- Church’s Botswana Prophet said to be living Hollywood lifestyle in Phakalane
- ECG Botswana under DISS surveillance- Sources
- Kabo Morwaeng mediating between Pastor Phitshane and Church executive committee
- “Pastor’s wife loves flashy life”- church members
Prophet Onkabetse Phitshane, the pastor who runs Prophet Shepherd Bushiri’s Enlightened Christian Gathering Church in Botswana (ECG Botswana) has attracted the attention of law enforcement officials, thanks to his ‘posh Hollywood-like’ lifestyle which he is said to sustain by giving himself and wife a salary of up to P60 000 a month and taking home all offerings, a practice now questioned among others by his flock and treasury department- who say they can no longer stomach his leadership style.
The church’s treasury department tells The Botswana Gazette that Phitshane developed a “Demigod complex” when the church started raking in money just after it was officially registered. ECG which is sometimes criticized for entrenching belief in the link between divinity and material prosperity, was registered in 2013 and the Mmopane-born Phitshane was chosen to lead it after “being anointed” by Bushiri or “Major 1” as he is fondly called by converts.
However, according to church insiders, despite his anointing, Phitshane lacks leadership skills and prefers the unilateralism which has allegedly seen him change treasury department personnel five times, something which by some accounts has made it easy for him to buy, among other things, a multimillion hotel-sized Phakalane mansion, a top-of-the-range Dodge which according to Molapo Motors costs P300 000 and a 2015 C-200 Mercedes Benz for his wife which Naledi Motors says costs P410 000. Despite these asserts, Phitshane told this publication that he actually makes less than “P30 000 per month”.
Insiders say that the excesses of the Phitshanes can also be seen in the “flamboyant ways” of his wife, Bethel Phitshane. “Her love for glitz and glamour as well as flamboyance is ruining the church and her husband’s life,” claimed a critical member of the church who says things took a turn for the worst when the Media and Communications graduate preacher wife joined the ministry full-time.
A first impression of Phitshane’s wife or “Mama” as she is called- is that she makes no apologies for preferring a life of extravagance. There is a post in her Facebook account where she defends South African President Jacob Zuma over the purchase of a R4 Billion luxury jet.
“Nothing is wrong if the manager of a company has got some benefits that he alone enjoys because of the kind of work he does,” she said when sharing the post of one Sagie Naicker who had remarked “What a waste of taxpayers’ money! Now you know where your Christmas bonuses and pension monies are going,” about the jet purchase.
To buttress her point, Mrs Phitshane references a scripture, posting “The most expensive perfume was poured on Jesus, they said it could have been used to help the poor, Jesus said the poor you will always have, he wanted to enjoy and to be pampered just for a moment with that expensive perfume.”
Another Facebook post of the preacher’s wife shows her at the Mercedes Benz section of Naledi Motors in front of the C-class and she posts: “After our father prophesied big big to all those who were physically present in the Diplomatic service, I received like crazy and now…good news has located me,” a post which attracted numerous responses from approving members of ECG who posted “I receive”.
In another claim, Phitshane, the prophet, is accused of using the church to enrich his family, relatives and close associates. “The church only uses the fleet of one man, the owner of OB Express buses from Mochudi for the lucrative and frequent Pretoria trips where members regularly travel to meet Major one,” said another insider.
OB is said to be a close relative of Phitshane’s wife and is said to be “making a killing” from this arrangement because a trip to Pretoria apparently costs P600 a head, and in a 70-seater, it means as much as P300 000 is made monthly since the bus makes these trips weekly on Mondays and Fridays.
Asked on how he won the tender, OB told this publication that he does not want to ‘politic’. “I run a transport business, anybody who has issues with that can come to me. I am also a member of the church,” he said. He however declined to share on his relations with the Phitshane family saying “It is not important”.
These issues are said to be the source of protracted clashes between Phitshane and the church’s executive committee and have seen the constant intervention of politician and BDP activist Kabo Morwaeng who is said to be one of Bushiri’s close associates in Botswana. Where Phitshane insists he pioneered ECG Botswana, the executive committee says his “Prophet” title does not appear in the church’s constitution, not least Article 9.1 which entrusts administration of the church to the committee comprising the Chairperson, Vice-secretary, Secretary, Treasure and three additional members.
The executive committee is said to be mainly concerned by Phitshane’s lack of banking and the fact that he carries thousands of pulas from the church to his house, which is a risk when it comes to tax declarations. Phitshane himself admitted to only registering an account with Standard Charted Bank in 2016, saying “I only registered the account in 2016 because I was not earning anything for three years”. This publication however understands that Phitshane was already investing in valuable assets before opening the account.
The executive committee also complains that Phitshane’s conduct is contrary to laid out ECG Botswana guidelines on church governance, including money collections and annual audits required for the Annual General Meetings (AGM).
Phitshane who preferred to respond to this publication through Whatsapp admitted that the church has never been audited. “We have never audited our accounts and we are currently working on that.” A source however says attempts to rectify this problem have been resisted, giving the example of an “accounts guru” engaged from a local private university whose recommendations were “quashed”.
Phitshane admitted to being aware of disgruntlements within the church, saying “The only problem is that the complainants do not know me and don’t understand my heart since they are mostly new. They must take time to know and understand my heart and must avoid judging me based on negative influence.”
The Botswana Gazette is also in possession of a video showing a chaotic incident in Palapye where Phitshane had gone to remove Pastor Neelo against the wishes of church members in the area. In the video Phitshane can be seen declaring: “I am the one who opened ECG, and I am the one who is holding the steering. If I find out that you were appointed and I do not know I will come and remove you, you can record me. I have been sent by God to Palapye to do this.” Members of the church can be heard and seen in the video accusing the pastor of “killing them spiritually” and aggressively confronting him.
Meanwhile security agents disguising as ECG church-goers are said to be frequenting the church as part of ongoing investigations into its operations; this was corroborated by a source who says the affairs of the church were the subject of discussion at the Ministry of Defence.
An attempt by this publication to source the church’s file at the Registrar of Societies were futile despite promises by department officials to provide it a month ago: “The file is still before the elders, we will call you when its available,” officials said.
Meanwhile, DISS Director Isaac Kgosi was unreachable before press time, while the Phitshane family Spokesperson declined to provide her contact details.