Bushiri beat hunger to become millionaire pastor
It is fair to describe self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri's upbringing in Malawi's northern city of Mzuzu - some 300km from the capital Lilongwe - as modest in all respects.
The founder of the Enlightened Christian Gathering Church was in the news this week after his arrest and subsequent release from prison after being granted bail over fraud and money laundering charges involving up to R15m.
Surely, few people know the humble beginnings of a young man who was always involved in church activities from a tender age in the Malawi's Northern Region which shares borders with Tanzania.
Born on February 20 1983 in Mzuzu, Bushiri is the fourth in a family of six children. His father Huxley and mother Christina Bushiri live in their home of origin in Rumphi district, some 60kms from Mzuzu, Malawi's third-largest city.
He attended primary school at Hewe village, in Rumphi, then Moyale Barracks Community Secondary in Mzuzu.
Details are sketchy about his post-secondary school studies but there is no doubt that he was, alongside his peers such as prophet Justice Hara, a devout young Christian while in secondary school, rising to the post of chair of Students Christian Organisation of Malawi.
He has fond memories of the school. However, his efforts to visit the facility were reportedly frustrated by authorities when they denied him entry on August 30 2016.
Bushiri has some investments in Malawi, notably Rainbow Television and a hotel project estimated to cost $21m (R286m) in Lilongwe through his Shepherd Bushiri Investments (SBI).
Malawi president Peter Mutharika's adviser on civil society and nongovernmental organisations, Mabvuto Bamusi, told The Nation newspaper that SBI investments are in line with the the president's vision of promoting foreign direct investment.
Bushiri told the media recently that he started small before making investments in mining, among other sectors, that proved to be his breakthrough. He has also been involved in charitable work, including donating maize to victims of natural disasters.
"I am a Malawian and at one point in time I was faced with hunger and that is why I thought it wise to share the little I have with my brothers and sisters," Bushiri told Nyasa Times website.
Bushiri's interest in football was evident when he donated an equivalent of R830,188 to the national football team, the Flames, when its trip to Guinea for a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier seemed in limbo.
Football Association of Malawi (Fam) had exhausted its funding from the government when the then team's coach Ernest Mtawali, an ex-Mamelodi Sundowns star, sought the help of Bushiri who flew to Blantyre to donate the money.
"This donation is not coming from me as a prophet. I love football. I love the Flames," Bushiri, accompanied by his wife Mary, told the press at Fam's Mpira village on March 18 2016.
However, the donation did not go down well with the Malawi government, through sports minister Grace Chiumia, who claimed that Bushiri was ill-advised on the procedure for making such a donation, saying he was supposed to channel it through the Malawi National Council of Sports.
Bushiri launched his ministry in Mzuzu where he established his modest church building before relocating to Lilongwe and then South Africa. The church also has a branch in Malawi's former capital Zomba. Bushiri is a crowd-puller in Malawi; he fills Lilongwe main sports venue, the 40,000-seater Bingu National Stadium. And whenever he sets foot in Mzuzu, local businesses such as hotels coin it due to his big entourage.
Meanwhile, Malawian civil society organisations sent a petition to the South African High Commission in Lilongwe against what they call "degrading and inhuman treatment of Bushiri and his wife Mary".
The pair will be back in court on May 10.