Lilongwe and Pretoria have been so busy this week, since Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) leader prophet Shepherd Bushiri announced that he and his wife Mary were in Malawi, as a ‘tactical withdrawal’ from a case where they are charged with fraud and money laundering. Bushiri said he chose to come home because he feared for his life in South Africa, and that he wanted a fair trial, saying some investigators in the case tried to extort from him.
But, before Saturday, it appears there were a lot of things going on under ground. Bushiri says he came to Malawi on Wednesday last week.
The South Africa media states that he met Foreign Affairs Minister Eisenhower Mkaka on Tuesday. Mkaka was part of the delegation accompanying President Lazarus Chakwera to talks with his South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa.
It is clear that the South African state machinery got wind of Bushiri’s flight on Friday, when he did not appear before police as indicated in the bail conditions, that he was to present himself on Mondays and Fridays, between 6am and 6pm. To make matters worse, Chakwera was supposed to leave South Africa through the Waterkloof Military Base in Pretoria, but was delayed by seven hours.
The bone of contention being that the South Africans wanted only 17 people who had come in with the president the previous day to board the chartered Malawian Airlines, not the 65 that wanted to leave South Africa with the President from the military base. We will ask why there were 65 people in that entourage at a time the President is seemingly against wastage, wasting for only relevant ministers and government officials to be at his official functions. We will ask some other time later why the Malawian entourage knowing well that this was a military base, which has its own rules that stipulated that only the number of people who entered South Africa should depart from it, chose to be adamant they would not go to OR Tambo Airport and board the chartered plane from there.
Once it was known that Bushiri had bolted, the rumours started flowing. Some suggested the prophet had left in the presidential plane. Pretoria shot that down, as there had been a thorough search. Back home, some felt Chakwera had been mistreated by the South Africans, but as State House Press Secretary Brian Banda, the RSA government had indicated that Chakwera could leave, but it was Chakwera who insisted that he would only leave when the last of his delegation was on board. He was securely somewhere else, not having his bags searched. Rightly, State House says Chakwera will not have any hand in Bushiri’s legal tussle.
The storm on Monday shifted to the South African parliament as members of a committee grilled Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to explain how Bushiri escaped from South Africa. In a way, Motsoaledi shifted the blame on magistrate Thandi Theledi who granted the Bushiris bail, when she had been told they were a flight risk. The parliamentarians were also furious that this exposed how porous the South African borders were. Motsoaledi further indicated the Bushiris had 10 passpoarts between them.
In the words of Bushiri’s spokesperson Ephraim Nyondo, the other passports were full, so there were only two valid passports, which were in the hands of the South African government. So there, we went back to the question: How did Bushiri leave South Africa?
For information minister Gospel Kazako, that should be the question, not how did he leave South Africa and not how he arrived in Malawi. Bushiri himself said he was emotional to answer that question. The Daily Maverick, a South African investigative publication, speculated that Bushiri drove to Beit Bridge, before boarding a plane across the border in Zimbabwe.
These questions come at a time human trafficking continues to rock states. It comes at a time some Malawians from Mangochi, Mzimba and all the hinterland travel to South Africa and back without passports and documentation. As a matter of fact, the day they left South Africa, Home Affairs Minister Richard Chimwendo and some ministers on Chakwera’s entourage visited Lindera Repatriation Centre where about 100 Malawians are in detention for being found in the country without papers. Bushiri may be a voluntary victim of human trafficking.
At hand now is the matter of Bushiri’s extradition to South Africa.
Well, that process has began, with his handing himself over to Malawi police, on Wednesday and was expecting to get bail on Thursday. That is after Interpol issued a warrant of arrest for him. The bushfire seemed to be smothering, but it is just starting.