Recent developments regarding the case involving Prophet Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary have created a diplomatic nightmare, mainly for the Republic of South Africa. While battling with the public relations surrounding the pair’s controversial escape, the South African authorities have further worsened what was a diplomatic crisis. Revelations that the Bushiris were issued with diplomatic passports are fuel in the already raging inferno.
If reports that the Malawi constitution protects holders of diplomatic passports from any extradition (except if the culprits are wanted for murder or treason charges) are true, then South Africa may as well close the chapter and focus on other pressing domestic issues like gender-based violence, crime, unemployment and economic downturn. The intense focus on the Bushiri case is somewhat too much and opens the authorities up for errors as witnessed with various conflicting messages from too many officials. While the manner in which Bushiri mysteriously left South Africa has to be condemned, one cannot help but note the various opinions this matter has solicited from scholars of politics and international relations.
In responding to the saga, University of South Africa’s (Unisa) Professor Lesiba Teffo argues that “South Africa is not on a strong moral ground given how they handled recent cases involving Grace Mugabe, Al Bashir and the Guptas. Things like these make RSA look like a banana Republic. Bushiri saga just shows that we are not equal before the law.”
On the other hand, Tshwane University of Technology’s Levy Ndou, a political analyst, says South Africa has to pursue the matter diplomatically because the Malawian government is not likely to bring Bushiri back.
On the same subject, University of Johannesburg’s Dr Ralph Mathekga says South Africa is supposed to provide leadership in the region and on the continent but the decay in the justice and criminal system is worrisome.
“It is bad for Malawi government if Bushiri was truly smuggled by his President but South Africa must be embarrassed that they cannot police their borders.”
All the aforementioned different opinions have one thing in common: South Africa did not handle the Bushiri matter well. The people of South Africa and of the whole world are now left with more questions than answers. With those unanswered questions are speculative conjectures that unfortunately are not weighing in South Africa’s favor.
Meanwhile, it will serve the South African cause well if President Cyril Ramaphosa would sanction his cabinet ministers to stop casually commenting on public platforms about the Bushiri matter. The many rhetorical voices from senior government leaders at the level of ministers and Director General fuel the narrative that Bushiri was not to receive a fair trial after all.
As briefly alluded above, the diplomatic status which is now in effect and enjoyed by the Bushiris means that the two are protected by laws governing diplomatic immunities and privileges, as per the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. Chances of him being extradited to South Africa are almost zero.
One supports views expressed by Ndou that the only solution may be Diplomatic channels. Other ministers must shut up and stop tweeting. One is adamant that the current stalemate regarding this Bushiri matter is an opportunity for South Africa to explore the role of non-state actors in international relations.
Track Two Diplomacy may be able to achieve the outcomes which the reported processes of extradition may not.
History has proven that procedures for extradition are costly and extra ordinarily long.
For justice to be served, backchannel diplomatic initiatives, instead of force and reported clandestine methods, should be kick started urgently.
Both South Africa and Malawi should be found on the right side of international protocols, and justice should be served for the people of South Africa and the Bushiris alike.
By Mpho Tsedu – CEO: Institute of Foreign Affairs