Officials say that Bushiri and his wife were not smuggled out of the country on Malawian president’s plane.
CONTROVERSIAL self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife, Mary, fled South Africa for Malawi through one of the borders after allegedly bribing Home Affairs officials.
This follows the drama at Waterkloof Air Force Base on Friday when Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera was accused of trying to smuggle out about 30 people who are believed to be members of his advance team that arrived in South Africa first.
One senior government official confirmed on the weekend that Chakwera’s presidential jet was grounded for hours at Waterkloof after there was a problem with his suspicious passengers.
“Although we got an anonymous tip that Bushiri was one of those suspicious passengers, he wasn’t there when we searched the plane,” the official said.
Chakwera’s press secretary Brian Banda, speaking from Malawi on Saturday, confirmed that Bushiri wasn’t on the president’s plane.
“Bushiri wasn’t on the president’s plane. I can confirm that.
“The president’s plane was delayed and some members of his team weren’t allowed to board from Waterkloof. They were forced to go to OR Tambo International Airport,” he said.
“The reason is that when they arrived in South Africa, they landed at OR Tambo and, therefore, weren’t allowed to leave from the air force base.”
He said Chakwera will only discuss Bushiri’s matter once the South African government has written to him and made an official enquiry.
“The president is going to respect the rule of law. He has promised during his presidential campaign that he isn’t going to interfere with issues of justice in Malawi and definitely not in South Africa.”
When pressed on when Chakwera is going to hand Bushiri over to South Africa, Banda said: “We will cross the bridge when we get there.”
A senior Department of International Relations and Cooperation official said an Interpol red alert on Bushiri and his wife was activated yesterday.
“All member countries of Interpol will monitor his movements and once detected, he will immediately be apprehended and handed over to the authorities here at home.”
The official also added that South Africa has engaged the Zimbabwe and Lesotho governments “to check if Bushiri and his wife have not used their countries for their escape”.
“We know for a fact that they couldn’t have escaped through Botswana because Bushiri was kicked out of that country about a year ago and his churches closed down.”
He added that crime intelligence has also been asked to probe the church itself in addition to the man himself to check the possibility of it being a front for money-laundering.
He explained that the authorities became aware of Bushiri and his wife’s escape after they failed to present themselves at their local police station as per their bail conditions on Friday.
“Red flags were raised and the Hawks started looking for them. It appears they skipped the country on Wednesday, undetected.
“The president is extremely angry and has instructed the security cluster ministers to get answers as to what happened.“
He said South Africa has a good chance of getting Bushiri and his wife back because “Malawi has in 2002 ratified the SADC Protocol on extraditions.
“It will be easier to get them back to SA to face the music. There are talks currently under way with Malawi to urgently get the Bushiris back. Home Affairs (border management), state security and the police have tough questions to answer.”
Sunday Independent got a tip-off that Bushiri and his wife had fled the country on Friday night and it was also suspected that they might have been smuggled in Chakwera’s presidential jet which left Waterkloof around 9pm and also made a quick stop at OR Tambo International Airport to pick up some members of his entourage who weren’t allowed to board the flight at the air force base in Pretoria.
“A team of police officers were sent to OR Tambo to check if Bushiri wasn’t one of the passengers but we couldn’t find him and his wife,” said a police officer who asked not to be named as he isn’t allowed to speak to the media.
The news that Bushiri and his wife fled South Africa to Malawi in violation of their bail conditions broke out on Saturday morning when he posted a statement on his Facebook account “to inform the general public that my wife, Mary, and I are temporarily in our home country, Malawi, because of safety and security issues since 2015, matters that got worse when we just got out on bail”.
The couple is accused, along with three others, in a R102-million fraud and money laundering case.
Speaking in a televised address beamed by privately-owned television station Zodiak Broadcasting, on Saturday evening, Bushiri said he was in his home country to formally ask the Malawian government to intervene in his court battles in South Africa.
“The investigation [team] is made up of five white police officers, the judge is white and a white prosecutor. As a black man in South Africa I will not have a fair trial,” he said.
“I arrived in Malawi on Wednesday, and my president [Lazarus Chakwera] left for South Africa the following day [Thursday] I have not met my government. I have not spoken to any government official. I will meet my government on Monday.”
Bushiri said he was not running away from his trial but that he wants to involve his native government about his concerns surrounding his criminal cases in South Africa.
He said his South African-based lawyers would on Monday file papers in the high court for his bail not to be revoked.
“I am not running away [from trial]. That is why I am here announcing that I am in Malawi. If you are running – you do not disclose where you are .. .I am also going to subject myself to Malawian police, I am going to present myself to them …”
As part of their bail the couple were only allowed to travel within Gauteng and the North West until the case was finalised. The couple own a hotel in Rustenburg in the North West.
Bushiri made five demands as a condition for him to return to South Africa for trial. Amongst others he wanted the police assigned to his case to be changed, he also wanted the judge and prosecutors in his case to recuse themselves.
Furthermore he wanted the South African government to assure him that his bail would not be revoked.
Bushiri said he had opened cases of extortion against the team of police officers who arrested him and the team investigating his cases.
He said he opened cases in 2018 and he expected the South African judicial system to first deal with the cases he had lodged.
In the nearly 30 minutes briefing on Saturday night, he did not divulge details on how he skipped the country, as he was expected to have handed over his travel documents to the police as part of his bail conditions.
Bushuri’s lawyer Ntsako Baloyi on Saturday also refused to explain how his client left the country.
“I refuse to make any statement whether my client is a fugitive or not because it has different connotations and meanings to different people depending on which side you are on in this case,” he said.
Sources within the police claim that a preliminary investigation suggests that Bushiri and his wife left through one of the borders between South Africa and Lesotho.
“It is suspected that they bribed some Home Affairs officials to let them cross the border and we are still not sure how they left Lesotho to Malawi,” the officer said.
“We understand that after Bushiri and his wife reported at Midrand police station as per their bail condition on Wednesday, they didn’t go back to their house but decided to escape.
“We suspect that there are a number of people who helped them to escape,” the officer added.
The DA on Sunday called for Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to appear before Parliament over the incident.
“According to reports the pair allegedly fled South Africa for Malawi, crossing the border illegally after bribing Home Affairs officials. This is a serious indictment on the role of Home Affairs and border control to effectively police South Africa’s ports of entry and secure the movement of individuals to and from our country,” said Angel Khanyile, the DA’s spokesperson on Home Affairs.
“More worryingly, Bushiri’s escape brings into question the security and safety of our nation given how easily border management systems can be manipulated by corruption and bribery, especially in light of reports of insurgents led by religious extremists in neighbouring countries such as Mozambique.
“The DA calls on the Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, to appear before Parliament to account for his department’s abject failure to effectively manage South Africa’s ports of entry and departure, which have rendered our borders so porous that even wanted fugitives can pass through them with ease,” Khanyile said.
– Additional reporting ANA