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Bushiri escape saga strains relations between Malawi and SA

President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera, who paid a working visit to South Africa last week. Picture: Jairus Mmutle/GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa hosted Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera, who paid a working visit to South Africa last week. Picture: Jairus Mmutle/GCIS

Published Nov 16, 2020


Pretoria – The government of Malawi on Monday expressed displeasure with the treatment of President Lazarus Chakwera and his delegation, who were delayed for about six hours in Pretoria last week after meeting President Cyril Ramaphosa on a working visit.

The Malawian foreign affairs ministry said even though Pretoria’s Presidency did well by clarifying publicly that Chakwera played no role in abetting fugitive Shepherd Bushiri’s escape, the statement fell short.

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“The government of Malawi is aware and grateful that a public statement was recently issued by the South African government, exculpating President Chakwera from false allegations dominating the South African media that his presidential plane was used as a conduit for trafficking two Malawians wanted by South African authorities,” the Malawian government said.

“Notwithstanding, the government of Malawi notes with concern that the statement falls short of acknowledging that the treatment President Chakwera was subjected to upon his departure was improper and incongruous to the warm hospitality he received upon his arrival.”

The South African government on Monday issued a warrant of arrest for self-proclaimed prophet Bushiri and his wife, Mary, after the high-flying Malawian couple breached bail conditions and fled to Malawi.

Coincidentally, Chakwera’s delegation was also leaving Gauteng after the “successful” working visit. Speculation became rife that Bushiri and his wife had left South Africa on the Malawian presidential jet.

Phumla Williams, director-general of Government Communication and Information Systems, said the South African government was now pursuing a process to have the Bushiris extradited back to South Africa.

She said the R400 000 bail (R200 000 each) paid by the Bushiris when they were released by the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on November 4 has been forfeited to the state.

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The Malawian government, however, insisted that the treatment of Chakwera, who was with his wife, Monica, and his delegation was unjustifiable.

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“The plane was scheduled to leave South Africa at 15:30 hours but did not leave until 22:30. Chief among the causes of the delay was the South African government’s refusal to allow Malawi’s advance delegation to travel back home together with President Chakwera and his delegation, citing unspecified security reasons,” the Malawian government said.

“The South African authorities’ inexplicable refusal to let Malawi’s president leave with his advance team came despite being informed of the arrangement in advance, in conformity to a similar arrangement made in all countries President Chakwera has visited so far.”

Dissatisfied by the “vague security reasons given for the refusal”, the Malawian foreign affairs ministry said Chakwera resolved that he would not depart from Pretoria without his advance team.

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An agreement was later reached for the Malawian presidential jet to make a stopover at OR Tambo International Airport to pick up the Malawian government officials.

Malawi said the treatment of Chakwera “breached diplomatic protocols commensurate with the dignity of President Chakwera’s office and person”.

When the presidential plane made the pit stop at OR Tambo International Airport, the Malawian government said its officials were subjected to repeated security checks both before and after boarding the plane.

Official statistics show that South Africa’s exports to Malawi in 2019 were worth approximately R6 billion, while imports from Malawi were estimated to be worth approximately R1.3 billion.

African News Agency (ANA)

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