● Prosecutors seeking to extradite Shepherd Bushiri have told the Malawian government of a raft of further charges the self-styled prophet faces, including the alleged rape of girls as young as 16 and contravention of the Suppression of Witchcraft Act.
Sources close to the extradition process said that besides charges of fraud, theft, racketeering and money-laundering, Bushiri, 37, who fled SA three weeks ago with his wife Mary, is also wanted in connection with:
● Eight complaints of rape by young women who allege he groomed them with money and attention, and threatened them afterwards;
● An allegation that he accused a woman from the pulpit of using witchcraft to lure her husband away from his former wife, thereby contravening the Suppression of Witchcraft Act; and
● A complaint that he defrauded a woman out of R14,000 by persuading her to pay him to heal her mentally ill son, which he then failed to do.
These complaints are listed in SA’s extradition request, which includes an affidavit by the North Gauteng director of public prosecutions, advocate Sibongile Mzinyathi, sources said.
The Sunday Times has learnt that in the 37-page request, Mzinyathi details the cases against the Bushiris as well as further warrants of arrest out for the couple. He rejects the Bushiris’ claims that the charges are motivated by prejudice and that they would not receive a fair trial in SA.
Shepherd Bushiri’s Malawian lawyer, Wapona Kita, declined to comment on the new allegations yesterday, saying he would respond tomorrow. Bushiri’s South African lawyer, Ntsako Baloyi, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Malawian authorities confirmed on Friday that they had received the extradition request, which SA says was ready for delivery on November 26.
But government sources said the document left the country via a courier service
only on Wednesday, and was signed for in Malawi the following morning.
“I’m told the delay was due to infrequency of flights to Malawi,” one government official said yesterday.
Justice minister Ronald Lamola’s spokesperson, Chrispin Phiri, declined to comment on the extradition request beyond a statement released on Friday that SA was confident “the Republic of Malawi will honour the letter and spirit of every provision of their international and regional obligations”.
Sources close to the process said the rape complaints came from young women who attended Bushiri’s church, the Enlightened Christian Gathering, at the Pretoria showgrounds.
The Sunday Times understands two of the alleged rapes took place in 2016 and 2017 and cases were opened at the Sunnyside police station in Pretoria in June 2018. A further rape complaint was laid four months ago.
Police information obtained by the Sunday Times indicates that the victims were as young as 16.
Sources said Bushiri “noticed” the young women when they performed on stage during his church services. He allegedly initiated contact through members of his security team who took the women’s cellphone numbers under the guise of being impressed by their performances.
Sources said the extradition request states that Bushiri allegedly groomed the young women via WhatsApp chats and gave them money. His bodyguards picked them up for a rendezvous at the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria.
After the alleged rapes, Bushiri is said to have threatened the women with death if they told anyone.
Bushiri has yet to be arrested on the rape charges or plead to them. Sources said the extradition application details warrants of arrest issued for Bushiri in three of the rape cases, but these have yet to be executed.
According to police documents, in the complaint about the witchcraft incident, the woman involved alleged that Bushiri accused her of being a sangoma in his “prophecy” during a church service. She and her husband opened a criminal case.
Malawian information minister Gospel Kazako said that after receiving the extradition request state lawyers were “going to sit down and advise on a way forward and do what is lawfully required for the matter”.
“We are now going to study the document and co-operate, and that does not mean we are going to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the request. It means we are going to follow the law,” he said.
Bushiri was considered innocent until proven guilty, he said.
“He is a free man according to the law in Malawi. We understand the anger coming from SA but we can’t be against the law to feed that emotion of anger.”
It will be business as usual for Bushiri over the festive season with massive events advertised in both Malawi and Zambia.
Congregants are expected to flock to his “Zambia International Visitors Programme with Major One”, set to take place from December 18. Bushiri will also be hosting a New Year’s Eve event, “The Night of Devine (sic) Settlement 2020-2021”, at the Bingu National Stadium in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe.
Asked how long it would take Malawi to decide on the extradition, Kazako said: “We will not work on an ultimatum, but what I can say is that it is not going to take long. It shouldn’t take long.”
He added that the outcome would have consequences for an application by the Bushiris in the high court in Lilongwe this week in which they challenged the constitutionality of their arrest in Malawi. The Bushiris handed themselves over to Malawian police two weeks ago after an Interpol notice was issued at SA’s request. That case returns to court on December 14.
At the time of their escape, the Bushiris were out on R200,000 bail each and set to go on trial for alleged fraud and money-laundering involving more than R100m.
The charges relate to the alleged diversion of money from Bushiri’s church and Prophet Shepherd Bushiri Ministries, both nonprofit organisations, to the couple’s companies and personal bank accounts.
The money was allegedly used to sustain their glamorous lifestyles. One of their homes, a mansion in Centurion, was forfeited along with their bail money when they skipped the country.
Some of the charges the Bushiris face individually carry sentences of up to 30 years in prison or fines of up to R100m.
– Sunday Times