Jean-Jacques Cornish

Bushiri imbroglio has become a hydra-headed diplomatic monster for South Africa and Malawi

The escape from South Africa of self-styled Malawian prophet and preacher Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary has left President Cyril Ramaphosa “embarrassed and concerned” and has dented diplomatic relations between these Southern African Development Community Partners.

The matter  became a hydra-headed monster Friday with Lilongwe magistrate Viva Nyimba setting the fugitive couple free.

Malawi’s state attorney will appeal this decision next week.

Malawi’s Information Minister Gospel Kazako says the success of this approach depends on South Africa furnishing vital documentation that is still outstanding.

He has no fear the Bushiri’s will not try to escape to another country.

“They are here because it their home and they feel safe,” he says.

He admits that allowing the Bushiri’s to was free was oversight on the part of Malawi authorities.

He maintains bilateral diplomatic relations are strong and healthy, despite this row over how the Bushiri’s entered Malawi without travel documents.

Outside the court, Shepherd Bashiri, wo claims to cure HIV/AIDS, blindness and to lift people out of poverty,  pumped the air and said the rule of law was prevailing.

“This is more important than any assets we have in South Africa,” said referring to the R5,5 million home in Centurion that has being forfeited to the State because he jumped bail.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola says the Bushiri imbroglio is  matter of utmost urgency.

He is confident the Bushiri’s will present themselves back in court in South Africa to face theft, fraud and money laundering charges involving R105 million.

He says extradition proceedings have begun after the incident which has once again highlighted how porous South Africa’s borders are

Earlier this month the Bushiris  were granted R200 000 bail each.

A week ago they failed to present themselves at the Centurion police station south oof Pretoria in terms of their bail conditions.

At the time, Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera was on an official visit to South Africa.

Authorities in Pretoria feared the Bushiris would try to leave the country aboard the presidential jet.

Chakwera’s flight home was delayed for seven hours as police and immigration officials searched it and carefully checked each member of the official entourage.

Both South African and Malawian officials discounted reports that the Bushiris had been officially smuggled out of South Africa.

Once Chakwera was back in  Lilongwe, Malawian officials issued a statement protesting at the South African treatment of their president.

The Bushiri’s arrived back in Malawi at the weekend and after hiding out in a luxury hotel in the capital presented themselves to authorities.

Kazako says they are exercising their right to go home because they felt their lives were in danger in South Africa.

Asked about extradition proceedings, Kazako says  Malawi is a nation of laws. The matter will be dealt with my by the book.

Ramaphosa says he’s awaiting  a full report on the matter and will stay any action he’s considered that.

“We are going to take action. That is for sure,” he said.

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi took a pasting in Parliament over the escape of the Malawian fugitives.

He maintained that his jurisdiction in the matter ended when the court granted them bail against his best advice.

There is a growing belief that the couple, travelling without passports, crossed South Africa’s northern border with Zimbabwe.

They might not have done this at Beit Bridge which is closed to individuals because of the COVID lockdown.

Locals wait at the border post offering to assist illegal crossings for R1000 a time.

The Bushiris have joined a list of celebrity fugitives from South Africa. In 2011 an Islamist terrorist know as the White Widow, Samantha Lewthwaite, believed to responsible for the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi and other terror incidents escaped using South African travel documents. 

In 2015 Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir was spirited out of South Africa despite a Pretoria court order that he be handed to the International Criminal Court that wants him on war crimes charges in Darfur.

In 2017 former Zimbabwe first lady Grace Mugabe, wanted for assaulting her son’s girlfriend in Sandton, evaded authorities in South Africa.

The Gupta brothers, wanted for state capture during the presidency of Jacob Zuma, escaped South Africa and are sheltering in Dubai and India.

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.