Pastor Shepherd Bushiri’s church has been slapped with an R87 500 fine for the illegal construction of a mega-church.
The Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) – part of the pastor’s network of business and church ventures – had started construction of the 10 000-seater church on a site in Midrand in December 2015. But locals complained to the Gauteng department of agriculture and rural development that they had not been consulted.
Consultation is an integral part of an environmental impact assessment, a legal requirement for any construction to go ahead.
The department sent a Green Scorpion to inspect the site. In response to Mail & Guardian questions last month, the department said: “ECG had not submitted an environmental impact assessment, or other environmental permissions required prior to construction.”
A compliance notice was then issued to the church, “with the instruction to cease with all illegal activities on the site”. The church was also told to do the required environmental assessments, including public participation, before it applied for permission to build.
The church chose instead to use a loophole in environmental law: a Section 24G rectification. This allowed the church to admit guilt and fix their damage, before restarting the process to get environmental authorisation.
The R87 500 fine “for unlawful commencement of activities”, which could have been up to R5-million, is the second stage of that 24G process. Payment would mean the church could then get the necessary environmental authorisation.
That authorisation has, however, now become unnecessary because Bushiri’s church has applied for environmental permission for a different, larger, site less than a kilometre away.
Initial plans show a 35 000-seater mega-church with 8 000 parking bays, a university for 3 500 students and high-density residential units.