He alleged that they also knew that he had multiple girlfriends.
“But our sister was just blindly in love and she didn’t even listen when we raised our frustrations about his infidelity,” said one.
Her cousin recalls how Bushiri couldn’t afford to buy a cellphone, and said the woman would share her pocket money with him.
Her family describes the Bushiri they knew as an introvert who only became confident when he stepped behind the pulpit. It was this gift that attracted her to him. But it was an on-again, off-again relationship.
After the woman fell pregnant in 2010, her family took the up-and-coming pastor to court to compel him to pay damages, and his followers began threatening them.
“It was a very difficult time for us to fight against an influential and powerful person,” one relative said. “We could not afford to hire an expensive lawyer, but we had to do what was right for the child.”
Another family member alleges that Bushiri offered the woman a cheque for 80 000 Malawian kwacha (just more than R1 500) so that she could have an abortion, and this information was presented in court.
However, Bushiri claimed he had not written the cheque and that it had been stolen from him.
The family alleges that Bushiri used his influence and got a police officer to testify that, on the day the woman claimed he made her pregnant, Bushiri was at the police station with the officer dealing with an attempted hijacking.
However, no evidence could be presented of Bushiri’s claims, the family alleges, and the police issued a statement distancing themselves from the testimony.
Bushiri, the family says, managed to apply for a judicial review of the case and it ground to a halt.
At the time, he told Malawian reporters: “I am not worried about negative publicity. They are advertising my ministry and Satan is paying my bills.”
After the baby was born in 2011 – the same year Bushiri married his wife and co-accused Mary – he returned to the woman’s family to make amends, but on terms they found unacceptable.
One of the relatives said: “He told us: ‘I am not refusing to be the father, but people must not know that the child is mine because it will destroy my ministry.’”
Another family member said: “When the child was born, Bushiri kept saying that he would be supporting the child financially, to which the family asked him say so publicly since he had publicly denied impregnating our sister.”
The woman is still trying to find justice through the courts, but every time she goes there, she is told files are missing, the case cannot be traced or clerks blame the computer system.
“These excuses make us believe money has changed hands within the system,” said a relative.
Last year, the mother again returned to court to apply for maintenance.
“The person who was helping her fill in the application forms told her she was wasting her time fighting someone who was as influential as Bushiri. She just left because they refused to help her,” said a relative.
“Every day, our sister is praying for justice to be served so she can find peace. We hope one day we can afford a good lawyer to revive the case.”
The woman told her family that she now cannot recognise the man she once loved.
“She told us: ‘I loved him because I thought he was a God-fearing man. He has turned into someone I don’t know.’”
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