More than seven years since a commercial aircraft was allowed to land carrying approximately 200 guests for a lavish Gupta family wedding at Sun City (April 30 2013), and just more than five years since a plane ferrying former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir was allowed to leave Waterkloof Air Force Base (June 15 2015), the national key point has again been thrust into the spotlight.
This time questions are being raised by Members of Parliament (MPs) on whether the air force base was the point of exit for fugitives Shepherd Bushiri and his wife, Mary.
Although Government Communication and Information System acting director-general Phumla Williams and the Malawian government have reiterated that the two did not make their way out of South Africa with the assistance from the Malawian delegation that was led by newly elected President Lazarus Chakwera for bilateral talks with South Africa, MPs are not convinced.
They have asked for footage of the delegation boarding their aircraft to be shared with them.
Congress of the People leader Mosioua Lekota even went as far as calling for security measures to be drastically improved at Waterkloof Air Force Base, for access to the national key point to be restricted, and for its use be limited to military operatives and senior government officials only.
His submission was made on Tuesday morning as Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi appeared before Parliament’s portfolio committee on home affairs.
He was grilled by MPs on how Bushiri and his wife managed to violate their bail conditions and skip the country without law enforcement officials and border security being aware.
“Waterkloof base is a premium base for the air force and should be treated as such,” said a visibly irate Lekota, who said it was high time that access stops being granted to “every Tom, Dick and Harry”.
“We seem to have a security cluster that is sleeping day and night. This is why Bushiri can run in here with his girlfriends and wives with their 15 passports and nothing is done about this,” said the former minister of defence.
Motsoaledi rebuffed Lekota’s argument, reminding him that “even during your time as minister of defence, the air force base, although a national key point, was made available to foreign heads of state to use”.
He argued that government had in fact ensured that proper security measures were in place, saying: “In actual effect, the delay that our counterparts [the Malawian government] is complaining about was because we refused that members of the delegation who had come into the country before Chakwera to also board the aircraft from Waterkloof. Hence the reasons the plane had to go to OR Tambo International Airport from then to board from there.”
“What was going to be amiss would have been us as the South African government allowing members who landed earlier in the week and not at the airbase to then leave using the base. That’s what the delay was about.”
Motsoaledi added that stringent verification measures were adhered to, even at OR Tambo.
Regarding the request by MPs for video footage of the delegation boarding to be shared with them, Motsoaledi said: “That type of footage cannot be offered by me. That place is under the jurisdiction of the ministry of defence. I am not aware if footage from a national key point can be shared with anyone”.
The minister indicated that his department had confirmed that the couple had received their South African permanent residency in an irregular manner.
He said home affairs had established that Mary Bushiri had initially entered South Africa in 1998 and had received “questionable permanent residency” and that her husband had, according to home affairs records, first enter the country in 2005.
Motsoaledi said the irregularity then came in 2015, when the pair applied for permanent residency.
“I am not sure if Mary Bushiri had forgotten that she already has permanent residency,” said the minister.
“In their application they said that 2015 was their first time entering the country … which was not factual as I have already indicated.”
He said this year the department wrote to the couple notifying them of its intentions to revoke their permanent residency, but was compelled by the courts after an application by Shepherd Bushiri to hold off until he pleads in court to charges of fraud, money laundering and the contravention of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act in February 2021, as any response to home affairs could incriminate him.
Motsoaledi indicated that his department had since appealed this ruling as it was convinced that it would have no impact on the church leader’s court battles.
Asked whether he was aware of speculation that the fugitive couple was en route to Uganda, the minister said this was for this very reason that government had speedily issued a warrant of arrest.
“This warrant is shared with all Interpol member states and they are compelled to arrest them on sight,” said Motsoaledi.