President Lazarus Chakwera has rejected assertions that he facilitated to smuggle Prophet Shepherd Bushiri on the President’s plane out of South Africa on Friday when the Malawi leader was returning home from a two-day visit of Pretoria.
Some social media outlets have been setting the narrative that Bushiri, leader of the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) Church who has returned home in Malawi contravening his bail conditions was offered a ride on the President’s plane together with his wife, Mary.
The Malawi leader used a chartered flight to fly directly into Waterkloof Airforce Base, which is a national key-point reserved for South African Military and heads of state. Waterkloof airport does not conduct the same procedures and searches that are done at the normal airport, especially for the Presidents and their emissaries.
President Chakwera speaking through his spokesperson and Press Secretary Brian Banda said that is not true that he assisted Prophet Bushiri to jump bail in South Africa.
Said Banda: “The allegation that Prophet Shepherd Bushiri came on the same flight with the president is false.”
According to Banda, Prophet Bushiri’s situation was not even discussed during talks between the Malawi leader and South Africa President Cyril Rampahosa.
President Chakwera flew to Pretoria for a two-day working visit and met his South African counterpart on Friday. The two leaders engaged in bilateral talks along the lines of national development and cooperation between the two countries, including special permits for Malawian citizens working in South Africa.
It is reported that Bushiri arrived in Malawi earlier than President Chakwera’s home return.
His lawyer confirmed Bushiri arrived in Malawi while Chakwera was in Pretoria.
Chakwera’s departure in the rainbow nation was delayed several hours on Friday as the plane carrying him and his entrouge back to Malawi was subjected to search by South African security agents after Bushiri did not report to authorities as per his bail conditions, and there were whispers that the prophet might be smuggled out using the president’s jet. But he wasn’t on it.
South Africa police subjected Chakwera’s traveling party to searches multiple times at the Waterkloof Military Base in Pretoria and later ordered the entourage, except Chakwera and a few close aides, to go to OR Tambo Airport, from where they would board the President’s jet.
At OR Tambo the entourage checked in through the VVIP section under military and police escort all the way to the aircraft where a police officer literally checked every passport against the face of each passport holder.
Following delaying of president’s flight, State House issued a statement which said: “President Chakwera’s departure from South Africa has been delayed several hours due to clerical glitches in travel arrangements for Malawi State Officials who had travelled to South Africa ahead of the president’s arrival.
“As such, the president elected to wait until every Malawian in his delegation was assisted so that they could all be accounted for upon return. As the exercise is almost complete, His Excellency and his entourage will be departing anytime tonight.”
However, those in the diplomatic circles said the President does not have to wait for a forward planning team. A forward planning team is usually the last to leave the country, following the president.
When travelling between South Africa and Malawi, you do not need to do any “clerical” paperwork, except to take out your passport and get it stamped, and you pass. So the “clerical glitch” that State House statement referred to here could be far from the truth and that they were delayed for being wrongly suspected to assist Bushiri break bail conditions.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola has said they will seek an extradition process for Bushiri.
“Malawi is a signatory of the SADC protocol and other legal instruments on extraditions. We will not hesitate to invoke these provisions and instruments to assist law enforcement agencies to extradite fugitives of justice,” Lamola tweeted on Saturday.
But Bushiri said he and his wife “temporarily” left for Malawi due to safety concerns.
“There have been clear and evident attempts to have myself, my wife and my family killed and despite our several attempts to report to authorities, there has never been state protection,” Bushiri said.
The preacher claimed that he and his wife were being persecuted in South Africa.
He said they will only avail themselves once there’s an agreement to give him a fair, just and impartial trial.
The pair face charges of fraud, theft and money laundering and are currently out on bail.
Bushiri set five demands to ensure a fair, impartial, and just trial.
These include assurances of his safety while in the country and the assurance that their bail will not be revoked.
He also demanded that the investigating officers recuse themselves and that the complaints he lodged against them be investigated.
Bushiri further demanded that independent and “professional” investigators be appointed to “make independent decisions on the cases were are allegedly accused of.”
Questions are raised how he managed to return home when he had surrendered all his travel documents to South African authorities.