After the department of home affairs revealed that Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary had not left the country in almost 20 months, it’s possible that the controversial couple could have previously left South Africa and returned without being processed by immigrations officials.
According to Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, the department’s system reflects that the couple have not left South Africa since they flew into the OR Tambo International Airport on January 19 2019.
This means that the controversial and wealthy couple, who reportedly own more than one private jet, have not left the country for almost 20 months. Bushiri is known to have other congregations back at home in Malawi and in other Southern African Development Community countries.
According to the department’s movement control system, which records arrivals and departures of people at the country’s various ports of entry, the couple was in fact still in the country, Motsoaledi said.
The department was aware that the Bushiris have five Malawian passports each. They were also “irregularly issued” permanent residency permits which are now being investigated by the department on allegations that they were obtained through misrepresentation of facts.
It has emerged that the department was in court last Friday when the Bushiris failed to report at a police station as per their bail conditions. It was later discovered that they have fled the country.
The department was asking the court to be allowed to start the process to revoke their “irregularly issued” permanent residence status. The process was previously halted by the Bushiris through a court order.
Motsoaledi revealed this on Tuesday when he appeared before the home affairs parliamentary portfolio committee.
He said reports that Bushiri could have travelled to Lesotho recently were investigated and that country had no proof of that.
The minister said as far as their records were concerned, Bushiri and his wife Mary were still in the country. However, he expressed his anger at the fact that the couple skipped the country and said his department had opposed them being granted bail in the first place.
“We emphasised the fact that [because they were subject of our investigation and that they have] been using irregularly issued permits, we regarded Bushiri as a flight risk who should not be granted bail,” he said.
Motsoaledi said the Bushiris residence status was under investigation.
He revealed that Mary had, when she entered the country in 2012, produced a permanent residence permit which she said was issued to her in 1997 – when she was 14-years-old.
He said the department’s movement control system did not have any records of Mary entering the country in 1997.
Meanwhile, the minister also revealed that the self-proclaimed prophet Bushiri had, between 2014 and 2016, registered companies and started operating businesses.
“He should then have applied for a business visa but he never did, meaning businesses he was running were not within the law,” he said.
Motsoaledi also revealed that in 2013 the Bushiris applied for permanent residence permits which “means the fact that Mrs Bushiri had already produced a permanent residence permit in 2012, for some reasons she was no longer recognising it or she forgot [about it]”.
“The Bushiris declared under oath that they entered South Africa for the first time in 2015 [but] our system shows otherwise. They were granted permanent residence permit in 2016 which I must state was issued irregularly because there was a misrepresentation of facts,” Motsoaledi said.
This was now subject of an internal investigation to reveal, among other things, who was responsible for the issuing of the permits.
“The stay of the Bushiris in South Africa is not regular but it was [obtained] through lots of anomalies and we have to revoke their permanent residence status,” Motsoaledi.
But his department had been stopped by the Bushiris’ lawyers from continuing the process to withdraw their status.
Motsoaledi said the Bushiris were given notices that their statuses would be revoked and were asked to give reasons why this should not be effected.
“At the time the Bushiris had already been arrested the first time and their court appearance was set for May next year. They took home affairs to court to ask for the department not to ask them questions, arguing that they have a criminal case to plead to in court and if they start answering questions they might incriminate themselves ... they were asking the court to get home affairs to back off,” he said.
The court ruled that the department should suspend its process until the couple had pleaded in court. On the day the Bushiri drama started on Friday, Motsoaledi said his department was in court appealing that decision. Judgment was reserved.
Several members of Parliament appeared agitated by the Bushiri matter. Inkatha Freedom Party’s Liezl van der Merwe, wanted Motsoaledi to say who should be held responsible for the Bushiris’ clandestine departure from South Africa which she described as part of a “clear plan”.
EFF’s Mgcini Tshwaku raised issues around reports that the couple had diplomatic passports when they were not diplomats, something he said was a serious allegation. He called for the police and the intelligence services to answer on how Bushiri managed to leave the country unnoticed.
“People want answers,” Tshwaku said.
Joe McGluwa, of the DA, reiterated his colleagues’ concerns on what he described as a “well planned escape”.