Self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri is in his home country, Malawi after jumping bail in South Africa on fraud charges raising speculation that he may have escaped using President Lazarus Chakwera’s plane. But both Malawian and South African authorities have cleared Chakwera of the controversial millionaire prophet’s mysterious escape who arrived in Malawi on Wednesday.
Bushiri, who founded a Christian congregation, the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG), and his wife – Mary – are facing multiple separate charges of fraud in South Africa. The two were on bail whose conditions included restrictions on their movement in South Africa. They were also not allowed to travel outside South Africa after handing over to court their travel documents as part of the bail conditions.
In a statement, Bushiri said “I arrived in Malawi Wednesday night and the President left for South Africa Thursday. I have not been in contact with any government official including the President. I will be making formal communications with government officials today [Monday]. I am not running away from trial in South Africa. I am here in Malawi because I am a Malawian citizen. I want the government to intervene in my situation because I have not been heard by South African authorities.”
He disclosed that certain elements in South Africa were baying for his blood and that of his wife in the ‘Rainbow Nation’ and authorities were not doing enough to investigate the matter.
“I am in Malawi because I want the government to talk to relevant authorities in South Africa to make sure that my safety is guaranteed. I am not running away from trial. When you run away you do not disclose your whereabouts. I am announcing to the whole world that I am in Malawi for a short while. But before going back I want to make sure that I am safe when I get back,” he said.
He pleaded with the South African court not to revoke his bail as he is back in Malawi for safety reasons after his security was threatened. Bushiri said he could not face a fair trial.
“They arrested me for buying a private jet, arrested me for money laundering. They are still holding my private jet. They later changed the money laundering charge to contravention of foreign exchange regulations, being a foreigner, this charge did not apply to me. I would expect to have people I [complained about] to recuse themselves from the case. I am subjected to an unfair investigation, which is not legal. I told my lawyers that I wanted to be heard at the Constitutional Court, but I was not given a chance,” Bushiri said.
Bushiri, his wife, and two others – William Mudolo and Zethu Mudolo – were arrested by members of the Hawks, the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigations, for their alleged involvement in fraud and money laundering.
The Pretoria Magistrate’s Court then granted R200,000 ($13,023) bail to Bushiri and his wife. In 2019, Bushiri and his wife were also arrested and faced separate charges of fraud and money laundering and the contravention of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act for offenses they allegedly committed from 2015.
In the latest turn of events, South Africa’s Cabinet Spokesperson Phumla Williams clarified that Bushiri and his wife “did not leave South Africa aboard a flight on which President Lazarus Chakwera and delegation travelled.”
Reads the statement: “Following the visit, President Chakwera and his delegation departed from Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria and stopped over at OR Tambo International Airport to collect an additional number of officials who had travelled to South Africa earlier to prepare for the working visit.”
There were reports that the self-acclaimed prophet might have left South Africa using the plane the president used. President Chakwera’s plane which was supposed to touch down at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe at 4 pm was delayed and landed after midnight.
Meanwhile, the South African authorities have initiated a process to extradite the Bushiris from Malawi in line with the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Protocol on extradition and other legal instruments to which Malawi is a signatory.
Under the London Scheme for Extradition, Customary and International Law and Malawi’s Extradition Act, Malawi is empowered to arrest and extradite people suspected to have committed offenses elsewhere.
Gospel Kazako, Malawi’s Minister of Information and government said so far, there is no communication from the South African government on the issue but was quick to add that “we will be seeking answers from South Africa as to how Bushiri got out of that country without travel documents.”
“There is nothing yet from South African authorities but we would like to know as to how Prophet Bushiri left the country [South Africa]. Prophet Bushiri too has a responsibility to explain to us how he travelled without travel documents from South Africa to Malawi,” Kazako said.
Meanwhile, the government has taken the position of “wait and see” stand until it is furnished with all the information on the contentious matter that threatened diplomatic ties between Pretoria and Lilongwe.