The Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services and leader of Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) Shepherd Bushiri have disputed claims by South Africa’s Ministry of Home Affairs that the ‘prophet’ and his spouse each hold five valid Malawian passports.
The reactions follow claims by South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi yesterday who told a parliamentary committee in his country that Bushiri and his wife Mary have five passports each issued by Malawian authorities.
During the briefing broadcast live on South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) television, the minister—who was asked to explain how the Bushiris escaped, including their permanent residence—said Home Affairs was about to challenge their bail. He alleged they gave police “fraudulent” documents.
Said Motsoaledi: “On the day he was given bail, I was very angry and irritated because I suspected of what would happen. He has five passports that were issued in Malawi and none of them was issued in South Africa.”
But in an interview yesterday, Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services spokesperson Joseph Chauwa disputed that Bushiri had five passports. He said the ‘prophet’ has one diplomatic passport that was upgraded from an ordinary passport.
He said: “We know that he has a diplomatic passport and not as being said. Our system cannot allow an individual to have multiple passports. Even when an individual renews a passport, the other one is cancelled in the system so that [having more than one passport] cannot happen.”
On his part, Ephraim Nyondo, spokesperson for Bushiri and Enlightened Christian Gathering, also said the allegations by Motsoaledi were false.
He said the South African authorities were bent on a smear campaign against Bushiri, fondly addressed as Major 1 by his followers.
Efforts to validate Motsoaledi’s allegations with South Africa’s Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams yesterday proved futile as she was yet to respond to our questionnaire both through email and WhatsApp despite constant reminders.
Bushiri’s escape from South Africa where he was answering money laundering and fraud charges coincided with President Lazarus Chakwera’s visit to that country last week.
The President’s plane was delayed for seven hours at the Waterkloof Military Airbase in Pretoria due to what authorities cited as security reasons.
But Malawi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday released a statement expressing dissatisfaction with the conduct of the South African authorities.
During his appearance before the parliamentary committee yesterday, Motsoaledi said Chakwera’s plane was delayed as it was searched, on two separate occasions, to ensure Bushiri was not on board.
While alluding to the fact that South Africa has porous borders, Motsoaledi said records at their borders do not indicate any trace of the Bushiris.
In addition, Motsoaledi also told the committee that the last time Bushiri used South Africa’s airports was on January 19 2019 and since then, he had not travelled outside the country prior to his escape to Malawi last week.
After his earlier arrest in February last year on alleged fraud of R15 million (about K750 million), Bushiri had never travelled to Malawi until last week. The last time he travelled to Malawi was in December 2018 when he came to launch his six books at Victoria Gardens in Blantyre.
Following the Bushiris alleged escape, Williams on Sunday issued a statement indicating that an extradition process on the couple has commenced. On Monday, she also said an arrest warrant was issued and their bail revoked.
The Bushiris alongside two others—Willah Mudolo and Zethu Mudolo—were arrested by members of the Hawks, the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigations, for their alleged involvement in fraud and money laundering of R102 million (about K4.6 billion). The Bushiris were released on R200 000 bail bonds (about K10 million each).
As part of their bail conditions, they were also barred from travelling outside South Africa and were allowed to visit two provinces only in the Rainbow Nation.