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Grace Mugabe sucked into Shepherd Bushiri’s escape saga

By Andrew Murenha

THE dramatic escape from South African justice by Malawian self-styled prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary has led to that country’s main opposition, the DA, throwing the name of Zimbabwe’s former First Lady Grace Mugabe into its wars with the African National Congress (ANC) -led Government.

This has come amid a report by the Sunday Independent of South Africa that the Bushiris were issued with diplomatic passports bearing decoy names and applied with cosmetic facial changes before being smuggled out of South Africa in Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera’s hired jet.

According to the report, Bushiri and his wife were fetched from their home in Centurion in a Malawian embassy vehicle ahead of a scheduled 6pm flight as Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera wrapped up his meeting with his host President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The couple was then driven to Air Force Base Waterkloof “as part of an elaborate plot that involved senior Malawian and South African politicians and government officials and the alleged exchange of money”, says the report.

The report then says that:

  • However, SA police, military and diplomatic officers at Waterkloof raised questions about three passengers – two males and a female – whose names did not appear on Chakwera’s preapproved passenger list;
  • With rumours that the Bushiris failed to report to the police station, the officials got more suspicious as the height of two passengers resembled that of Bushiri and Mary;
  • A fracas ensued as the military police wanted to detain the three passengers, but the Malawians sought Department of International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor’s intervention;
  • Pandor dispatched officials to sort out the problem and they agreed the three suspicious passengers would be allowed to board Chakwera’s plane at OR Tambo; Chakwera’s plane made a stopover at OR Tambo, 25km from Waterkloof, to pick up the advanced team which included the Bushiris;
  • Bushiri and Mary, with facial cosmetics to disguise them, were whisked onto the place through the diplomatic entrance; Three members of the advance team were left behind to secure and dispose of Bushiri’s assets;
  • The plane left SA shortly after 10pm last Friday and landed in Malawi after midnight;
  • The Malawian government ordered a media blackout at the airport before Chakwera’s arrival;
  • The Bushiris disembarked from the plane immediately after Chakwera and his wife;
  • Some journalists managed to capture footage of the Bushiris disembarking; but the Malawian intelligence later confiscated and classified it as top secret;

Citing this report, the DA said claims that the Bushiris received assistance from the SA and Malawian governments should not be ignored. The DA said the ANC-led government had a history of helping friends of its foreign leaders at the detriment of South African justice, citing the escape from South Africa by Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir in 2015 with the intervention of Robert Mugabe and the escape two years later by none it her than Mugabe’s wife, Grace, also after kicking up dust in the neighbouring country.

“The seriousness of this situation cannot be overlooked, especially since this is not the first time an incident of this nature has happened.

“In 2015, Omar al-Bashir skipped the country, despite facing charges of war crimes.

“And in 2017, former Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe fled SA despite facing criminal charges over allegedly assaulting a model in a Johannesburg hotel,” the party said in a statement.

Omar al-Bashir was wanted by the International Criminal Court, which is still struggling to get him to stand trial two years after he was toppled by his own military.

Grace Mugabe bashed Gabrielle Engels at a hotel in the neighbouring country with an electrical cord accusing her of badly influencing her sons who were living and learning in South Africa at the time.

Grace then escaped to safety and subsequent threats to have her dragged back to South Africa by Afriforum were met with a charged warning by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government and a lukewarm response by the Ramaphosa administration.

Angered by the past incidents, the DA on Sunday said it wants home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi to appear before parliament for a second time to provide answers regarding the couple’s escape.

The DA wants the minister to provide parliament with CCTV footage from the Waterkloof Air Force Base of the hours leading up to the couple’s escape. 

As the saga drags on, South Africa’s minister of international relations & co-operation Naledi Pandor on Sunday denied that her department had any involvement in helping the Bushiris escape. The minister said she was concerned that she was not asked for comment, and demanded the retraction of the article by the Sunday Independent.

“Minister Pandor invites the newspaper to issue an immediate retraction of the wholly false suggestion that she intervened in this matter. To that end, the department will be seeking legal advice,” said Pandor’s spokesperson Clayson Monyela.

Meanwhile, City Press on Sunday also revealed that before escaping last week, the police discovered that the Bushiris had made at least 20,000 transactions from their business and personal accounts. – Zimbabwe Voice / Sowetan ■

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