Bushiris on the run: timeline from SA escape to Malawi arrest

The Bushiris were arrested on Wednesday morning

19 November 2020 - 07:00 By cebelihle bhengu
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Fugitives from justice Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary.
Fugitives from justice Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary.
Image: Thulani Mbele

The leader of the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG), Shepherd Bushiri, and his wife Mary have been arrested in their home country of Malawi just days after leaving SA under mysterious circumstances.

The Bushiri's violated bail conditions imposed by the Pretoria magistrate's court earlier this month, which stated that they were not allowed to leave SA. They were restricted to travel between Gauteng and North West and had to report to their nearest police station every Monday and Friday.

Their escape raised questions about SA's border security and criticism of government officials.

Here's a timeline of events from their escape last week to their arrest on Wednesday:

November 13: No show

The alarm was raised after Bushiri and his wife failed to appear at their local police station on Friday as per their bail conditions. Bushiri claimed that they flew out of SA on Wednesday though this has not been confirmed by authorities.

November 14: The great escape

Bushiri announced in a Facebook post last Saturday that he and his wife had fled to Malawi over safety concerns dating back to 2015. He claimed that the situation worsened after they were released on bail, and accused the authorities of disregarding his concerns about his safety and that of his family.

“There have been clear and evident attempts to have myself, my wife and my family killed and despite several attempts to report to authorities, there has never been state protection. Our coming to Malawi, hence, is a tactical withdrawal from the Republic of South Africa, solely meant to preserve our lives.”

He said their escape was not an attempt to avoid trial in SA, but rather to “clear our names in a justice system that is fair, impartial and just”.

November 15: Cyril Ramaphosa 'extremely angry'

The couple's escape coincided with the visit of Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera to SA. This raised questions about whether he had “smuggled” them out of SA under the pretence that he came to brief president Cyril Ramaphosa about a revolt against him in Malawi.

Chakwera flew in on Thursday last week and met Ramaphosa on Friday. He denied any involvement in the couple's escape, as did SA's acting presidency spokesperson Tyrone Seale.

A Dirco official, who spoke on a condition on anonymity, said Ramaphosa was angered by the incident. He said the Malawian government would co-operate with SA to bring the Bushiris back and said “home affairs (border management), state security and the police have tough questions to answer”.

LISTEN | Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary get bail of R200,000 each

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November 16: NPA wants to revoke Bushiris bail & that meeting between Bushiri and Malawian officials 

The National Prosecuting Authority said it would begin the process of getting the Bushiris' bail revoked. NPA spokesperson Lumka Mahanjana would not be drawn into revealing when the matter would be brought before court but said the processes would take place “soon”.

Sean Kampondeni, director of communications for the Malawian government, told a media briefing in Malawi that a meeting between him and Bushiri was coincidental. He cleared the air after pictures of him, Bushiri and Malawi’s foreign affairs minister Eisenhower Mkaka and a former employee of Bushiri who is a South African circulated and raised questions on social media.

He said the pictures were taken on Thursday evening shortly after the arrival of Chakwera's delegation, which he was part of. He said he went to the Menlyn Mall and “met these individuals randomly”. He denied having any relationship with Bushiri, saying the pastor told him that he recognised him from Malawi's Weekly Brief  before he asked him for a picture.

17 November: MPs demand answers

Bongani Bongo, chairperson of the home affairs portfolio committee, demanded video footage of Chakwera's flight to establish whether he helped Bushiri escape. Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi was grilled on Tuesday by the committee, which  demanded a detailed report on how he may have escaped.

Bongo said all people leaving or entering the country must have a home affairs stamp or an official document issued by the department.

“If we were to just get footage of what happened when the plane left and three hours before, we may be able to properly answer all the questions the nation has about what transpired on that specific day,” said Bongo.

17 November: Motsoaledi says Chakwera did not leave with the Bushiris 

The ministers denied claims that Chakwera had any involvement in helping the couple escape, saying his plane was searched twice by the Hawks before it left. He said Chakwera had arrived with a delegation of 23 people including himself and the first lady, but there were 66 in total when he left, including his advance team.

Motsoaledi said the delegates wanted to board the presidential plane at Waterkloof Air Base in Pretoria instead of at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport where they had landed on their arrival, but were denied and redirected to OR Tambo where their documentation and the plane was searched before their departure.

18 November: Bushiris arrested in Malawi

The Bushiris handing themselves over to police when they got wind of their impending arrest.

This came after the Hawks confirmed that a second arrest warrant was issued for the couple.

“The North Gauteng High Court has issued warrants for the arrest of fugitives Mr Shepherd Bushiri and Ms Mary Bushiri who broke bail conditions and fled to Malawi several days ago. The high court issued the warrants yesterday, Tuesday, 17 November 2020,” said Hawks spokesperson Katlego Mogale.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) also indicated on Wednesday that an extradition request for the couple was being prepared and would soon be submitted to Malawian authorities.  

“After that they will have to appear before court. Certainly, statements will also be taken by police to find out a few other things that we require in the process,” Malawian information minister Gospel Kazako told eNCA.

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