By Nhlanhla Mbatha
While the jury is still out on how the controversial Malawian-born Shepherd Bushiri slipped out of South Africa while on bail, we need to remind ourselves of how porous our borders are, and how inept our immigration officials are. The border officers, like our law enforcement agents, have a penchant for asking for bribes. With them, money rules.
It reminds me of an anecdote that at Nigerian airports, immigration officials talk of a “missing page” in your passport. The missing page is nothing but money.
In 2015, former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir slipped out of South Africa, which was expected by the International Criminal Court to arrest him. Bashir, at that time, faced charges ranging from war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Even the courts found our government guilty of not arresting Bashir.
Former Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe also escaped arrest for allegedly assaulting a model in 2017. A warrant is out for her arrest, and she is yet to face her demons, if ever, three years later.
If our borders are so porous and it is easy to bribe your way through anything, why are we shocked and surprised that Bushiri is now out of reach of our law enforcement agencies and legal system?
If he was here illegally and the South African legal system allowed him to do as he pleased, why now do we suddenly expect him to respect our laws?
The man simply has no regard for this country’s laws. He left South Africa the same way he mysteriously rocked up.
He has left our legal system with egg on its face for granting him bail when his arrival in South Africa and his stay, was questionable.
Some would argue that the Bill of Rights in our Constitution allows for any person to be granted bail for certain schedules of crimes. Others would ask whether the Constitution and the Criminal Procedure Act talk to each other.
On top of showing a middle finger to our criminal justice system, Bushiri now makes his own demands and preconditions for his return to stand trial in South Africa.
Where in the world have you heard of a fugitive from justice making extra-judicial demands for his return to stand trial for criminal acts?
Yes, there were hundreds of gullible South Africans whom Bushiri duped into parting with their hard-earned cash, including an MP from the governing ANC, Boy Mamabolo, who boldly marched in the streets of Tshwane outside the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court demanding the pastor’s release on bail and accusing the National Prosecuting Authority of xenophobia.
I guess even now his followers still swear on Bushiri’s innocence and how he is a victim of jealousy and xenophobia.
Questions are being asked whether Bushiri, like Mugabe and Bashir, will ever see the inside of a South African jail, let alone court?
* Professor Cyril Nhlanhla Mbatha is director of Rhodes University’s Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER).
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.