Bushiri's flock out of pocket after cash 'lost' in investment scheme
A church-linked investment scheme promised big returns
Investors who put their faith in an investment scheme with links to pastor Shepherd Bushiri's church are out of pocket after their money was "lost".
About 250 members of the Mpumalanga branch of Bushiri's Enlightened Christian Gathering church have reported the losses to church leaders and to the Hawks. The members had invested the money with a senior pastor at the church, Nicholus Mgiba, who is CEO of Merger Chen Solutions (MCS).
Hawks spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi said they were investigating the reports.
Though no figures are known, other investors from Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng are also affected. In Mpumalanga, members said they had invested R10m.
According to a document that investors claim was given to them by MCS, and which the Sunday Times has seen, the congregants were promised huge returns.
Those who invested R200,000 were promised R11.5m after six months. Those who invested R1m were promised R57.6m in six months. Most investors are said to be retired people.
In a meeting this week at Bushiri's Pretoria church, senior pastors allegedly told investor representatives that Shepherd Bushiri Investments (SBI) had also "been defrauded".
Shepherd Bushiri Trading, a subsidiary of SBI, invested congregants' money in a fraudulent scheme, investors were told.
According to investors, church leaders who addressed them said Bushiri had tried his best to take responsibility, including refunding many people who had invested with his company.
The investors showed the Sunday Times a WhatsApp message they claimed had come from church leaders. It said: "SBI as his personal business has now appointed a law firm to assist in the investigation and is trying to recover whatever it can from these fraudsters."
The WhatsApp message also said: "It is unknown at this moment as to how long the process will take and how much will be recovered, or if there will be anything to be recovered."
People from four provinces have confirmed receiving the messages.
Mpumalanga congregant Florence Mangwane, who invested in the MCS scheme, said she had been caught by surprise when she received the message.
"I am from Swaziland and this is my church. I took my money, R150,000, and my husband put R200,000 into this. We lost it all," she said.
"The truth must be told. Why is he not opening a case with the police if he lost money in this scam? Why lawyers? What are they going to do?"
Her husband, Ernest Mangwane, said they were ready to fight for their money.
The Sunday Times has seen the list of about 250 Mpumalanga congregants who say they have invested in schemes linked to the church. It details amounts that were allegedly deposited in the bank accounts belonging to several senior church leaders, as well as the church's own account, and another account for a church investment scheme called Seer Salvation.
MCS has no official links to the church. The only link is that Mgiba is a senior pastor at Bushiri's church and runs the church's Phalaborwa branch. He did not respond to calls, e-mails and WhatsApp messages.
Congregants said they started investing in MCS in January 2018.
Julia Mafukeni, who invested R10,000 in MCS, said she had hoped to get good returns.
"People should stop blaming Bushiri; he's young and not properly advised. All I need, though, is my money," she said.
A staunch Bushiri supporter, Thulani Maake, said she believed in God and that her money would return.
"If only the people who are leading us can believe in God, we will get our money. They need not panic," she said.
One leader in Limpopo said senior officials of the church had introduced them to Mgiba. The leader showed the Sunday Times a notice of his R100,000 deposit.
"That was January last year and I am yet to get anything back. When we ask Bushiri, he's telling us that the church has been defrauded. Must we believe that?"
This week the church failed to respond to questions sent to its lawyer, Terrance Baloyi.
The University of the Free State's head of economic and management sciences, professor Philippe Burger, said people risked their money by investing in unknown companies that had no reputation in the field.
He said if there were promises of high returns in investments, there were always high risks of one losing out.
"People should always do research before putting money into these schemes," he said.