Malawi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed concern at the “improper’ treatment of President Lazarus Chakwera by South African authorities.
Chakwera met South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday last week during an official visit.
7-hour flight delay
In a statement on Monday, the Ministry said Chakwera’s flight back to Malawi was delayed by seven hours – from 15h30 to 22h30.
It said, “Chief among the causes of the delay was the South African government’s refusal to allow Malawi’s advance delegation to travel back home together with President Chakwera and his delegation, citing unspecified security reasons.
“The South African authorities’ inexplicable refusal to let Malawi’s President leave with his advance team came despite being informed of the arrangement in advance, in conformity to a similar arrangement made in all the countries President Chakwera has visited thus far.”
Malawi said Chakwera opted not to travel without his advance team, causing an impasse. His delegation proposed that Chakwera’s flight could depart Pretoria’s Waterkloof Airforce Base and pick up the advance team at OR Tambo International Airport.
However, the Ministry claimed South African authorities initially rejected the proposal and only agreed to it six hours later.
‘Unspecified security reasons’
It said the delegation was “dissatisfied” with the “unspecified security reasons” because Chakwera’s jet was closely guarded by SA Police Service and SA National Defence Force.
Uniformed police, instead of immigration officers, also checked the advance team’s passports and luggage as well as Chakwera’s jet’s cargo, the Ministry claimed.
It added, “The Malawi delegation complied with all these security measures out of deference to the vague security concerns of the South African authorities, despite the fact that the manner in which they were conducted and the delay they caused breached diplomatic protocols commensurate with the dignity of President Chakwera’s office and person.”
Shepherd Bushiri’s escape
There was heavy speculation that Enlightened Christian Gathering leader, self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri, had left South Africa on Chakwera’s flight.
Bushiri and his wife Mary, who are facing fraud and money laundering charges, announced on Saturday that they had skipped bail and were in Malawi “because of security issues.”
On Sunday, government spokesperson Phumla Williams issued a statement confirming that the Bushiris did not leave South Africa aboard Chakwera’s flight.
Malawi’s foreign ministry acknowledged this confirmation, but said it did not go far enough.
“Notwithstanding, the Government of Malawi notes with concern that the statement falls short of acknowledging that the treatment President Chakwera was subjected to upon his departure was improper and incongruous to the warm hospitality he received upon his arrival,” it said.