Multimillionaire pastor Shepherd Bushiri, who has a warrant out for his arrest, disappeared from South Africa and reappeared in his home country Malawi in mid-November, sparking an international conflict between the two countries. Bushiri has been charged with fraud and money laundering charges along with his wife, Mary, and two co-defendants for allegedly conducting a fraudulent investment scheme that earned them $6.6 million USD. Bushiri’s trial is scheduled for May 2021.
Shepherd Bushiri is a wealthy pastor from Malawi who claims to have cured people from HIV, changed the fortunes of impoverished people, and walked on air. None of these claims have any scientific basis. He is the leader of the Enlightened Christian Gathering, which was founded in Pretoria, South Africa, and now has several branches in other African countries.
Bushiri and his wife released a statement on November 14, 2020 announcing their appearance in South Africa.
“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,” the statement reads. “Our coming to Malawi, hence, is a tactical withdrawal from the Republic of South Africa solely meant to preserve our lives.”
Bushiri enumerated a list of demands in his statement, which included assurance that his and his wife’s bail would not be revoked and demanding that the officers involved in his arrent recuse themselves from the case.
A Diplomatic Challenge
According to a regional extradition treaty signed by both South Africa and Malawi, any decision regarding the extradition of Bushiri would need to be made by the Malawian Ministry of Justice and then approved by President Lazarus Chakwera. Chakwera was elected to his position in June 2020. The treaty requires that any individual extradited receive a fair trial, which Bushiri claims is not guaranteed for him in South Africa.
Some have speculated that a member of President Chackwera’s entourage helped Bushiri escape when Chackwera was in South Africa in early November. Malawian and South African officials have denied the claim, but suspicions around Bushiri’s escape are fueling tensions between the two countries.
Malawian authorities confirmed the receipt of an extradition request from South Africa, which South Africa said was available for delivery on November 26, 2020.
The receipt of the extradition request comes after new charges were leveled against Bushiri and his wife. Prosecutors seeking to extradite Bushiri informed the Malawi Government of further charges, including rape of minors as young as 16 and violating the Suppression of Witchcraft Act in South Africa. The Act provides for the suppression of witchcraft and similar practices. Bushiri’s wife is also wanted in connection with eight accusations of rape by young women. The women allege that Bushiri groomed them with favors like money and attention and then threatened them afterwards.
In response, Bushiri claimed that the allegations were baseless and insisted that they were part of an extortion scheme within the Hawks, South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.
Bushiri’s lawyer, Wapona Kita, declined to comment on the extradition order or the additional charges leveled against his client.