The surprise return of self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri to his country of Malawi, despite being on bail in South Africa on charges of fraud, has threatened to cause a diplomatic spat between the two countries.
Bushiri, a contoversial preacher who ran a Christian congregation in South Africa and is believed to be a multi-millionaire, announced on Saturday that he was back in Malawi, despite being ordered to remain in South Africa.
He claimed he was not fleeing prosecution, arguing he had left South Africa in fear for his life as “there have been clear and evident attempts to have myself, my wife and my family killed”.
There was speculation in South African media that Bushiri could have left the country on the jet of Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera, who visited South Africa last week.
But Malawian authorities on Sunday denied they had a hand in Bushiri’s return.
“Bushiri never travelled with the presidential entourage,” Malawi’s Homeland Security Minister Richard Chimwendo Banda told dpa news agency.
He added authorities are investigating to find out how the preacher entered Malawi and said it would be possible for Malawi to extradite Bushiri should Pretoria make a formal request.
In South Africa, the opposition Democratic Alliance called for an investigation after reports suggested Bushiri managed to leave the country by bribing officials.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula said on Twitter the authorities “will find Bushiri” and hold him to account.
This country is not a banana republic ,Bushiri must get this in his head we will bring him in this country to account. We dont need a luv letter from him.
— Minister of Transport |Mr Fix (@MbalulaFikile) November 14, 2020
Bushiri has a large following of faithful who believe his claims to have performed miracles, like curing people of AIDS and raising the dead.
His wealth comes from donations from followers of his Enlightened Christian Gathering church in the South African capital, Pretoria.
He and his wife, Mary, were known for their lavish lifestyle before their arrest on fraud and money-laundering charges.
They were granted bail of 200,000 rand ($13,000) earlier this month on condition that they would confine themselves to South Africa’s Gauteng province.