The dandy dresser who approaches to shake hands in the foyer of the Sandton Sun looks anything but a church leader. He's dapper in a blue blazer, fawn linen pants and leather shoes that, no doubt, cost an arm and a leg.

The dandy dresser who approaches to shake hands in the foyer of the Sandton Sun looks anything but a church leader. He's dapper in a blue blazer, fawn linen pants and leather shoes that, no doubt, cost an arm and a leg.

He carries two cases and when he opens one, it is to haul out a state-of-the-art laptop. He also takes calls on a high-end cellular phone.

Simon Mokoena, no, Apostle Simon Mokoena, is the founder of the Tyrannus Apostolic Church, a QwaQwa-based parish that, in just seven years, is 70000 strong. With over 300 satellite churches around the country, it's big enough to give the International Pentecostal Holiness Church and the Zion Christian Church a run for their money.

Talking about money, the church is not poor. It employs some of its flock in the restaurant it owns in the Mandela Park section of Phuthaditjhaba, capital of the former bantustan.

"We also have our own funeral scheme and vehicles," says Mokoena.

The church uniform is made at a factory owned by Tyrannus. The church also counts a souvenir shop among its income generating outlets. Their CDs and DVDs are another source of revenue.

"I grew up in a Christian home," says Mokoena by way of introduction as he sips his tea.

"At an early age I had this hunger to work for God. I joined the Assemblies of God and after I finished school I went to Rhema Bible Church for my theological training."

After the two-year course under the tutelage of Ray McCauley, the newly ordained pastor went "back to QwaQwa to start my church".

Having studied at Rhema, he says, it would follow that he'd be a photocopy of the Randburg-based happy-clappers led by McCauley, a former body-builder.

"Along the way I got this spiritual disturbance that I was failing to reach out to those people God so wanted me to touch and serve. I believed I had this prophetic, apostolic call. I was not a pastor. I was misplaced."

He ditched the Rhema way and when he studied the Bible "I had this Paul-like revelation, I saw in the book of Acts, Chapter 19, where Paul found 12 people he ministered to".

Paul laid his hands on them, says the man of the cloth, "doing what was called the transference of the anointing". In addition, Paul trained these dozen men "at a school called Tyrannus".


"That's where I got the name."

Inside his own church he also trained people - men and women he credits God for putting around him to ensure the church grows.

"At some point we attracted no less than 1000 people a month," he says without batting an eyelid.

The Rhema fallout came because he thought he was not reaching people the way he thought God wanted him to. In the white churches, as he calls them, the culture of the congregants is not taken into account in the presentation of the Bible the same way it is at Tyrannus. He says phenomena like the tokoloshe and mashonisa, "only a black preacher would know this as they are the very things our people are confronted with on a daily basis".

But what is it he's doing right to attract such a huge following?

Firstly it is the grace of God, he says. "As a church leader you must be able to be where the people are," he continues. "There's no way you can be effective if you don't empathise with them - if you don't speak their language. I take the Bible and make it relevant to the situation of the worshippers."

Born in Durban, Mokoena preaches in IsiZulu, the Sesotho widely spoken in QwaQwa and IsiXhosa: "No English."

Not your average Mfundisi, he talks big money: "I've just bought slots on television, SABC2, on Saturdays from October 4. I will do it in our language to let our people see one of their own preaching the gospel in their languages."

The only child of Samuel - who has since died - and Ntomb'zonke Mokoena, the apostle is, at 46, equal to the task of leading a big church the same way his peer, US Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is ready to run America, he says confidently.

He makes time to speak to men and women separately as he believes the two genders cannot be catered for spiritually in the same sitting.

The man, from the days of the disciples of Christ, the 12 sons of Israel and prophets of God - who were all male, is a special being who needs to be given respect, says the Apostle.

"We talk a lot about women abuse but very little about the reverse," he says. "Lets make men feel important. A man needs to be celebrated."

He's penned a song that implores the man to take his rightful position in the home, church and community because, "once we get the men right, half the battle to get the world right is won".

But wouldn't this ostracise the women in the church?

Not at all, he says, adding that the woman is important too "otherwise I wouldn't be here myself".

To that end he'll hold special conferences, one in November for men, called Sons of Zion in Bethlehem, Free State, while in the first week of February next year, women will be attended to spiritually at their own, Daughters of Zion, at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg.

This is the same man who prayed for Jacob Zuma, the ANC president, at the height of his legal woes.

Former media personality Thuso Motaung also received the apostle's blessings in his hour of need. He was persuaded by 1 Timothy 2 verse 2 to pray for them.

President Thabo Mbeki has yet to act on his invitation, says the charismatic church leader.