South Africa has started the process of extraditing embattled self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri who escaped to his native Malawi in mysterious circumstances and in contravention of his bail condition for pending criminal proceedings.
In a statement issued yesterday and signed by South Africa’s Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams, Pretoria also clarified that fugitives Bushiri and his wife Mary “did not leave South Africa aboard a flight on which President Lazarus Chakwera and his delegation travelled”.
Reads the statement: “Following the visit, President Chakwera and his delegation departed from Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria and stopped over at OR Tambo International Airport to collect an additional number of officials who had travelled to South Africa earlier to prepare for the working visit.”
The South African government added that it had initiated a process to extradite the Bushiris from Malawi in line with Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Protocol on Extradition and other legal instruments to which Malawi is a signatory.
Bushiri and his wife are facing multiple separate charges of fraud in South Africa and were on bail whose conditions included restrictions on their movement in South Africa. They were also not allowed to travel outside South Africa after handing over to the court their travel documents as part of the bail conditions.
The clarification from South Africa’s Government Communication and Information System comes against a background of high-ranking South African government officials, including Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni accusing Chakwera via Twitter of ‘smuggling’ Bushiri of the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) and his wife out of South Africa.
But in a telephone interview yesterday, Minister of Information Gospel Kazako said Lilongwe had not yet received any communication from their South African counterparts on the matter as of yesterday.
He said: “We cannot have a response before we receive and see what is contained in their communication. We will certainly respond when we receive. However, it is an issue that we will sort out.
“We have a good relationship with South Africa so there is no tension or pressure whatsoever.”
Kazako, who is also the official government spokesperson, said since the issue is governed by laws, once government receives communication from South Africa on the matter, they will not use common sense, but follow the relevant laws.
In a separate interview, Attorney General Chikosa Silungwe said he could not comment as he was yet to receive official communication on the matter.
Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo Banda told our sister newspaper Nation on Sunday that they would consult Silungwe and Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo on the way forward, including possible extradition of the Bushiris.
ECG and Bushiri’s spokesperson Ephraim Nyondo yesterday asked for more time before he could comment. But as we went to press last night, he was not ready with the comment.
In a tweet on Saturday afternoon, South Africa’s Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola indicated that the country would commence an extradition request, saying Malawi is a signatory of the Sadc protocol and other legal instruments on extraditions.
He tweeted: “We will not hesitate to invoke these provisions and instruments to assist law enforcement agencies to extradite fugitives of justice.”
Under the London Scheme for Extradition, Customary and International Law and Malawi’s Extradition Act, Malawi is empowered to arrest and extradite people suspected to have committed offences elsewhere.
But Malawi’s Extradition Act does not specify how long an extradition process takes.
But in a late night television address on Saturday on privately-owned Zodiak Broadcasting Station (ZBS), Bushiri, without mentioning he exited South Africa, said he felt his life and that of his family was in danger as he was allegedly facing threats since 2018.
Bushiri said he is back home to meet government officials today to intervene on the matter, pleading with the South African court not to revoke his bail as he is back in Malawi for safety reasons.
The self-styled prophet, who said he sent back to Malawi his children in 2018 when he feared for the safety of his family, wondered how he could face a fair trial when he is being tormented by the same officers he reported to South African authorities for allegedly attempting to extort money from him.
Said Bushiri: “They arrested me for buying a private jet, arrested me for money laundering. They are still holding my private jet. They later changed the money laundering charge to contravention of foreign exchange regulations, being a foreigner, this charge did not apply on me.
“I would expect to have people I [complain about] to recuse themselves from the case. I am subjected to an unfair investigation, which is not legal. I told my legal team that I wanted to be heard at the Constitutional Court, but I was not given a chance.”
Bushiri and his wife alongside two others were arrested by members of the Hawks, the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigations, for their alleged involvement in fraud and money laundering 102 million rand (about K4.6 billion). The other two are Willah Mudolo and Zethu Mudolo.
The Pretoria Magistrate’s Court then released Bushiri and his wife on bail bonds of 200 000 rand (about K10 million) each.
Besides, the court also barred the couple from travelling outside South Africa and that the they should only visit two provinces.
In February 2019, Bushiri and his wife were also arrested and faced separate charges of fraud, money laundering and the contravention of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act for offences they allegedly committed from 2015.