NTHAKOANA NGATANE: Why the Bushiris might never come back to SA
South Africa may get a taste of its own medicine in its bid to extradite self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife, Mary, from Malawi if cases of other countries waiting for this country to hand over accused persons and fugitives is anything to go by.
Government spokesperson Phumla Williams issued a statement on Sunday denying that the couple had left aboard the flight of Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera, who was on a state visit on Friday. Government said South Africa had started a process to secure the Bushiris’ extradition in terms of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Extradition and other legal instruments.
But getting the extradition could be an uphill battle.
Over the past decade alone accused persons and fugitives wanted by other SADC countries remained in South Africa, and in some cases, the processes had taken more than 10 years to conclude.
Let us start with Mozambique’s former finance minister Manuel Chang who was arrested in December 2018 and is still in custody. Mozambique and the US said he was part of a scheme to embezzle and launder part of $2 billion of state-guaranteed loans while he was in office.
Three former Credit Suisse bankers had pleaded guilty in the United States to conspiracy, bribery, and fraud. But South Africa’s reason for not extraditing Chang was that Mozambique had not charged Chang, so it could not extradite him under the SADC protocol.
But now Mozambique has filed the charges against Chang, and the ball is in South Africa’s court on how much longer the process would take.
Then there is Habofanoe Ntsie who was convicted of murdering two people in Lesotho and fled while his sentencing proceedings were under way in 2012.
Lesotho’s law enforcement applied for his extradition, but he was first arrested in 2013, and the court proceedings began. However, as with other fugitives accused of murder or found guilty of murder, the condition that usually prolongs the applications was that South Africa had outlawed capital punishment while Lesotho had not, and the republic extradites on condition that the accused or convicted would not be sentenced to death if found guilty.
Not only has Ntsie’s extradition taken years, but he continued to live a normal life in South Africa. In 2016, he was contracted by the Department of Trade and Industry to produce videos, but some of his staffers accused him of sexual assault and he was arrested and subsequently released on bail by the Ladybrand Magistrate Court. But that still had no bearing on his extradition. He remains in South Africa.
Then came Reatile Mochebelele, a former commissioner of the multi-billion-rand Lesotho Highlands Water Project between Lesotho and South Africa. In 2009, Mochebelele was found guilty of fraud and corruption for receiving bribes during the construction of the Katse Dam and Lesotho wanted him to serve his 10-year sentence, so that country applied for his extradition.
For years Mochebelele argued and appealed, saying that his prosecution and sentencing were harsh and based on political hatred. In 2012, the Randburg Magistrates Court discharged him, but the Director of Public Prosecutions appealed and in 2019 the discharge was overturned and set aside.
A warrant of arrest was authorised against Mochebelele and the court ordered that he should be “committed to prison to await the decision of the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services with regard to his surrender to Lesotho”. Mochebelele was never arrested and he remains in South Africa.
So, while South Africa could begin the process to extradite the Bushiris and cite the SADC protocol, it could be years before any conclusion is reached.
Nthakoana Ngatane is a senior political reporter for Eyewitness News. She started her career with Lesotho Television, and went on to be a foreign correspondent for the SABC specialising on Lesotho and Southern Africa. Follow her on Twitter: @nthakoana