Bishop Makamu on church as business – ‘If a tavern can have an ATM, why can’t the church have one too?’


He’s no stranger to the small screen and is a guiding voice on one of TV’s spiciest shows. But fans of Moja Love reality talk show Rea Tsotella are now seeing another side of Bishop Israel Makamu on TV.

This time, instead of unpacking the private lives of others, viewers are given a glimpse into the pastor’s own life and that of his church business.

 The 13-part reality show, I Am Bishop I Mokamu, started airing on Moja Love on 2 July. In it the 41-year-old preacher takes viewers through his life as a family man and looks at the politics of the church, among other things.

We drive into a secured upmarket estate in the south of Johannesburg where Israel lives with his wife, Hloniphile Makamu (34), and children, Ntwanano (12), Ntokozo (10) and Ntsumi (1).

The older children are one their way back from school and the youngest is with the nanny in the playroom upstairs. The grey double-storey mansion is far from modest, with large glass windows and a well maintained garden.

But the bishop isn’t too keen on us taking snaps of his home. “I don’t like showing off my house because I’m not a flashy guy. I’m just a regular guy from ekasi,” he says. “I avoid bragging about the things God’s blessed me with.” And blessings there are aplenty.

Aa we’re talking Hloniphile is in front of the cameras, shooting diary scenes for the reality show. “Moja Love approached me to do the show because they wanted someone who was a prominent speaker and they chose me and I obliged,” Israel says. The reality show reveals his day-to-day activities and he introduces a few of his famous friends.

 “I feature Sipho Makhabane, Tinah Zungu, Keke Phoofolo and many other gospel greats who are close to me,” he says.

“I want viewers to see that even men and women of God are normal people who deal with everyday issues. “And we talk about everything because they’re like my brothers.”

The first episode features young couples in counselling as they discuss challenges in their marriages. “Every episode needs to teach people something. It’s a positive projection of the church,” Israel says.

“But it won’t be boring, I can tell you that. Expect a lot of drama and issues that a lot of pastors don’t address. Like the issue of money and church.

” Israel says he’s leaving no stone unturned. “I won’t show myself as a perfect bishop. I want people to see conflicts with my wife at home and how we handle them,” he says.

“I talk about money and why I have a speed point at my church,” he adds. “I mean, if a nightclub or a tavern can have a speed point, why can’t the church have one too? “As much as the church is a place of healing and worship, it’s also a business.

 I get a salary from my church like a doctor does at his practice.” Israel has 14 churches across the country and 84 employees in total.

 “I’m a businessman and people will see I’m not here to play games,” he says.

The man of the church is often judged for his non-conventional style of preaching and speaking in Tsotsitaal, but he’s quick to point out this way of thinking must change.

 “Who says I can’t speak the way I do? People think they’re mini Jesuses on Earth and that they can judge people’s ways of speaking or dressing.” Israel graduated with a diploma in theology from the Christian Family Church International (CFCI) Bible College, but he hates talking like a textbook. “My gift comes naturally and Bible school was just a bonus,” he says.

As he’s about to go into full preaching mode his wife walks into the room wearing a red dress. “Look at my queen,” he says proudly. He and Hloniphile met in Katlehong in 2003 and married in 2005.

“I remember that day very well. I’d just dropped off a friend and I saw her standing by the traffic lights,” he recalls.

 “I stopped the car and got out to speak to her. “I’d never approached a woman before. It took me almost a week to get her attention.

I had to follow her around and wait for her at the taxi stop before I could speak to her properly.” He was nervous because he hadn’t asked a woman out before. But he persevered because in Hloniphile he’d seen a wife.

At the time she was 19 and studying nursing at Ann Latsky Nursing College in Joburg.

 “I was the first person to be a bornagain Christian in my family and when I met my husband, he was also a person of the church,” she tells us. “So he and I spoke the same language.” Yet although they prayed and attended church together, Hloniphile never thought she’d end up with a pastor.

 “I wanted the usual things – a job, a house, a husband, family and children. I was nervous when he asked me to marry him and told me he was preparing to be a pastor,” she says.

“I was nervous about being Mam’fundisi [a bishop’s wife].” But she accepted it because “it was my calling from God”.

“It’s a lot of work but it was all God’s plan for my journey.” While studying nursing she decided also to study theology, but it didn’t work to do both. “It was too much pressure for me to be doing two courses and I wanted to complete nursing, so I put theology on hold in the second year.” She’s planning to complete her studies next year.

I SRAEL couldn’t be prouder. “Every calling is a gift from God. Even in nursing, my wife is helping others,” he says.

 He’s a strong believer in helping those less fortunate and says being a TV presenter and a pastor are the same. “You speak to people to make a positive change in their lives. One is just on a Sunday on the pulpit while the other’s on TV.”

He wasn’t always a pastor but the former operations manager grew up in the church. His father, Titus Makamu, who died in 2017, was a pastor and so is his mom, Rophinia, who’s still active in the church.

 “I started preaching in secondary school and my peers started calling me Bishop in high school,” he says. “Whenever there was a prayer that needed to be said, they relied on me.”

But growing up in Katlehong as a pastor’s child wasn’t easy and he was under the kind of pressure he hopes be able to to shield his children from.

 “When you’re a pastor’s child you’re expected to be perfect. I was far from perfect. I didn’t drink or smoke and I was family oriented but there were times when I didn’t feel like going to church or being involved in church activities.

 “And that was considered to be rebellious. Maybe that’s what helped me to understand people’s differences. “Thank goodness I turned out okay.”

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