‘We had no idea Bashir was on flight’
Pretoria - The government had no idea that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was among the passengers in the plane that took off from Waterkloof Air Force Base shortly before noon on June 15.
His passport was not among the passports handed over by representatives of Sudan to the immigration officials, and his name was also not included on the passenger list.
This is according to an affidavit filed by the government, following an earlier order by Judge President Dunstan Mlambo, who demanded answers as to how it came about that Bashir left South Africa in spite of a court order prohibiting this.
The president was already an hour in the air by the time the high court in Pretoria commenced hearing an application by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre that he be arrested and handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
By the time Judge Mlambo ordered his immediate arrest, Bashir was nearly in Sudan.
It was only after the court handed down its order more than four hours after the plane took off that it was told that Bashir had already left.
Home Affairs director-general Mkuseli Apleni said all ports of entry had been on alert that Bashir may not leave. While Home Affairs recorded his entry into the country, there is no record of him leaving.
Apleni said that after media reports around 11.55am on July 15 that Bashir had just departed from Waterkloof Air Force Base, he asked the immigration officials to verify it.
“They told me his passport was not among the passports handed to immigration for processing of the people on board.”
On June 15, the SAPS Protection Services accompanied the Sudanese delegation from Sandton to Waterkloof, where their passports were handed over by a Sudanese representative to an immigration officer.
“The officer first of all checked to determine whether any of the passports belonged to President al-Bashir. He concluded that the passport was not among the passports provided.”
The passports were checked and the flight left, Apleni said.
The fallout over the Bashir saga has forced the government to consider withdrawing from the ICC.
Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe confirmed in Cape Town on Thursday that the cabinet had decided to review South Africa’s position and participation in the ICC.
While the ICC was a voluntary organisation, South Africa has come under fire in the past two weeks over its failure to arrest the Sudanese leader.
Radebe was briefing the media after the cabinet meeting in Cape Town the previous day. The backlash against South Africa over Bashir did not help as the government believed the ICC was dishonest and negotiated in bad faith with it in The Hague at the end of last month on the Bashir conundrum, Radebe said.
He added that the country had been put in an invidious position by the ICC and it would consider its future participation in the court. He added that South Africa had serious issues with the ICC that would be discussed following the appointment of a ministerial team to engage it.
He said SA had indicated its international obligations to the ICC over the Bashir matter. This related to its membership and obligations to the AU.
“The ICC was aware South Africa may have difficulties executing the warrant of arrest because of its international obligations,” Radebe said.