Will South Africa successfully extradite the Bushiris?
Cape Town - Where there is hope, there is a way. This proverb came to mind on Thursday when Justice Minister Ronald Lamola fielded questions during a post-cabinet briefing.
Lamola was adamant that self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary would be returned to the country to stand trial.
"The South African government is going to do everything in its powers to ensure they are returned to this country to face trial," he said.
His statement was made after events unfolded including the Bushiris mysterious escape, law enforcement agencies seeking their warrants of arrest and approaching Interpol as well as Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi being hauled before Parliament to account on how they were granted permanent residency permits.
Motsoaledi found himself having to explain not only their acquisition of permanent residency status, but the delay in the Malawian presidential jet in flying out of the country last Friday and their possession of five passports. .
Briefing the home affairs portfolio committee on Tuesday, Motsoaledi said the genesis of the saga somehow started a year ago when the Hawks probed the Bushiris for fraud and money laundering.
He said the department had found that the permanent resident permits granted to the Bushiris in 2016 were irregular and that it had served the Bushiris with a notice asking to give reasons why their documents should not be revoked.
This was at a time they were already charged, but they sought court relief.
"The Bushiris rushed to court and asked the court to stop Home Affairs from asking them questions because they have a criminal case to answer in court," Motsoaledi said.
He said the court ruled in the Bushiri's favour to the dismay of the department, which lodged a leave to appeal.
The appeal was heard in court the day before Bushiri announced via social media that he had left the country.
This was the same day there was drama over departing the plane transporting the delegation of Malawian President Lazarus Chekwera.
Motsoaledi also told MPs that he had told the court that the Bushiris were a flight risk. This is because the couple had five passports issued by the Malawi government.
"It is common of course that we are suffering from porous borders in this country," he said.
Briefing the media on Thursday, Lamola said the cabinet was briefed on the issue of the Bushiris.
"Cabinet was satisfied with the manner in which the justice crime prevention and security cluster has handled the matter and the cluster will update the public on developments regarding this matter," he said.
Lamola also said the extradition process has been initiated by the government and all the law enforcement agencies that were responsible.
At the time the country had obtained a warrant of arrest and a red notice had been submitted to Interpol and Lilongwe.
Lamola said the provisional arrest of the Bushiris had been executed.
"This request has been made in terms of Article 10 of SADC protocol which requires the requesting state submit to authorities within 30 days after the arrest of the fugitive a formal extradition request," he said.
The minister had said the NPA and the Hawks were compiling the extradition papers and were given a two week deadline to do so.
"It may take some time but our view and information at our disposal is that we are convinced that the Bushiris will come back to South Africa to stand trial. They are guaranteed a fair trial."
Lamola also said he understood the urgency of the matter amid a lot of speculation.
Although the Bushiris were provisionally arrested on Wednesday, they were released the following day as they forfeited their R200 000 bail and their property in Centurion when they failed to report to the police and skipped the country.
This happened despite Lamola being optimistic that they had no doubt the extradition process would be run in a fair manner.
"We will continue to finalise extradition papers which we intend to send within the next two weeks, not 30 days as prescribed by SADC protocol," Lamola said.
However, the country has seen courts being engaged in protracted cases where fugitives of law fight off extradition attempts by their own or other countries.
With Bushiri quoted as saying he had no confidence in the fair trial and feared for his safety in the country, it is likely that he would fight tooth and nail any extradition process to bring him to South Africa.