It’s always inherent in us to, unconsciously, conclude that if it’s published in the mainstream media, then it’s true.
Sorry to disappoint you because what you get from mass media—newspapers, radios and Television—is not, always, the entire story.
What you get, from the media, is a news product sternly filtered by a strict editorial process meant to persuade, you the consumers, to consent to a reality manufactured by certain interest groups somewhere.
This is what Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky writes in their book ‘Manufacturing Consent: The political economy of the mass media.’
In the book, the two argue that those with economic and political power are able to fix what people should discuss; are able to decide what the general public is allowed to see, hear, and think about, and also to manage and sustain a carefully designed public opinion.
In other words, if a certain powerful grouping of people doesn’t like you, perhaps because you pose a threat to their power, they will connive with media owners to create a system in which the public become willing and obedient, consenting and unquestioning, to everything their media runs.
This is a situation facing Prophet Shepherd Bushiri in South Africa, today.
Bushiri has been in South Africa since 2015 and, as of today, he has grown so huge in ministry, business and humanitarian work.
His church has grown from 15 000 members in 2015 to over 3.5 million today; from 1 branch in 2015, to 125 branches in 2020. To other religious leaders and groupings, Bushiri is, unarguably, a threat. Further, with such a huge following just in one country, he also poses a threat to political establishments as he has the power, using the pulpit, to mobilize and influence.
In business, Bushiri has been busy doing investments here and there, buying hotels, etc; and it’s been working out for him. To other business people, he is a threat.
In humanitarian works, Bushiri has been in almost every province, directly or indirectly, giving to the needy and supporting vulnerable communities. These processes have sold his name on every corner and this, again, poses a giant threat to political establishments.
So the sum of his success in ministry, business and philanthropy has, indeed, pitched him as a threat to various powers that be and they don’t feel comfortable to let him go unstopped.
The first and quicker way to stop Bushiri is to accuse him of criminality, arrest and throw him in prison.
However, for someone at his stature, it is not easy for that to be achieved quickly as series of court battles will be involved for him, with a team of his lawyers, to prove his innocence.
The next step, as court battles rage, is to turn to mass media. In this step, Bushiri faces a united force involving everyone threatened by his rise.
This force, then, uses mass media to continuously run negative stories meant to position Bushiri as an illegal immigrant, rapist, fake, liar, illegally staying in South Africa, conman, lawless, self-styled or self-proclaimed prophet—the goal is incite South Africans see Bushiri as a problem, not a spiritual, business and humanitarian solution he has been.
I will give a series of examples.
Between 2015 and 2017, Bushiri faced fights from small town pastors who were bitter after losing their church membership to him. It wasn’t much of protracted wars often ending on Facebook.
But it’s from 2018 when real wars, using mass media, started.
It started with a false article in one of South Africa’s leading weekly, saying the Hawks are investigating Bushiri for shipping R15 million every month to Malawi. The story went viral and South Africans started questioning if Bushiri is stealing their money and taking them to Malawi.
Up to date, the Hawks have never summoned Bushiri on the same yet those stories are still all over the internet—people still believe in them. You see? Manufacturing consent.
Come 29 December, the stampede happens at the church in Pretoria. It was an accident. But what did media write?
They said because Bushiri did not comply with safety rules. They said Bushiri killed those people and hide them from police. They said Bushiri was careless and didn’t care to take the people to the hospital quickly.
No single South Africa media underlined that the stampede was only an accident—they all blamed it on Bushiri as reckless, lawless and must be punished.
Fuelled such negative reporting, a grouping of SANCO, just a week after the stampede, started burning tyres outside ECG Church in Pretoria demanding that the church must be closed and Bushiri must be sent back to Malawi.
South Africa media picked up that narrative and ran it across all their outlets. All of them, saying Bushiri is lawless, has caused death of three South Africans, as such, he must be deported. You see that? Manufacturing consent.
The CRL Commission stepped to investigate the matter. On February 1 2019, they made a ruling which exonerated Bushiri of having done nothing wrong; as the entire things was only an accident.
Now look what is more interesting.
The CRL verdict was ready out by 9 am. At exactly 10:00 am, Bushiri and his wife were arrested for money laundering.
Are you seeing what I am seeing? The media, instead of concentrating on clearing Bushiri with regards to stampede, turned quickly into the arrest story. Was the arrest a deliberate move to divert the public from hearing that the stampede was all an accident?
The arrest story was all over and that week, I remember, it was the most searched story in South Africa that President Ramaphosa’s SONA delivered the same week.
The entire 2019, after the arrest, there was only one story that all South Africa media got interested in. It was always worded like this: “Fraud accused, self-proclaimed Prophet appearing before court.”
Interestingly, whenever the court postpones, as it has always done, their stories changed to attacking thousands of his followers who always turned at the court to support him. Stories such as: ‘Bushiri supporters harass journalists,’ ‘Bushiri people block traffic,’ ‘Police struggle to control Bushiri’s wayward followers’. You know why? All this to keep Bushiri’s name in the negative. Sustaining the manufactured consent.
The year 2020 got COVID hitting every church hard. Bushiri, quickly, adjusted and launched an online church that, till now, is connecting millions across the world.
Just as every pastor, Bushiri could flash an account number on the television for people to give their tithe and offering. The media picked it up pitching Bushiri as someone taking money from people during COVID-19. It must shock you that even when evidence was there that every church is doing that, it was Bushiri’s name that graced front pages, bulletins and televisions. You know what? Sustaining the manufactured consent.
Few weeks late after the offering storm, ENCA TV interviews two faceless girls who accuse Bushiri of raping them. Every media house in South Africa picked the story and it was all over. No evidence. No facts. Just two faceless girls making wild accusations. Added to all the labels, now Bushiri is a rapist. You know what? Sustaining the manufactured consent.
Few weeks later after the rape accusations, enters Prophet Mboro. From nowhere, he starts taking people to different media houses to accuse Bushiri of having taken their money. The stories went wild, all over. Every media house picked and it was a storm. Bushiri is a thief, the narrative went. You know what? Sustaining the manufactured consent.
As South Africans, misled by their media, were still debating how Prophet Mboro created a thief in Bushiri, Hawks arrest Bushiri again.
South African media was on the moon; in fact, they had a Christmas. The stories were all over to the extent that during his second day of seeking bail, SABC and ENCA, had to carry the court proceedings LIVE, with Bushiri’s picture being beamed perhaps every 3 minutes with caption: “FRAUD ACCUSED BUSHIRI ASKING FOR BAIL.”
The postponement of bail hearing weren’t a story. The story was: “TWO MORE NIGHTS IN CUSTODY FOR FRAUD ACCUSED PASTOR.”
What is even more interesting is on how the media covered Bushiri’s permanent resident story. They all went wild with headlines, saying: “FRAUD ACCUSED BUSHIRI HAS A FRAUDELENT RESIDENTIAL STATUS,” “FRAUD ACCUSED BUSHIRI FACING DEPORTATION.”
All those stories were all misleading. Home Affairs Department had written Bushiri to explain how he got his permanent resident in South Africa. Bushiri’s lawyers challenged that notice before High Court and the High Court ruled that Bushiri can only make that explanation in 2021 after the State gives him trial on his 2019 case. That’s all.
And you know why, even after reading that judgment, the Minister of Home Affairs still went to the media to say Bushiri has a fraudulent residential status? It was to keep the media busy with denting Bushiri’s name. And what is that? Sustaining the manufactured consent.
It is also interesting to note how South Africa media covered the granting of bail for Bushiri. The magistrate, in giving Bushiri a bail, said he is not a flight risk, he is a permanent resident of South Africa, as such, there is no reason of not granting him bail. No media covered these facts explicitly. Most of them, for fear of telling people the truths from the Court, just said BUSHIRI GRANTED BAIL.
What is shocking, and really a confirmation of manufacturing consent, is that some media houses are running stories saying BUSHIRI STOPPED FROM PREACHING BY THE COURTS. Why? The normal bail story is not attractive to sustain the manufactured consent.
In all this you will note one thing: Bushiri may have some issues that he needs to explain before courts to prove his innocence. However, the level of obsession at which South African media has created and maintained labels around his name is suspicious.
It speaks to a campaign aimed at stirring South Africans to consent to a manufactured reality that Bushiri an illegal immigrant, rapist, fake, liar, conman, lawless, self-styled or self-proclaimed prophet—just whatever.
Next time you read a story about Bushiri in South African media, take a closer interest and you will see.
Like I said, though its inherent in us to, unconsciously, conclude that if it’s published in the mainstream media then it is true; trust me, what you get, from the media, is a news product filtered by a strict editorial process meant to persuade, you the consumers, to consent to a reality manufactured by certain interest groups somewhere meant to stop a potential threat.