The Department of Home Affairs is expected to explain today how a plane carrying the Malawian president left South Africa short of two officials on the day that controversial pastor Shepherd Bushiri and his wife fled.
Bongani Bongo, the chairperson of the portfolio committee on home affairs, told The Star on Monday that the Bushiris could have been aided to flee South Africa by either local officials or the Malawian delegates here on an official visit last week.
“There is something very conspicuous about how the Bushiri escape happened. The Republic accredited 17 persons but 23 arrived. That in itself was bizarre. Then when the Malawian delegation left, it did so with 19 individuals on board. Why would that be the case? I am told that the two individuals travelled to Swaziland. We haven’t yet confirmed if they are there. If Mr Bushiri really went to Malawi and there was no plan to conceal his crime, what immigration documents did he use to enter the country?” Bongo asked.
Bushiri and his wife, Mary, are part of a group facing charges of fraud, theft, and money laundering, which allegedly took place between 2017 and 2019. They were granted bail earlier this month but were barred from leaving the country and had their travelling papers seized by the state. It is still unclear how the Bushiris managed to leave the country without their passports.
“He should have been arrested on entry. How did their daughter leave the country without the parents? Without an affidavit or letter from the parents, which is required by law. Home Affairs needs to give us some answers?
“To me, it would be simple. We need to look at the security footage at the airport. We do know of Mr Bushiri’s status in Malawi. He is a very wealthy man, a man with political connections.
“To say that they left through a border, the Beit Bridge border, is not enough. It doesn’t explain the odd details of how the flight left. The Minister of Home Affairs will report to us tomorrow (Tuesday). Let us hear what he has to say,” Bongo said.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malawi issued a press release criticising the delay in South Africa of Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera’s plane for seven hours on Friday. The press release claims that the manner in which the searches of the delegation were conducted and the delay breached diplomatic protocols. A letter has also been sent to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation.
South African officials had reason to believe Bushiri had escaped or was attempting to escape the country when that same Friday he failed to report to the investigating officers as required in terms of his bail conditions.
Malawi’s Nyasa Times reported on Sunday that Malawian Foreign Minister Eisenhower Mkaka had arrived in South Africa as part of Chakwera’s advance team, and had met with Bushiri last Tuesday, six days after he had been granted bail.
Some reports claim that Bushiri left South Africa the following day. Mkaka, who is allegedly close to Bushiri, said it was the duty of the Malawian government to protect all Malawians.
Speculation continues to swirl as to how Bushiri managed to escape South
Africa undetected last week, with some government officials believing that his exit through a land border is most likely. Bushiri, it is claimed, did not leave the country legally, and was likely given a passport in view of the fact that his diplomatic and other passports were taken at his bail hearing.
Amid claims that Bushiri was a sponsor of Chakwera’s election campaign and that the two are very close, doubts have been raised over whether he will in fact be extradited. Chakwera has been under pressure from local traditional leaders to return Bushiri home to Malawi.
Bushiri’s escape has resulted in tensions between Malawi and South Africa at a time when Chakwera will be the incoming SADC chairperson next year.
The government has confirmed that Bushiri was not on Chakwera’s plane when it left South Africa on Friday night following meetings with President Cyril Ramaphosa. South African authorities are furious at the fugitive’s escape, saying any evidence of aiding and abetting his escape would be considered a criminal offence.
South Africa has initiated a process to secure the Bushiris’ extradition in terms of the SADC protocol on extradition, to which Malawi is a signatory, and a warrant has been issued for their arrests.