Self-styled fugitive Malawian prosperity gospel preacher Shepherd Bushiri says he will only return to South Africa if authorities promise not to “poison” him.

But, for now, it’s business as usual – with allegations that thousands of worshippers from all over the world visit him weekly in Malawi for spiritual deliverance.

In an emailed response, Bushiri’s spokesperson, Ephraim Nyondo, said: “If South Africa meets the conditions for his safety, and guarantees they will take him to trial and not poison like last time, then he will come.”

Nyondo claimed, without providing evidence, that Bushiri was poisoned in custody and that was the reason he also left.

Bushiri fled to Malawi last November after he and his wife, Mary, were granted bail at the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court in relation to fraud and money laundering. He also faces an extradition case, but no trial date has been set yet in Malawi.

“For over three years, they failed to bring him to trial, always claiming they needed more evidence. Even now, with the extradition case, they have not brought witnesses and evidence. So that’s a problem,” added Nyondo.

Malawi last week allowed churches to resume physical services – and Bushiri says South Africa is “the biggest loser” because, instead of going there, his followers are flying into Malawi for his International Visitors Programme.

“South Africa has been the biggest loser in this. Enlightened Christian Gathering Church (ECG) is bringing 10 000 people a week to Malawi. You can’t even get a hotel these days. All that is business,” said Nyondo.

Media reports in Malawi glowingly say Bushiri is that country’s latest tourism booster because he hosts travellers from across the globe. There are reports that international visitors have made Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, a tourism hub.