It is a nippy night in Rustenburg and after a sturdy handshake, a few pleasantries, an average height man in unassuming clothes points the way towards a semi-detached private side of the Sparkling Waters Hotel in an enclave of the North West Province in South Africa, at the hem of the Magaliesberg mountains.
The man dressed in the black coat and speaking in semi-hushed tones is Enlightened Christian Gathering leader prophet Shepherd Huxley Bushiri.
He is not planning taking over the world, although some may claim he and his like, the Pentecostal religious elite, already have done so. Instead, he is leading us to a dark room with an array of chairs for an unlikely two-hour spectacle in the dark and another in the light.
He is not giving us miracle money. Nor exorcising our demons which reside deep within our bones. Neither is he performing miracles on us.
“We are going to watch the soccer!” he says with a smile that shows even in this darkness.
He twitches a bit and adds, “although my favourite team is going to lose 3-1 tonight.”
The Catholic in me shrugs. Not even the Pope knows that result, I say to myself. Yet belief is beautiful and diverse. It is here that the journey to knowing the other side of Prophet Shepherd Bushiri begins, showing a social side that many may never have encountered. And many more never will in such intimate proximity.
Sitting in the conference area he tears open through cling film covering his popcorn, nods a bit as if to pray or give thanks for popcorn, and takes a handful besides his wife and starts munching into the popcorn in a room full of his followers.
It is not the Upper Room and no fellowshipping is going on. Bushiri, like the average man, is a man obsessed by football and is an ardent follower of Liverpool Football Club which on this night faces Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid, which my companions and I ardently love and are secretly rooting for.
“We have to support calmly or risk being thrown out by the prophet and his people for supporting the opposing team,” says one of the boys in jest.
Three handfuls into his popcorn, Bushiri summons one of his aides, who takes over the bowl handing it to us; “The prophet wants you, his guest to have the popcorn instead.” Who would refuse what perhaps could be anointed popcorn?
Just then that veil of super-humanity that many other people who are prophets in the Pentecostal religious movement want to exhibit is removed.
Benzema buries a clumsy goal. Bushiri slumps into the leather couch. We rise and celebrate with dignity and restraint. Four minutes later Sadio Mane pulls one back and like an excitable child that all men become when their team scores, Bushiri, the man they call Major 1, leaps up screaming before hopping back into the seat, kissing his wife passionately and punching the air repeatedly.
Spoon after that goal Madrid start piling on the pressure. The game gets hot for Liverpool.
They look like pretenders. But the game gets hot for Bushiri as well. In the 60th minute Bushiri removes his black coat handing it over to his aide. Madrid are on fire.
Come the final minute, indeed Real Madrid wrap it up on a 3-1 score-line.
He stands to address his followers; “I told you it would end 3-1.”
He invites us for the second bit of the night. A game of chess on Facebook live.
“I last played this game in 1997,” he says. His opponent is Khuluma Afrika’s Maynard Manyowa, himself a seasoned chess player. And so we play chess with the ‘man of God’.
As the world watches the live chess game, Bushiri corners Maynard and in good time it is check mate.
Not a bad night for Bushiri. He lost one and won one!
He did perform a miracle on me that night. Watching my first ever Uefa Champions League Final without sipping a single drop of alcohol. Who could dare order a beer while sitting a heartbeat away from The Prophet?
A ride to Zimbabwe on the private jet he suggests? We pass. “We will use our own mode back home, thank you prophet!”
And over dinner he talks like any other person, opening us up to his social life, jokes on his phone which are mostly religious and other little social things.
Who sends him these jokes? Who knows? Maybe Pope Francis. Or perhaps Pope Emeritus Benedict. Or Prophet Eubert Angel and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Yet one thing is for sure. For all his charisma. For all his miracle money controversy and prophesying the ascendency of Dr Kembo Mohadi to the Zimbabwean Vice presidency, there is a very human, calm, dare one say warm, and unassuming side to the man known often simply as ‘the prophet’. Beneath it all lies a simple man with a not so simple calling.