South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Tuesday told lawmakers that his office had objected to the leaders of the Enlightened Christian Congregation (ECG) church, Shepherd and Mary Bushiri, being granted bail following their second arrest two weeks ago on money laundering charges.The minister said this when he appeared before a parliamentary committee in Cape Town to explain the evangelists’ “miracle escape” from South Africa to their home country of Malawi while on a US$13,000 bail.
The escape has garnered not only headlines in the country’s media platforms, but has also caused a diplomatic faux pas following the South African police’s overzealous seven-hour search of a presidential aircraft carrying President Lazarus Chakwera at the end of his two-day official visit last Friday.
Malawi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the agents carried out the brazen search without giving reasons to Chakwera and his officials, an action which apparently bruised the Malawian officials’ diplomatic ego which could potentially affect the two Southern African Development Community members’ relations.
While the minister cleared Chakwera from taking any part in the Bushiris’ escape as assumed by the South African security agents, he blamed the country’s “porous” borders for the couple’s escape to their homeland through either Zimbabwe or Mozambique.
Motsoaledi told the committee that he would prepare a report for the House to explain in details how the Bushiris managed to outwit the border security to reach Malawi – three international borders away – without being detected by the officials.
By leaving the country while on bail, the millionaire couple contravened their bail conditions that, among other things, banned them from travelling abroad.
They stand to lose their properties and other possessions as well, which include vehicles and upmarket real estate properties.
The popular evangelists said they left the country because their lives were in danger, and the police offered them with no protection even after complaining that they had been shot at during a stop at Sandton filling station months ago.
According to a statement Bushiris issued on arrival in Malawi, they were not running away from the trial. But rather the move was a “tactical strategic withdrawal” to demand that the South African government should guarantee them a free and fair trial when they return to this country.
Meanwhile, the South Africans have issued a warrant of arrest for their return to face the trial, with the country’s National Prosecution Authority (NPA) stating that the Bushiris “can run but they can’t hide.”
Legal experts, however, see a protracted legal battle between the NPA and the Bushiris, especially with the Malawi authorities announcing that they would not interfere with the legal proceedings wherever it might lead.