Enlightened Christian Gathering Church leader Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary were due to appear in the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court on Monday after their arrest on Friday on fraud and money laundering charges.
The media have been barred from entering the building.
Outside court, a sizable group has gathered in support of the “Major One”, as Bushiri calls himself.
Details of the charges are as yet unknown.
Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said the case concerned allegations of fraud, money laundering and the contravention of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act. “[The offences were] committed from 2015 in relation to exchange control regulations related to foreign currency in an amount of $1,147,200 [R13.96m].”
Thousands of his followers gathered at the Pretoria Events Centre on Sunday. Throughout the service, congregants chanted Bushiri’s name, with some holding placards on which was written “I will die for you Major 1” and “We love you Major 1”.
When the time for contributions came, congregants dug deep into their pockets. Some placed up to R1,600 in cash in envelopes while others swiped R1,000 from bank cards on speed points provided, the Sowetan reported.
A female congregant, who did not want to be named, vowed her support: “The arrest of papa [Bushiri] is just an obstacle that will eventually pass. People are trying everything to bring him down but we’ll stand by him. People are jealous of papa.”
The Sunday World previously reported that the Hawks were probing allegations that as much as R15m a month was leaving South Africa for his home country of Malawi. The money was allegedly transported out of South Africa in Bushiri ’s private jet and other vehicles.
Bushiri’s charismatic Enlightened Christian Gathering church has several branches in the country and in other southern African countries.