The non-believer’s faith – I dined with prophet Shepherd Bushiri

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by Wonder Guchu
I MUST confess that on Thursday evening at the abandoned Ramatex textile factory on the outskirts of Windhoek, I gatecrashed into a dinner gala hosted for Malawian prophet Shepherd Bushiri.
I must also hasten to say that I did not gatecrash for the sake of gatecrashing but I did not have the N$1 000 to pay at the door.

Even if I had it, there were no more tickets when I got there around 20h15. Hundreds of others eager to see the famed prophet thronged the door where they were told not to try entering if they did not have tickets.

In any case, the tickets were being sold by Computicket and there was no Computicket kiosk anywhere.

I, however, look at this act of gatecrashing as a feat of faith to get wherever my mind thinks about and to be with whoever I want to be.

My act of faith starts at the gate. There is no parking inside. The man at the gate waves me back. I tell him I have reserved parking inside. I am in. Once inside, I find no parking. I am about to lose faith. Just then a car pulls out of parking. I smile. The space is small but I squeeze in the nose of my bakkie and hurry towards the door.

Tables line up against the wall. There are long and thick queues at each table. In a feat of faith, I squeeze to the front at the first table.

“What is here?” I ask the woman next to me.

“Anointed oil,” she says.

“How much a bottle?”

“N$150,” the man behind the table says.

I withdraw. Then the next table. It’s empty. There is a woman behind the table. She is busy on her phone.

“What are you selling here?”

“It is finished,” she tells me.

“What is finished?”

“Holy water.”

“Where can I get it and for how much?”

“I am not sure but it is N$70.”

I feign dismay. I walk away to the next table. There are books, books and more books. Stickers. Badges. All bearing prophet Bushiri’s face. A few people linger here.

The next table has Bushiri’s framed photographs, T-shirts, wristbands and keyholders. The queue is long and thicker. Nobody hears me asking how much the hats are. I pass.

The main door is even more crowded. I elbow and jostle. When I am about to wiggle in the hall, a woman blocks me.

“Ticket,” she says.

“What ticket?”

She shrugs her shoulders. I understand her.

My faith wanes. I turn away. Then I see a delivery truck. I was taught while growing up in Harare’s Highfield ghetto that wherever a delivery truck goes entry is free.

I did it at the UB40 concert in Harare in 1986. The Paul Simon, Miriam Makeba, Ray Phiri and Ladysmith Black Mambazo Gracelands concert in 1987. And the Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now! concert in 1988 where Tracy Chapman, Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Youssou N’Dour played. The delivery truck took me right in!

On Thursday, this particular delivery truck stops at the last entrance. I join the stream of waiters and waitresses carrying stuff in.

After the third trip, I break ranks and wander into the main hall.

Three Antonov AN-225 planes can fit in this factory. For the gala, they have taken up space the size of a football field.

I did quick maths – 10 tables on the shorter side and 30 on the longer one. Three hundred tables. Each sitting 10 people. Three thousand people. Do your maths but subtract N$1000 I did not pay.

It’s too early. People sitting, chatting. I could go out, I tell myself, and come back. At the door, the two men stop me.

“Use the other door,” one of them says.

“I am parked just here.”

“Still use the other door.”

“If you go out, you will not be allowed in,” the other one says.

I’m trying hard to wear an innocent face.

“I know you are on national duty,” the second man says, “but still gentleman, you must use the other door.”
National duty? Oh yes, my grey shoes! Something with them. People think I am in secret service whenever I wear these shoes.

I walk back. Grab a water from a passing waitress. I saunter to the end. Find an empty table together with a young couple and three children. It is too far from the front. We cannot see the pictures on the two big screens.

A man is wheeled to my table. He is paralysed. I needed to ask questions. I pretend to enjoy the music – nodding insanely and tapping my fingers on the table.

It works. He tells me they have driven from Otjiwarongo about 250km from Windhoek. He attends a different church. Yes, he is here to see the famed pastor.

Before our conversation heats up, they take him away. But a woman is wheeled here. Her son accompanies her.

I nod harder. Tapped furiously. And even put my grey shoes to use. The conversation starts.

They have come from Grootfontein – 460km from Windhoek. They attend Elcin. Yes, they want the prophet’s help.

Two women come by. They shout excitedly: “Major One! Major One is here today! Windhoek is blessed!”

Just then a gospel hip hop musician starts hyping up people.

He sings: “The man is a miracle man.”

We rise to our feet, swaying, arms raised.

“The man is a miracle man,” we sing along.

The wheelchair-bound woman staggers up, sways heavily and slumps back.

It is now 22h30 and Bushiri is introduced by Apostle Jimmy Kapinda of the Enlightened Christian Gathering Namibia. The auditorium rises. Arms flung high.

Kapinda narrates how hard it was to convince Major One to come to Namibia. It took several trips down to Pretoria, he says. But Major One finally agreed despite his tight schedule.

I can only make out Bushiri’s youthful face on the screen. He looks at the congregants. Indifferent. Unemotional. Sort of detached.

“Baba, you are most welcome,” Kapinda says. “We are the original sons and daughters of Major One.”

The applause again. This time even louder and heavier. But it dies down. Here two hosts take over from Kapinda.

Sixteen people are wanted to take up seats on the high table with Major One. And the hosts start auctioning chairs.

The first chair goes for N$10 000. The second for N$15000. The third for N$16 000.

The woman’s son asks me: “Are these donations?”

I ignore him. I am busy taking notes on my phone.

The fourth goes for N$17 000. The fifth for N$15 000. The sixth for N$25 000. The seventh for N$10 000. The eighth for N$50 000.

It starts raining. The showers fall softly on the zinc roof. The heat inside sloughs off.

Then the ninth chair goes for N$100 000. N$55 000 for the 10th and N$110 000 for the eleventh.

The rain beats hard on the roof.

The 12th chair is taken for N$15 000. So does the 13th. But the 14th is snapped up for N$13 000. The 15th and the 16th are taken for N$10 000 and 15 000 respectively.

And Major One gets a chance to address his sons and daughters. He rises and so do the congregants.

“I believe God has sent me just for you. I love you and there is nothing you can do about it,” he says much to the excitement of the people.

“But first,” he says, “we must swallow-ship because God likes us to share.”

I stay there until 2h00. As I drive home, I realise how Bushiri spoke to the crowd yet appeared to be speaking directly to me.

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