The past couple of weeks, I joined a group of Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) region journalists discussing how we, together, can change the narrative about migration across the region and beyond.
What the organisers couldn’t foresee, though, was ‘prophet’ Shepherd Bushiri’s ‘miraculous’ dramatic reverse migration back home—beating the intelligence and security agents in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and those at home—as he skipped bail and announce himself as a fugitive in a movie-like episode.
What has happened since has gripped the imagination of the two countries, the rest of the continent and the world beyond. How Bushiri pulled this trick off remains a great intrigue and ultimately rivals any of the stunts—some call them miracles—he has performed on the puppet for so long.
Now, don’t get it twisted, whether Bushiri’s walk in the air and other stunts warrant him to be called a prophet or not, is neither here or there. What is beyond dispute is the fact that Bushiri faces some very serious criminal allegations in South Africa which he has to answer for.
While we all empathise with the plight of compatriot, and his beautiful better half for their plight, we also have to sympathise with the myriad of innocent poor people who claim—whether true or falsely—that the man of God fleeced them millions of their savings.
The potential that our own country men and women, who also attend his church and are his business associates, could’ve have been fleeced, if the allegations the Hawks are prosecuting are true, are remarkably high.
It’s in every citizen’s interest to see Bushiri either exonerated or found guilty by a competent court of law. And South Africa’s model progressive post-apartheid constitution guarantees Bushiri so many freedoms and rights that he can still enjoy—including access to the best lawyers—and a world renowned professional judiciary.
That Bushiri reckoned that he couldn’t get justice from such a judiciary is something scholars must interrogate but to be very raw, as one great columnist tended to say, the Bushiris ought to come up with a more persuasive reason than we have been told on why they couldn’t trust the South African judiciary to deliver an impartial justice.
Once home, they cited their escape as a “tactical withdrawal”, citing safety reasons. But this move came when the same criminal justice system they are protesting against was able to grant them bail despite them being flight risk; ostensibly, demonstrating the reasonableness of the judiciary.
But Bushiri has been turned into a semi-national hero through this episode, largely thanks to the condescending manner in which South Africa government, its citizens and—sorry to add this—media—has treated Malawi government.
For this columnist, it was unbelievably surreal to watch the South African government treat the Malawian delegation that travelled with President Lazarus Chakwera with the most discourteousness and contempt—abandoning all diplomatic protocols and traditions—at the Waterkloof airbase in South Africa.
Maddening enough, after staging their ‘coup disgrace’ –showing our president the diplomatic middle finger, searching his plane and accosting his ministers and senior officials, senior cabinet ministers such as South African Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni, still had the temerity to continue providing oxygen to the rumours that Chakwera, somehow, was responsible for sneaking out Bushiri.
Then we have seen even more condescending—at times laughable—reporting by our colleagues in the rainbow nation, who uncharacteristically, have thrown all ethics to the dogs to report the Bushiri episode in the most disparaging manner—as far as Malawi government and citizens are concerned.
What the campaign of disinformation and half-baked journalism has achieved is to trigger a strong wave of nationalism on both sides of the divide, xenophobia in South Africa and siege mentality in Malawi. It has also turned Bushiri into Malawi’s hero, which he is not.
Until the Bushiris are exonerated by court of law, they are fugitives from justice. But they are also innocent until proven guilty on the various serious allegations they face. Now both Malawi and South Africa must work together to ensure justice is done, it’s in their mutual interest to do so. It’s also common sense. It’s also a matter of obligation. A matter of law.
But without any ambiguity, Lilongwe must let Pretoria know that how they treated our President is not anywhere near acceptable.