Government has denied allegations that South African officials helped Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church leader Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary skip the country.
The couple fled to Malawi after being granted bail, and said their escape was a “tactical withdrawal” to “save their lives”.
“There have been clear and evident attempts to have myself, my wife and my family killed and despite our several attempts to report to authorities, there has never been state protection,” said Bushiri at the time.
They face charges of theft, fraud and money laundering.
While South Africans, including government officials, were left with questions on how they managed to escape, the Sunday Independent alleged that government officials helped the couple.
“Insiders” in the government’s security cluster reportedly told the publication that the Bushiris allegedly left in President Lazarus Chakwera’s plane last Friday in a plot that involved senior Malawian and South African politicians and government officials.
Responding to the allegations, spokesperson Phumla Williams said the South African government was working closely with the Republic of Malawi in an attempt to extradite the couple.
She denied allegations in the report that government officials helped the couple escape.
“On Sunday, the Sunday Independent published a story containing false claims and assertions from the so-called unnamed sources. This story sought to embarrass and implicate Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Dr Naledi Pandor and unnamed Ministers in crimes and conspiracy for which the Sunday Independent has produced absolutely no evidence and will not be able to substantiate. Last weekend they ran with unsubstantiated allegation about Lesotho having been an escape route used by the Bushiris to leave South Africa,” said Williams.
“If this publication wishes to serve the national interest and ensure that justice is seen to be done, like any other citizen who observes a crime being committed, it is obliged to report such information to the nearest police station. In fact, Government encourages all South Africans who are in possession of information about crimes being committed to report that to law enforcement agencies regardless of the status of the person who committed such a crime.”
She said government remained committed to investigating the matter and use all the legal instruments to bring the Bushiris back to South Africa and face the criminal charges put before them.
Following their escape last week, speculation was rife that Chakwera visited the country to fetch the couple, but Malawi has also denied the allegations.
“The government of Malawi is aware and grateful that a public statement was recently 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 two Malawians wanted by South African authorities,” it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa is expecting a report on the couple’s escape.
He said that government would take action once it knew what really happened.
“The Bushiri matter has been very concerning to all of us. I’m waiting for a report, a detailed report on the whole Bushiri saga, which I will get, and we will then see what action needs to be taken because it should never have happened the way it did. I’ll be getting the report either tomorrow or so,” he told eNCA last week.