Bushiri’s escape from SA sparks diplomatic stand-off

The Bushiris

By Duncan Mlanjira

As soon as it was discovered that Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary had not reported for bail at the police station he was scheduled to do last Friday, the South African authorities became suspicious that he might be sneaked out by the visiting Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera who was to leave same day.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement that says Chakwera’s home-bound departure from South Africa where he had state-visited for bilateral talks with President Cyril Ramaphosa was delayed by seven hours on Friday from 15:30hrs to 22:30hrs.

President Chakwera and Ramaphosa

The Malawi delegation was informed that the delay was due to security reasons, which the South African authorities did not specify.

But according to unconfirmed reports, the Bushiris had already crossed borders a day before Chakwera arrived in South Africa.

South African Government has since denied allegations that President Chakwera aided the Bushiris through the presidential plane as was allegedly reported throughout that country since Friday.

Phumla Williams, GCIS director

In a statement from Phumla Williams, director general of government communication and information system (GCIS) says the SA department of home affairs’ immigration officials verified the identities of all passengers on board Chakwera’s plane and the Bushiri’s were not on the flight.

Malawi’s Home Affairs Ministry says main reason among the causes of Chakwera’s delay to leave was that South African government was refusing to allow Malawi’s advance delegation to travel back home with the President but citing unspecified security reasons.

Chakwera leaving SA

Says the statement: “The South African authorities’ inexplicable refusal to let Malawi’s President leave with his advance team came despite being informed of the arrangement in advance, in conformity to all similar arrangement made in all the countries President Chakwera has visited thus far.

“Dissatisfied with the vague security reasons given for the refusal, President Chakwera decided that he would not travel back to Malawi without his advance team.

Waterkloof Air Force Base

“In the impasse that followed, the Malawi delegation proposed to the South African authorities that only President Chakwera and his delegation should leave from Pretoria Waterkloof Military Airbase where their plane had landed, while the advance team should be picked up en-route from OR Tembo International Airport.

“For no apparent reason, the South African authorities rejected this proposal as well. The Malawi delegation then spent the next 6 hours trying to reason with the South African authorities before the proposal was accepted.

“In retrospect, the Malawi delegation was justified in this dissatisfaction with the unspecified security reasons cited for the refusal.”

The Ministry says President Chakwera’s plane was parked at Pretoria Waterloof Military Airbase, a highly secure facility, under guard by the South African police throughout the visit.

When the Malawi advance team arrived, it was barred from boarding the plane while their passports and luggage were thoroughly checked by the South African police officers instead of South Africa’s immigration officers.

The statement further says the entire delegation’s luggage was loaded onto the flight by military personnel from the  South African Defence Force and at the scheduled departure time from the military airbase, “there were dozens of South African security personnel on the ground, who not only inspected the plane and its cargo, but also inspected every passenger on entry”.

Chakwera and Ramaphosa during their meeting

“The Malawi delegation complied with all these security measures out of deference to the vague security concerns of the South African authorities, despite that fact that the manner in which they were conducted and the delay they caused breached diplomatic protocols commensurate with the dignity of President Chakwera’s office and person.

“As such, the Malawi delegation was justified to dismiss as unacceptable and unsatisfactory the South African authorities’ use of unspecified security reasons to hinder President Chakwera from leaving with his advance team.

“Even after agreeing to let the advance team board the plane at OR Tambo International Airport, the South African authorities subjected the team to additional security checks before and after boarding the plane, again without giving an specific security reasons.

Coronavirus alert

“In fact, to date, those security reasons have not been communicated through formal channels.”

The Foreign Affairs Ministry it is gratefully in receipt of the public statement that was issued by the South African Government, exculpating President Chakwera from false allegations dominating the South African media that his presidential plane was used as a conduit for trafficking the Bushiris.

“Not withstanding, the Government of Malawi notes with concern that the statement falls short of acknowledging that the treatment President Chakwera was subjected to upon his departure was improper and incongruous to the warm hospitality he received upon his arrival.”

Chakwera was warmly welcomed on arrival

Sunday’s and Monday’s editions of South African media quotes their home affairs minister, Aaron Motsoaledi as saying the Bushiris did not use official ports of exit when they escaped to Malawi and that if they did “they must have bribed their way through”.

“Leaving a country is not something that is impossible as people think…There is always a way to escape if you are a real skelm (rascal),” one the newspapers quotes Motsoaledi.

“In the same way we were able to skip and leave the country during the liberation movement through areas which the boers did not know, somebody can still do that today,” he told the paper.

SA home affairs minister, Aaron Motsoaledi