Cape Town — South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority has issued three warrants of arrest against Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) church founder Shepherd Bushiri for rape.
This comes after the self-proclaimed prophet and his wife Mary, fled the country in violation of their bail conditions claiming that their lives were in danger. South African authorities however say this was done to avoid facing fraud, money laundering and theft charges.
The recent warrants against Bushiri state that he had allegedly raped three women who were members of his church, charges he has denied claiming this was just part of a larger crusade to try and persecute him.
The Bushiris were first arrested in connection with fraud allegations in February 2019 by South Africa's elite crime-fighting unit, the Hawks.
Their escape has set off a power struggle between the governments of South Africa and Malawi which is now facing political pressure to turn him in.
In South Africa, it has authorities scrambling to explain how such a high-profile figure was able to abscond, exposing serious lapses in their ability to monitor the country's borders. Earlier, the South African Parliament grilled Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi about the lapses or, as one suggested, the complicity that had allowed the controversial cleric to flee, saying the blunder exposed flaws in South Africa's national security.
In Malawi, the Bushiris were arrested before they were unconditionally released by a Lilongwe Senior Resident Magistrate, who said their arrest was illegal.
After skipping bail, Bushiri posted a statement on Twitter saying that he and his wife fled after years of threats to their lives. He said that his requests for state protection had gone ignored, and that the case against him was "persecution NOT prosecution." "Our coming to Malawi, hence, is a tactical withdrawal from the Republic of South Africa solely meant to preserve our lives," the statement read.
It is still unclear whether Malawi would hand over the Bushiris. Meanwhile, the justice department in South Africa says it plans to serve an extradition letter on Malawi within the next two weeks.
Under a regional extradition treaty signed by both countries, any decision to surrender Bushiri would need to be made by the Malawian Ministry of Justice and approved by President Lazarus Chakwera.