Police thoroughly searched the aircraft used by Malawian president Lazarus Chakwera before it left SA to ensure that prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary were not inside.
This is the assurance by home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi when he gave a preliminary report to a parliamentary committee on the Bushiris' escape from SA.
There has been speculation that the couple might have escaped with Chakwera’s delegation which was in the country for an official visit on Friday.
Motsoaledi said Chakwera arrived at the Waterkloof Airforce Base in Pretoria with an entourage of 23 people.
After the visit, the entourage went to the same base to board their flight back home.
The acting director-general of home affairs Jackie MacKay was requested by international relations and cooperation minister Naledi Pandor to rush to the base as someone from Malawi had made a request for a team which had arrived ahead of Chakwera to depart with their president from the Waterkloof base.
The team had entered SA through OR Tambo International Airport. Motsoaledi said Pandor declined the request, insisting that only the people who had come with Chakwera could depart from the airforce base.
Motsoaledi told the committee that when this request was made, 66 people now wanted to board the plane with the Malawian president. The extra people were instructed to board the presidential aircraft at OR Tambo as it was given permission to land there.
“The presidential delegation remained and then they were ushered into the plane. But just before they were ushered, the Hawks arrived, by that time it was already past 6pm. Mr Bushiri and Mrs Bushiri had not reported to the police station as instructed by the court. Police then raised an alarm. It was then that they thought that because there is a delegation from Malawi, there is a possibility that they might take advantage of it,’ Motsoaledi said.
“A meticulous process started led by the acting director-general whereby each of the people was scrutinised with their passports. Their faces were matched with the pictures on the passport before they moved into the plane, this of course with the exception of the president and first lady. Before the plane departed, it was searched by the police.”
The same process of verifying people was implemented at OR Tambo when the rest of the delegation boarded the presidential aircraft.
Bushiri and his wife escaped to Malawi last week, leaving the nation angry and demanding answers from the government.
Bushiri, his wife, Mary, Landiwe Ntlokwana Zethu and Willie Mudolo, are facing charges of theft, money laundering and fraud in connection with an alleged R106m investment scheme.
The Bushiris were released on R200,000 bail each on November 4 after their arrest last month. One of their bail conditions was that they were barred from travelling outside SA and only permitted to travel in Gauteng and the North West.
On Monday the Pretoria magistrate’s court issued a warrant of arrest for the couple after the government indicated it would initiate an extradition process.