Little sympathy for the Bushiris, but more for the magistrate who granted them bail
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Pretoria – My twice-yearly visit to my family home in KwaZulu-Natal is a highlight for me.
This time it was even more rewarding as tongues were wagging about the neighbours whose property was raided by “no fewer than 20 heavily armed Hawks officials”.
My family spoke excitedly about how they woke up as the Hawks broke down the gate to the neighbours’ property.
It was big news for the tranquil village of Hillcrest, a few kilometres from Durban. Neighbours apparently flocked to the entrance of the property to watch all this going down, as the sun was coming up.
It later transpired there were allegations of tender fraud amounting to R200 million and involving eThekwini Municipality officials.
My family warned me to draw the curtains, because after the raid the neighbours had erected spray lights around their home. CCTV cameras could be seen on the walls around the house, as well as razor wire in front of the electrified fence.
But the neighbours were nowhere to be seen. They had apparently fled.
I don’t know if they are guilty, of course, but it made me wonder if the means justify the end. Having the money – well, allegedly in this case – but having to look over your shoulder all the time, hardly seems worth it.
These thoughts were sparked by the case of self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife, Mary, who are fugitives after they escaped to Malawi.
While it is known the wheels of justice grind slowly, they do turn. The couple were due to face trial in the high court next year.
If they are innocent, as they say they are, the law would take its course and they would be acquitted.
But having this uncertain situation hanging over their heads – the possibility of having their bail revoked, having a warrant out for their arrest and possible extradition – seems like a nerve-racking experience.
Even so, I have little sympathy for the Bushiris. I have more for the magistrate who granted them bail and who has been the target of some ugly vitriol on social media. This is uncalled for.
While bail, according to the wise justices of the Supreme Court of Appeal and Constitutional Court, should be granted only if it is in the public interest, over the years the courts have also pronounced that a person’s liberty is a fundamental right – where possible.
According to the Department of Justice and Correctional Service, bail is granted more readily if a person is not a flight risk and can easily be found by law enforcement agencies.
Perhaps in the case of the Bushiri couple, this is an issue to reflect upon, as they have close ties with their country of origin. And they had every means possible to return to Malawi.
While there were bail conditions set in this case, including R200 000 each, this is a small price to pay for someone of Bushiri’s means.
The Bushiri saga reminded me of the case of Dirk Prinsloo and Cezanne Visser in the early 2000s. Visser was better known then as Advocate Barbie. The trial was one of the more sordid ones I covered as a high court reporter. Prinsloo absconded in the middle of the trial, leaving Visser to face trial alone. She was handed a seven-year sentence.
Prinsloo fled to Belarus, and has been there ever since, apparently unnerved about whether he will forcefully be returned. Every now and then, there is talk of an extradition, but nothing happens.
Hopefully, in the Bushiri case, this avenue will be pursued with more vigour.