Bushiri’s escape was allegedly hatched in connivance with the South African and Malawian authorities.
Flamboyant Malawian preacher, Prophet Shepherd Bushiri and wife, Mary, were allegedly smuggled out of South Africa to Malawi in president Lazurus Chakwera’s hired jet, with state supports from both South African and Malawian officials, according to a report by Sunday Independent.
Bushiri jumped bail in South Africa and escaped to Malawi in November. Himself and his wife are facing a case of fraud and money laundering in South Africa and were granted bail, now being regarded as a part of the plot for his escape, with conditions not to leave the country.
An arrest warrant was later issued against Bushiri and Mary by the South African authorities.
Bushiri leads a big church in South Africa known as the Enlightened Christian Gathering. His teachings and healings were linked with series of controversies, including allegations of staged miracles.
The report says Bushiri and wife were issued with diplomatic passports bearing decoy names and applied with cosmetic facial changes before being smuggled out of South Africa in Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera’s hired jet.
According to the report, sources told the Sunday Independent that the plot to help the Bushiri’s escape justice involved high ranking Malawian and South African officials in what seem to have been driven by a huge payment of bribes to South African airports and security officials.
Bushiri was said to have approached president Lazurus Chakwera through links at the Malawian embassy, who later ordered that the preacher and his multi-billion rand assets be either protected via legal steps or smuggled out of South Africa.
The plan to smuggle Bushiri was well hatched out. There are suspicions that the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa may have aided the escape by staging a state meeting with president Chakwera in South Africa ahead of the escape.
The Malawian intelligence operatives at the embassy, the report says, considered options, including smuggling Bushiri through Mozambique, whisking him off in the presidential jet, or lobbying for Mary’s acquittal and a lesser sentence for Bushiri.
The report states that Bushiri refused the option of a lesser jail term after spending two weeks in jail. Left with one option, Chakwera, through the Malawian embassy, then lobbied the Ramaphosa administration for assistance to move Bushiri out of South Africa.
Below is the timeline to Bushiri’s escape from South Africa as detailed by the report:
- Bushiri approached Chakwera for help through the Malawian embassy; Chakwera instructed the embassy to hatch a plan to save Bushiri and his multi-million rand assets or smuggle him out of South Africa;
- Malawian intelligence operatives at the embassy considered options, including smuggling him through Mozambique, whisking him off in the presidential jet, or lobbying for Mary’s acquittal and a lesser sentence for Bushiri;
- After spending two weeks in jail, Bushiri was given the options and flatly refused the SA jail option; Chakwera, through the Malawian embassy, then lobbied the Ramaphosa administration for assistance;
- The Malawians banked on their constitution which protects diplomats and bars extraditions unless the suspect was sought for murder or treason.
- Some members of the judiciary were then lobbied to ensure Bushiri was released on “soft” bail with less stringent conditions, no attachment of his bank accounts and assets except the R5m property in Centurion;
- Both governments agreed to approve Chakwera’s request for a state visit and use it to smuggle Bushiri out via Air Force Base Waterkloof;
- An advance team was then sent to SA to finalise logistical preparations for Bushiri’s escape;
- The Bushiris were fetched from their home in Centurion in a Malawian embassy vehicle and issued with false diplomatic passports and had facial cosmetic changes applied on them;
- However, SA police, military and diplomatic officers at Waterkloof raised questions about three passengers – two males and a female – whose names did not appear on Chakwera’s preapproved passenger list;
- With rumours that the Bushiris failed to report to the police station, the officials got more suspicious as the height of two passengers resembled that of Bushiri and Mary;
- A fracas ensued as the military police wanted to detain the three passengers, but the Malawians sought Department of International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor’s intervention;
- Pandor dispatched officials to sort out the problem and they agreed the three suspicious passengers would be allowed to board Chakwera’s plane at OR Tambo; Chakwera’s plane made a stopover at OR Tambo, 25km from Waterkloof, to pick up the advanced team which included the Bushiris;
- Bushiri and Mary, with facial cosmetics to disguise them, were whisked onto the place through the diplomatic entrance; Three members of the advance team were left behind to secure and dispose of Bushiri’s assets;
- The plane left SA shortly after 10pm last Friday and landed in Malawi after midnight;
- The Malawian government ordered a media blackout at the airport before Chakwera’s arrival;
- The Bushiris disembarked from the plane immediately after Chakwera and his wife;
- Some journalists managed to capture footage of the Bushiris disembarking; but the Malawian intelligence later confiscated and classified it as top secret;
- In SA, intelligence officers and some government officials lobbied or spun journalists and editors to blame the country’s porous borders and corruption for Bushiri’s escape.
The report suggests that it is unlikely that Bushiri would be extradited to South Africa to face charges.
A diplomatic source cited in the report said South Africans should make peace with the fact that Bushiri was not coming back to face justice.
“The Malawians have decided to try Bushiri that side. So, there is no coming back for Bushiri. Interpol can’t extradite him. They can only arrest Bushiri to make sure he appears in court in Malawi.”Diplomatic source
This story was written with excerpts from The Sunday Independent report by Piet Mahasha Rampedi.
This article is fact-checked.
A writer, poet and social activist with focus on Africa, governance and social values.