Prophet Bushiri & wife escape from SA: Ministry & Department briefing; Electoral Laws Amendment Bill: IEC response to public submissions

Home Affairs

17 November 2020
Chairperson: Adv B Bongo (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, 17 November 2020

Following the escape of Prophet Shepard Bushiri and Ms Mary Bushiri from South Africa while out on bail, the Minister of Home Affairs was invited to a virtual meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs to answer to allegations and suspicions that the Bushiri’s had fled with the Malawian Presidential delegation. The meeting was primarily a discussion on the Bushiri matter along with concerns of South African borders. The IEC made a brief presentation on submissions resulting from the public consultation process on the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill.

The Minister also provided details of the Bushiri’s time in South Africa, particularly on Friday 13 November 2020 when they had left South Africa and re-appeared in Malawi the following day. The matter was under discussion by the Justice Crime Prevention and Security Cluster which would be providing a comprehensive report on the matter.

From the Minister to Members of the Committee, it was clear that there were extreme concerns about the incident and the fact that the escape by the Bushiri’s while on bail was a symptom of South Africa’s struggle with porous borders. Concerns were raised not only about the fact that the Bushiri’s had fled as had previously accused individuals, including the Guptas and Al Bashir, but about how exactly that had happened as it seemed to point to systematic governmental failure. Security and the use of the Waterkloof Air Force Base was discussed at length because of potential, but as yet unconfirmed, possibility that the Bushiri’s had exited through the Waterkloof Air Force Base, but that Malawians officials had also   attempted to leave through Waterkloof at the time of the Malawian president’s departure, even though they were not authorised to use Waterkloof as an exit point from South Africa. The Malawian Advance Team had arrived at OR Tambo Airport and were required to exit through that port.

The Minister reported on efforts to check whether the Bushiri’s had exited the country via Lesotho or another port. He also indicated that the Department of Home Affairs had opposed bail for the Bushiri’s as their South African visas and other documentation had been found to be invalid. He indicated that the recently approved Border Management Act was intended to resolve many of the problems of South Africa’s porous borders.

Ultimately, the Portfolio Committee accepted the draft report of the Minister, but awaited the final, comprehensive report from the Justice Crime Prevention and Security Cluster.

The Electoral Commission reported that it sought to make changes in the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill, primarily in an endeavour to strengthen the manner in which elections were conducted in South Africa, particularly in respect of streamlining the process and the administrative burden to political parties and to bring the legislation in line with other technology in the electoral democratic sphere. The proposed amendments to sections 36 and 27 had dominated submissions. Those sections detailed a pilot project as part of exploring future solutions including technology advances, though it was constrained by resources and digital risk.

The Committee welcomed the over 12 000 responses. Overall, the committee commended the hard work, but agreed that Members needed to reflect on the submissions before a subsequent meeting.

Meeting report

Opening remarks
The Chairperson started the meeting by welcoming the Minister and Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi and Mr Njabulo Nzuza, Committee Members and all those in attendance online. He informed Members and presenters that the meeting would be on parliamentary television and that participants must turn on their video when speaking.

The Chairperson appreciated the guidance of the President in guiding the country safely through the Covid-19 pandemic from lockdown level 5 to level 1.

He would address the matter of the agenda as there were two separate items on the agenda but he noted that there had been several public comments about the matter that the Committee was going to address in respect of the Bushiri matter. He wished to allay the fears of the public and so explained the role of the Portfolio Committee as an oversight Committee to which the Minister had to account. He added that whenever the Minister was invited to attend, he did so without fail.

He was happy that the President had, at last, signed the Border Management Authority into law through an Act. The Committee was convinced that the Act would deal with a lot of the problems at the border as it brought all the agencies involved in border management under one authority and it brought all the pieces of legislation relating to borders into a single Act. It was an important milestone and he applauded the Sixth Parliament for passing the Act. It was the responsibility of the Portfolio Committee Home Affairs to oversee the implementation of that Act.

The Chairperson had received several enquiries from non-governmental organisations that were asking about the Bushiri’s and the possibility that they left on the Malawian President’s plane. As a Portfolio Committee of Parliament, the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs dealt with a variety of complaints and issues presented to it. Those issues were tested when the executive was called to account, especially following a public outcry. In the same vein, the media held Parliament accountable on behalf of the public. That was the nature of accountability in the relationships between the public, Parliament and the media. It was against that background that the Home Affairs Executive had been called to account to the Portfolio Committee meeting and, indeed, to the South African public about the Bushiri matter. If the allegations were true or not true, there were repercussions that needed to be addressed. Public trust was critical for public officials, as whatever officials did had to be done on the basis of respect.

With reference to the Bushiri matter, the Chairperson posited that if the Committee could obtain footage of the time the plane had left and three hours beforehand, all the nation’s questions would be answered properly, because everyone would know exactly what had happened. This would be a portfolio of evidence of exactly what had transpired on that specific day. They appreciated the Minister and Deputy Minister’s acceptance of their invitation to the meeting. An opportunity would be given to the Minister to present on how issues had unfolded. As far as the Portfolio Committee was concerned, what it knew was that whoever entered South Africa needed a stamp from Home Affairs, or documents administered by Home Affairs. In this case, it had been told that all the documents of the Bushiri family had been given to the police. Members would be allowed to reflect on that as the process unfolded.

He noted that there were members in the meeting who had been invited as they had commented publicly on the event. The Committee Secretary had been instructed to invite these individuals/representatives to listen to the responses. For the purposes of the meeting, however, the invited guests would be observing only and would not be invited to speak. Part of what would be discussed in the meeting was whether what had been brought before the Portfolio Committee was sufficient as public participation, or whether further public hearings and presentations in Parliament would take place. The meeting’s discussion would enable the committee to take a sound and orderly decision on how that matter would go forward.

The Chairperson noted that the coming local government elections would be taking place soon and that meant that those issues would need to be dealt with speedily so that the itinerary of the IEC would not be interfered with.

The Chairperson requested Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to make his presentation as per item one of the agenda.

Mr D Moela (ANC) asked whether there were implications in discussing the first agenda item (the Bushiri matter and allegations) with colleagues from the IEC present in the meeting. He considered that this might have a negative impact, though if it did not negatively impact proceedings, he was comfortable to continue with the meeting with IEC representatives present.

The Chairperson clarified that the Portfolio Committee (as any Portfolio Committee) was open to the public, as such the meeting was broadcast live. Whether IEC representatives were inside the meeting or were watching on TV, they would still be privy to what was happening in the meeting. In view of the fact that the IEC team was presenting item two on the agenda, they were required to be present in the meeting so that they could present immediately after the first item had been concluded. However, indulgence would be granted to the Minister and Deputy Minister to leave the meeting when the matter relating to Home Affairs was concluded if they so wished. The Chairperson handed over to the Minister to continue.

Presentation by the Minister of Home Affairs on the departure of Pastor and Mrs Bushiri from South Africa
The Minister addressed the meeting and welcomed all attendees. He noted that the discussion was being aired live, with South Africans watching. A written presentation had not been sent by the Minister, as was normally the practice. Firstly, the period of notice was very short: the Minister had only been told the previous day while he was attending many meetings. Secondly, the Bushiri matter was not solely a matter of Home Affairs (DHA), as many people had been saying. The whole Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster was involved and that included the Departments of Home Affairs, Justice and Constitutional Development, the South African Police Service, the Hawks, Minister of State Security, Minister of Defence and the Minister of International Relations Co-Operation (DIRCO). Any report that came to Parliament on the matter would have to come through the JCPS Cluster. Co-incidentally, the Ministers and technical teams had met the previous day. They had been preparing a comprehensive report involving all concerned, to be brought before Parliament and the Portfolio Committees.

The Minister went on to outline the role of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) in the Bushiri debacle. DHA got involved in the Bushiri matter during the course of 2019, when the HAWKS were investigating cases of criminality, i.e. fraud, corruption and money laundering. In the course of the investigation, the HAWKS came across problematic identity documents that presented lots of inconsistencies. Those were handed over to DHA, as, although they were investigating these crimes, but the issues of identity and Identity Documents was a prerogative of DHA. As such, DHA was required to take over in that regard. The investigation continued with the use of an electronic movement system. This system showed people who moved in and out of the Republic of South Africa. Members were reminded that when COVID-19 struck, DHA closed 35 border post, partially because these posts did not have (sophisticated) movement control systems. 18 border posts remained – those were able to control the movement system, which could be checked for any person in or out of the Republic of South Africa. It was revealed that, according to the movement control system, Ms Mary Bushiri entered South Africa through OR Tambo International Airport and produced a permanent residence permit, which she claimed was issued to her in 1997 (three years into democracy). That was surprising because generally individuals did not receive permanent residence certificates when they entered the country for the first time. There were no records of Ms Bushiri entering South Africa in 1997. Further, Mr Bushiri entered South Africa in 2009 (according to immigration records), though the authentic year of entry was 2012, as this was the year that was recorded officially. In 2014, 2015 and 2016 Mr Bushiri registered various businesses with the CIPC (Companies and Intellectual Property Commission) and started conducting business. The Minister noted this as important, because it was at this point that Mr Bushiri should have registered for a business VISA as was demanded by the law. The businesses that he was running were therefore illegal. In 2016, the Bushiri’s applied for a permanent residence permit, meaning Ms Bushiri was, for some invalidating reason, not recognising the permanent residence certificate she had already produced in 2012. She applied together with Mr Bushiri for permanent residence permits 2016, where they declared under oath that they entered South Africa for the first time in 2016 (the movement control system showed otherwise). Mr and Ms Bushiri were granted the permanent residence certificate in 2016, which was issued irregularly because facts were misrepresented. The Minister said that Mr and Ms Bushiri’s permanent resident status needed to be revoked.

On 2 August 2020, DHA issued a notice asking Mr Bushiri to provide reasons (show cause) why their permanent residence documents should not be revoked (this was ordinary practice). At this time, Mr Bushiri had already been arrested (he was arrested twice), with the court appearance set for May 2021. Mr and Ms Bushiri took DHA to court at this time to prevent DHA from probing them with further questions because they argued that they had a criminal case to plead in court and they might incriminate themselves. The court suspended the ruling, requiring DHA to halt with their actions until Mr Bushiri could plead in court in May 2021. DHA was upset by the ruling as the criminal cases that were with the HAWKS included the processes in DHA. The day after the court ruling, DHA applied for leave to appeal – this was when the public and the media saw the matter for the first time.  The Minister rectified the media misconception that DHA had lost a case against Mr Bushiri. In fact, DHA had not lost the case, rather, the court had simply suspended DHA’s action until Mr Bushiri could plead in court. DHA could go on with revoking his permanent residence. Their actions were halted by the court ruling, but this was not the same as losing a case.

DHA applied immediately for leave to appeal because they believed the ruling improper. The leave to appeal was heard on Friday, 13 November 2020, co-incidentally the same day the Bushiri saga was reported and the day the President of Malawi was visiting. DHA was hearing their application for appeal – the matter had since been heard with judgement reserved. DHA was waiting for the judgement of their application at the time of the meeting. In this period, Mr Bushiri was arrested by the HAWKS for the second time, leading him to apply for bail. This bail application became famous for taking two weeks and ultimately leading to his escape from South Africa. The Minister clarified that DHA’s role in this hearing was to provide SAPS with information about the irregular and fraudulent documents used by Mr Bushiri. It was emphasised that all the DHA documents used by the Bushiri’s were, in fact, irregular. Mr Bushiri was regarded as a flight risk who should not be granted bail.

The Minister confessed that DHA’s worries stemmed from the fact that it was common cause that South Africa was suffering porous borders. DHA was working around the clock to deal with those issues. Ten years prior, DHA had requested Parliament to pass a Border Management Authority Act to try and deal with the porous borders. Parliament took more than ten years to finalise the Bill, which was passed on the last day Parliament rose before the COVID-19 disaster lockdown regulations. As such, engagement with the Presidency around the signing of proclamations and the transfer of functions (from some ministries to DHA) was still in progress. The Minister asserted that, at the time of the meeting, South Africa’s borders remained undeniably porous. That was the underlying factor in Mr Bushiri being given bail as DHA believed that those who were a flight risk were able to go through any of the porous borders where DHA would not be able to see them. The information and concerns were presented to police, which they duly presented to court. Unfortunately, they were not successful. As was well known, the court granted bail of R200 000 to Mr and Ms Bushiri each and instructed them to report to the nearest police station on Mondays and Fridays between 06:00 and 18:00. At this juncture, DHA no longer had any conduct with Mr Bushiri and handed over to SAPS because of the bail conditions, which SAPS (SA Police Service) was responsible to uphold. Mr Bushiri had never been under the supervision of DHA at any stage.

There was much public speculation on the nature of the relationship between the Bushiri’s and the Malawian President who visited South Africa on 13 November 2020. As previously mentioned, that was the very day that DHA was in court appealing for permission to confiscate their own DHA documents from Mr Bushiri. Since the DHA minister was part of the Cabinet in the Presidency, he was well aware that the Malawian President had requested to visit South Africa as early as August 2020. The Minister also knew that the date of Friday, 13 November 2020 had been chosen by the South African Presidency and DIRCO, not the Malawian government. The Malawian President arrived at Waterkloof Airforce base on 13 November 2020 with an entourage of 23 people. After the visit, the entourage went back to Waterkloof Airforce Base to board the flight back home. The acting Director-General of Home Affairs, Mr J McKay, was requested by the Minister of DIRCO, Dr Naledi Pandor, to rush to Waterkloof Airforce base because someone from Malawi had made a request to the Minister of DIRCO to intervene as there was an advanced team from Malawi who wanted to depart with the President, although they had come as a Presidential Advance Team and had landed at OR Tambo International Airport. They now wanted to leave through Waterkloof. The Minister of DIRCO declined, saying it was not allowed (especially following previous controversies) as Waterkloof was to be used strictly and specifically for Heads of State and other dignitaries, not even Ministers (unless the Minister was an envoy of the President). Only the President, First Lady and their entourage were permitted to leave through Waterkloof.

Dr Naledi Pandor thus asked Acting DG McKay to make sure that no mistakes occurred. When Mr McKay arrived at the airport, he found Deputy Minister Kendith Masego Dlamini representing the Minister to see the President off (as was normal protocol). The Deputy Minister was already discussing with the advance team the impossibility of their request. Mr McKay told them there was no way the advanced Malawian team could depart from Waterkloof. Media entities had reported that the Malawian President was held at Waterkloof Airforce Base and treated badly in terms of protocol. The President was not held waiting at Waterkloof – the team had waited for everyone to board their flight, at which point, the President was called from his hotel where he was staying to go to Waterkloof. The argument about the advance team not going through Waterkloof thus took place between ADG McKay, Deputy Minister Masego Dlamini and the entourage from Malawi. By that time they were a party of 66 individuals, although they had recorded only 23 individuals including the President and the First Lady.

At the time, it was suggested that the extra people be dropped off at OR Tambo where they had landed in the first place. It was not the Malawians who proposed they go through OR Tambo International; it was a proposal from Mr McKay. The debate took a long time, with toing and froing between the Minister of DIRCO to intervene etc. As such, it took a long time for the Presidential delegation to depart.  SAPS (represented by the HAWKS) arrived soon after 18h00. Mr and Ms Bushiri had not reported to the police station as they had been instructed to do. It was then that the HAWKS thought that because there was a delegation from Malawi leaving the country, that there was a possibility that the Bushiri’s might take advantage of it. They went to the airport to make sure that no such occurrence took place.

A meticulous process ensured, led by ADG Mr McKay. Each person present, with the exception of the President and the First Lady, was scrutinised and matched to their passports before they moved onto the plane. The plane was searched by the police once everyone had boarded. The agreement to allow the Advance Team to board followed the realisation of Mr McKay that possibly the Malawian delegation came with single tickets in the belief that they would leave with the President; that would explain the argument that took place. Mr McKay offered to permit the Presidential plane to land on the tarmac of OR Tambo to fetch the others, but they had to be processed through the normal processing with OR Tambo, as was the case with any other passenger.  Because there were Ministers, they were offered diplomatic protocol but were processed according to the same procedure: passports were matched with photos and faces of the members present who boarded the plane. Before the plane departed, it was definitely searched for a second time. Having convinced themselves there was no sign of Mr and Ms Bushiri, the ADG and SAPS allowed the plane to depart.

On Saturday, 14 November 2020, DHA heard that Mr Bushiri had reappeared in Malawi. Minister Motsoaledi found it important to mention that, when the team was boarding at Waterkloof, one member that had come with the advance team did not board. According to the Movement Control System, this person boarded the following day and went to Malawi. However, when the team that was OR Tambo was boarding, three members did not board. They were regarded as still being in South Africa because it was not recorded on the Movement System that they had left South Africa. This was not a surprise to DHA, as the Minister conveyed that similar patterns (of presidential parties not going home straight away) happened frequently. Sometimes, Presidential delegations did not all leave immediately. For example, some people would go shopping in Sandton, while others had relatives or holiday homes to visit. All of these factors were at play. So, when people did not leave, it was not a surprise to DHA.

Minister Motsoaledi shared how the previous day, DHA had attempted to contact the Malawian Embassy, though there was no Ambassador but rather a Chargé d'affaires. DHA contacted the Chargé d'affaires to ask if the Embassy knew that three of the Malawian Advance Party members had not left with the President.

DHA’s efforts was a response to the escape of the Bushiri’s, primarily to understand what mechanism they had used to escape. The Bushiri’s were instructed by the court to hand in their passports. Mr Bushiri had five passports which were all from Malawi; none had been issued in South Africa. DHA had their passport numbers. Ms Bushiri also had five Malawian passports. Following consultation with the movement control system, DHA followed the movement of Mr and Ms Bushiri through South African ports of entry.  The system indicated that the last time that Mr and Ms Bushiri had come through a port of entry in South Africa was on 19 January 2019, through OR Tambo International Airport.

Media reports had alleged that the Bushiri’s had bribed an official to go to Lesotho. While It was not easy for DHA to detect where an official had been corrupt, they were able to see in some instances where officials had been bribed, although they were not caught all the time. Minister Motsoaledi took the liberty of checking with Lesotho about the Bushiri allegations. When any commercial aircraft left Lesotho, it could only go to OR Tambo International airport. From any part of the world, one needed to go through South African borders to enter or leave Lesotho, including chartered flights. Minister Motsoaledi checked with his counterparts in Lesotho, who checked with Lesotho International Airport. No chartered flights had landed in Maseru Airport in the previous week - the week that Mr and Ms Bushiri had escaped from South Africa. A flight that did land in Maseru, however, was still there and had brought a team from Burundi a day after the Bushiri Saga. The allegations of the Bushiri’s utilising Lesotho were therefore dismissed.

The Minister was adamant that the Bushiri’s did not leave with the President of Malawi, neither did they go through any of South Africa’s ports of entry, nor did they produce any of their passports. DHA was using the Bushiri’s passport numbers, which would be picked up on their movement control system, should any one of them be used to exit the country.

The Minister wished to stop at this point, as the rest of the report - a more comprehensive version - would be released by the JCPS Cluster and not the Minister of DHA. He did not want to purport to be speaking on behalf of the cluster.

The Chairperson thanked the Minister for his address and invited members to ask questions or make comments.

Mr Moela acknowledged the Minister’s briefing, which he appreciated. However, it was very confusing and surprising to him. He was concerned about whether South Africa was safe enough as a country, given that someone could leave the country’s borders without being noticed. He told the Minister that there was a very serious problem with the national law enforcement agency because Mr Bushiri had been able to do as he pleased. He asked Members to note that some of South Africa’s laws needed to be revised. The fact that some of the Malawian delegation had remained in South Africa was cause for concern as it was unclear whether permits had been issued for that stay, nor was it known what those individuals were doing.

Mr Moela had more questions, though he suspected Minister Motsoaledi was not in a good position to answer all of them as he did not want to speak on behalf of other departments. What was clear to the Member was that South Africans wanted answers and the process could not be delayed. He said it was easy to arrest someone in South Africa, as a warrant of arrest could be issued with an arrest following shortly thereafter. In the case of Mr Bushiri, however, who had defrauded South Africa and caused many crises, it was clear that South Africa was failing, particularly in terms of oversight. When the court granted the Bushiri’s bail, part of the requirements was for Mr Bushiri to report to the police station between Monday and Friday. But the Bushiri’s had not reported to the police station, so there was a need for oversight. Some had said that the Bushiri’s had already left on the Wednesday and not on the Friday when the Malawian President had left Malawi.

Mr Moela added that seeing the footage was part of oversight. Someone somewhere needed to be charged with failing to do oversight because it seemed that South Africa was a country where people could come from outside, do what they wanted to do, and leave. The Committee wanted Mr Bushiri back in South Africa so that he could explain himself and for the couple’s bail to be revoked. Though another warrant of arrest had not yet been issued,  Members wanted to see the Bushiri’s brought back to South Africa to face the issues.

Mr Moela then spoke to the matter of the security cluster, of which Minister Motsoaledi was a member. He wanted to understand what it was that the Minister could not tell the Portfolio Committee if he were part of that cluster. He noted that the JPCS cluster had met and wanted a briefing on the meeting because they deserved to know the truth not just as the Portfolio Committee but on behalf of all South Africans. If it needed to be made clear whether the Bushiri’s left with the President, why not publish the footage so that arrests could be made. They also wanted a report, as part of the Parliamentary responsibility to hold the executive accountable. Though it was three to four days after the Bushiri incident, there had still not been a press conference on the matter. He requested the Minister go back to the JPCS cluster and then to brief South Africans on the Bushiri issue. Nothing was “sensitive” and no issues should be “embargoed”: South Africans deserved the truth.
Mr A Roos (DA) was concerned that the Bushiri incident showed that South Africa was indeed a state of insiders and outsiders, where insiders could do what they felt like and walk away while outsiders were stuck in queues for years for the same documents. Though the Minster had said that the problem with the borders was that they had waited almost 10 years for Parliament to pass the BMA (Border Management Authority) Bill, he was concerned that if they had to wait for the BMA, that might take 30 years to get sorted out. There was a mechanism before the BMA that was supposed to control the borders which essentially were dysfunctional, leading to incidents such as the Bushiri matter. In this case, someone had simply disappeared out of the country without anyone knowing how it happened. This was deeply concerning and showed that there were two key issues at play. The first was a matter of how people got into the country without anyone else knowing about it. If there was a DHA was waiting for that, the Committee urgently needed to look into how funding would be managed for border management security and how those gaps would be plugged as soon as possible.

Other issues that concerned Mr Roos related to how a person in the country on a Visitor’s Visa, such as Mr Bushiri, was able to register a business. He suggested there should be a link between CIPC and DHA, whereby if someone came to South Africa on a Visitor’s Visa, the opening of a business could be prevented. Mr Roos wanted to understand why that had not been done yet, and what would be done to address the situation.

Additionally, he brought up that fact that the Bushiri’s children had reportedly left South Africa a few days before their parents. Surely this should have been red-flagged. He wanted to know how DHA did not pick up that fact, especially if they were searching the plane. Why was there not a mechanism by which those circumstances were flagged? Finally, he wanted to know the mitigating factors that DHA was putting in place to ensure that all those where were on bail did not escape from the country. The opposite situation was happening with asylum seekers, who stayed in South Africa even if they had been ordered to leave, because there was no mechanism to track if persons ordered to leave the country did so.

Ms L Tito (EFF) asked if DHA was planning to get data on the legal status of foreign led-businesses in South Africa. Furthermore, had DHA or any other state-led institutions contacted their counterparts in Malawi regarding the issue of how the Bushiri’s had entered Malawi?

Ms A Khanyile (DA) was under the impression that before the Minster gave his presentation, Members would look at the footage he had mentioned which was taken at Waterkloof Air Force Base to be certain that there was nothing untoward about who did or did not board the plane. The Minister had also indicated that SAPS had arrived at 18h00 when it was realised that the Bushiri’s had not reported to the police station. She asked for clarity on the plane leaving Waterkloof Air Force Base and going to OR Tambo to fetch others. Who had searched the plane? With regards to the three individuals that came but did not leave with the Malawian President, she understood that in other countries, there was a system where those who came with the President’s party and stayed on needed to provide an address, so that their stay could be monitored and they exited the country. Did the Minister know where those people were? Another question was whether the Minister knew how the Bushiri’s had left the country. He had informed the Portfolio Committee and South Africans on what DHA did not know, but what did they know?

She said that the issue of border control had been raised by the opposition party before. Issues faced by DHA were not new, though some were saying that the issues were new and so the Minister could not solve them. If this were the case, she said the Minister should step down. It was imperative to ensure that the borders were protected, that the safety of South Africa was ensured and the state knew who was exiting and entering.

Ms Khanyile reminded the Minister of something he had said at an event in November 2018. The Minister had said that “South Africa had to relook its immigration policy to control the number of illegal immigrants in the country”. That was a clear indication that when Minister Motsoaledi had joined DHA in May 2019, he was well aware of the immigration policy issues. What had he done from May 2019 until the present to ensure that measures were in place to protect South African borders? South Africans did not feel safe and she was concerned that the country seemed to be a Banana Republic. The Minister needed to instil confidence for South Africans to feel safe.

Ms Khanyile added that there was the issue of human trafficking. If a well-known couple like the Bushiri’s could leave the country without anyone knowing, could the Minister give confidence to parents whose children had been abducted that he knew for sure the children had not left the country. A young girl, Amahle from Springs, had been missing since April 2019. Could the Minister tell Amahle’s parents that he knew for sure that Amahle Tabethe was still within the borders of South Africa? The issues were not new issues!

 Ms Khanyile stated that the previous month, she had had a meeting with the Mayor of the City of Johannesburg and COGTA (Department of Co-Operative Governance and Traditional Affairs). The issue of illegal immigrants in the city of Johannesburg was flagged, and the help of Minister Motsoaledi and former Minister Gigaba had been sought to resolve the matter. What had been done to address issues raised in that meeting? Furthermore, she asked how it was possible for DHA to grant permanent residence to the Bushiri’s if there was a discrepancy in their application and how those discrepancies had not been picked up at the time of the application. Thirdly, why was the situation not flagged at the time of making the application? The previous year, Members had been assured that because of DHA’s biometric system, DHA knew who had permanent residency and who had not. What action had been taken in light of the fact that the Bushiri’s had been granted permanent residence, despite the discrepancies. She concluded by asking if she could re-ask her questions if they were not answered in the meeting by the Minister, as she had picked up that sometimes when Home Affairs gave responses to questions in writing, not all questions were responded to.

The Chairperson agreed with Ms Khanyile’s request.

Ms M Molekwa (ANC) described the Bushiri issue as “suspicious”. Mr Bushiri could not have left South Africa without any trace. It posed a very serious security risk. Those Malawians who had not boarded the plane posed a risk, even though such behaviour was described by the Minister as “normal”. Someone could have taken advantage of the empty seats. Someone might have helped Mr Bushiri leave the country. The way Mr  and Mrs Bushiri escaped raised many issues which needed to be properly investigated by all departments concerned to ensure that the Bushiri’s were brought to book. There was underperformance by officials on the day that Mr and Ms Bushiri did report to the police station. Regarding CCTV footage, she asked why the footage was not looked into to see who had helped the Bushiri’s to escape South Africa. Something like that should never happen again.

Ms L van der Merwe (IFP) considered the Bushiri incident, with the pair fleeing when they did and announcing their arrival in Malawi while no authorities knew that they had fled, a national embarrassment. The joke was on South Africa that had been made a fool of. The narrative as shared by the Minister was a very palpable example of how broken the immigration system was in South Africa. She described it as broken and rotten to the core. The compromised border situation was a serious risk for criminal activity which showed that DHA was unable to enforce its own laws.

Ms van der Merwe wanted to hear two things in the meeting: who would be held responsible, and an urgent plan as to how the immigration system would be rescued. In Maitland and Belville, for example, migrants who were found to be undocumented were told to report to Home Affairs. Those who lived and worked were able to live on temporary documents without their status ever being confirmed or denied.

She remarked that what was unclear from the Minister was what his plans were to fix the broken immigration system. Why did the Bushiris not hand in the five passports they had? Was the Minister aware of reports that the Bushiri’s might already be on their way to Ghana? What did DHA make of allegations that senior ANC officials might have been involved in the escape? Why did DHA hand out Work Visa’s to charismatic churches? How were people on Visitors Visa’s tracked? Why did the Minister only pick up now that the Bushiri’s had been in South Africa illegally? When would the investigation process be finalised? What were the plans in the interim to deal with the porosity of borders? What was the Minister doing to address corruption? President Ramaphosa had promised to ensure measures to deter illegal migration: what was being done towards that? The Bushiri case was one matter which was indicative of a whole system failure. If there was no plan, then the Minister surely needed to do the right thing and step aside.

Mr M Tshwaku (EFF) asked if the Minister was aware that the Bushiri’s had held a diplomatic passport? If so, why no action taken? Though the report was appreciated, there needed to be a thorough investigation to examine exactly how the Bushiri’s left through the ports of entry, whether as themselves or under disguise. CCTV footage would clarify that. He suggested that an enquiry might need to be instituted, as it was a matter of national importance and public accountability. The situation could not be that a person just vanished: that was a worry. The EFF was clear on their stance of how it viewed Africa as one, but if there were “thugs”, they needed to be arrested. The Bushiri’s escape and press conference was an undermining act. It was also a matter of SAPS beyond DHA, as such SAPS and national intelligence needed to account with proper reasoning of why Mr Bushiri skipped the country.

Mr J McGluwa (DA) said it was clear from the Minister’s explanation, that more departments needed to explain their role in the matter. South Africa had experienced the Gupta controversy, the al-Bashir controversy and now the Bushiri controversy. Mr Bushiri was taking the country for a ride with his hand on a Bible and was the opposite of a true prophet. The biggest challenge was to ascertain the details. While he understood the rationale and the long-term intention of the Malawian President, Members needed to understand the precise purpose of his visit and exactly how the Bushiri’s had escaped. On the other hand, what actions would be taken against officials, and why had DHA taken so long to investigate the Bushiri issue? What was the status of the extradition process? There were allegations that Mr Bushiri left with the Malawian President. If that were so, the President was an accomplice who also had to be investigated.

Mr McGluwa said that Members were still looking for answers of previous cases. While he commended the role of DHA in opposing bail, all departments involved needed to explain their role in the Bushiri matter. Mr McGluwa felt South Africans were very angry about what had happened and wanted to know how and when DHA would provide further information, so that they could make their own conclusions on what had transpired.

Ms M Modise (ANC) felt that the briefing by the Minister did not clarify the questions asked by Members and citizens. The Portfolio Committee had always been concerned about border security. The Bushiri incident confirmed their concerns. She called for the Minister responsible for the Justice Security Cluster to provide thorough briefings on the issue. The weaknesses of DHA were clear. There was little information on the disappearance of the Bushiri’s, who did not seem to be detected by security systems.

It was disturbing to Ms Modise that the courts had granted bail to the Bushiri’s as their illegal documents should have been reason enough to not grant bail. She emphasised that the sooner the investigation was concluded, the better, so that the Committee could inform worried and angry South Africans.  She wanted to know how certain DHA was that the Bushiri’s indeed had left the country. Had the Malawian counterparts indicated that the Bushiri’s were indeed in their country? There was a possibility that the Bushiri’s had additional passports which SA was not aware of, which increased the likelihood that they might have been disguised. The BMA needed to be adequately funded and set up and she prompted Portfolio Committee Members to direct their attention to that matter. Part of the investigation that needed to take place had to address the first years of the Bushiri’s being in South Africa. She emphasised that answers were required as soon as possible.

Ms Modise was particularly concerned about the plane being searched for the Bushiri’s, showing that there might have been an existing suspicion of the Bushiri’s wanting to flee the country.

Mr M Lekota (Cope) was alarmed to hear that the Malawian President had come to South Africa on a Diplomatic trip, landing at Waterkloof Airforce Base, but some part of his entourage landed at OR Tambo. That meant that those individuals were not travelling with him. Those who had been part of the President’s entourage knew that they had to come with the President and there should be no one who stayed on if they were on a diplomatic visit. That was  the first thing that needed to be made clear to government. Was that no one should be able to leave or enter as they pleased in the name of government. Ministers or otherwise, those who were part of a diplomatic mission needed to leave with the leader of the delegation because otherwise diplomatic interactions would become plots to bring criminals, leave some and take some out. Public funds were not intended for that purpose.

Mr Lekota added that the issue was not about DHA alone, but about the whole of government, from the President to the lowest ranks. Those elected to lead needed to be taken on a training course to teach them that they were not there to do their own business but to work for the people of South Africa. Those who wanted to come from another country in the name of government needed to be told that if they came in on a diplomatic mission they needed to enter and leave as soon as the mission was complete. It was unacceptable for someone who claimed to be sent by God to steal passports and break laws like a criminal and the South African government knew that.
He picked up on a previous point: all members of the Security Cluster should be involved or should delegate involvement when diplomacy occurred in the country. The Waterkloof Airforce Base was a premium military setting and could not be open for use by any individual, such as the Guptas landing there for a wedding.  No aeroplane coming from any direction should come into South African airspace without the Air Force knowing who was inside and what their intentions were in South Africa.

Mr Lekota noted that the security cluster seemed to be sleeping day and night. Everyone needed to know that South Africans were always in danger of being attacked, starting in school. That was why public funds were used to support an army, so that they could defend the country if attacked by nations with hostile intentions. All races needed to know that they were in danger. The defence force was named as such, as its purpose was to defend the people of South Africa. The South African government needed to wake up to that responsibility.

He was adamant that there was no such thing as “we are all Africans”. Sometimes the interests between two nations collided with each other, necessitating organisations such as the United Nations and the African Union. There were reasons that borders existed in various regions of the world: neighbours clash and fight.  There would not always be peaceful conditions, so South Africans needed to be educated to understand human nature.  

He added the fact that Pastor Bushiri had been one of the biggest sponsors of the President’s election campaign. Those in diplomatic missions failed from time to time, creating the need for alternative means to create peace.

Mr Lekota was convinced that the Portfolio Committee should sit with the Security Cluster at some point, to make sure that access to places such as Waterkloof Airforce Base be restricted; even a commander-in-chief needed to account for his actions. The Portfolio Committee needed to pursue the matter.

Mr M Chabane (ANC) said that DHA ought to re-affirm its immigration policies. The lack of immigration policies had been exposed through the Bushiri matter. Subjecting the Pastor to a court of law was an expression of the capacity of the state to respond and curb corruption. However, it appeared that there was a strong view that the security cluster was sleeping. Contrary to that, if a law enforcement agency was investigating the matter, that showed that there was work being done by colleagues in government and credit needed to be given where credit was due. There was a clear indication from the Minister that he could not respond on behalf of the security cluster, although there had been a suggestion that he should have the authority to do so. If there were no signs that the Bushiris had left South Africa, it might confirm that the South African systems were working, or it might also affirm that the Bushiri’s had worked through the Malawian President’s team. 

He said that the Portfolio Committee needed a single comprehensive report, explaining how the President or the Bushiri’s had moved through the port of entry. The DHA system might be proved to be working and that Mr Bushiri had left on the President’s plane. As a Portfolio Committee, Members needed to be certain that the peace and security cluster had one report which articulated the actions that would be taken at all levels. The BMA was central to the matter. Funding and implementation was urgent as it would be able to mitigate issues the members had struggled with, such as porous borders. The moral standing of Pastor Bushiri was condemned as he had undermined the country and others.

Mr Chabane commended the law enforcement agency’s efforts but noted that it was a call to monitor the process closely so that justice could prevail. The Committee accepted the draft report of the Minister, but awaited the final, comprehensive report from the security cluster.

The Chairperson appreciated the comments made. It was indeed true that the matter was scandalous and embarrassing. South Africans needed answers with regards to what was happening. He allowed the Minister to respond to questions, with the view that what was presented was a preliminary report, with a comprehensive, complete version to follow from the JCPS Cluster and all other stakeholders.

Response by the Minister of Home Affairs
The Minister thanked the Chairperson and Committee Members. He was compelled to respond to some issues and clarify them to avoid misinformation. On the question of visits, he explained that in all his time in government, they had often in opening speeches, encouraged Ministers and Deputy Ministers to remain in the country for tourism purposes. He understood very deeply that South Africans were aggrieved and angry about the Bushiri matter, especially because they had been given bail.  However, the Minister urged Members not to “cut their noses to spite their faces”. That three people boarded at OR Tambo was not regarded as overly problematic. There was nothing untoward in people staying and not going straight home. Bail had been revoked, with a warrant of arrest issued. That was given to Interpol, which forced all Interpol membership countries to arrest the person. The issue of the cluster was clarified. The Minister belonged to the JCPS cluster, though he could not speak on behalf of the chair or co-chair of the meeting. The chair of the GCIS had released a statement on the Bushiri matter and subsequent allegations.

On another matter, people were allowed to register businesses and companies while on visa’s. In South Africa, it was necessary to register for a business Visa at this point, through the CIPC. A person with a Visitor’s Visa could, therefore, register a company. The issue with Mr Bushiri was thus that he had not applied for a Business Visa. The question on how Mr Bushiri entered Malawi could be answered by Malawians. Regarding footage, this was not for the Minister to decide to make public. As to whether the laws allowed footage from a national key point to be released publicly, he was unsure. On the issue of what was being done by DHA on immigration laws, if the Portfolio Committee wanted the Minister to report on the BMA, he could do this in another meeting, but he was not aware of this being necessary for this meeting. He had not prepared for that because he had been asked specifically about Bushiri issues. Furthermore, Home Affairs were no longer giving working Visa’s to charismatic persons. It had been stopped when DHA realised that people came into SA to establish churches, which were mushrooming. The issues of the Guptas was unfortunate. What was wrong with the Bushiri matter was that those in the “team” who wanted to leave from OR Tambo through the Waterkloof Air Force base, as that was reserved specifically for dignitaries.

The Chairperson thanked the Minister and concluded the agenda point. The preliminary report needed to be followed by a comprehensive report and the footage of three hours before the flight. The Chairperson had called the Minister for the meeting because of the issues and allegations of Mr Bushiri using the Presidential plane. The Committee would await the detailed report that would follow.

Ms Khanyile asked if she could re-ask her questions which might not have been previously audible.

The Chairperson said that because she was not properly audible, he would facilitate a submission of written questions. The Chairperson then handed over to the IEC team to make their presentation.

Briefing by Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)
Mr Glen Mashinini, Chairperson, IEC, thanked the Portfolio Committee for its work and the vibrant and extensive process which added to the quality and buy-in for the electoral laws. He expressed the IEC’s gratitude to those who had given inputs in the process. Because they were such technical amendments, there had been widespread submissions, amounting to over 12 000. That was promising for the public interest and lively democracy. He introduced his team and proceeded with the amendments and comments to public submissions, as detailed in the summary and questions document.

Essentially, the IEC sought to make changes in the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill which was primarily an endeavour to strengthen the manner in which elections were conducted in South Africa, mainly to streamline the process and administrative burden to political parties and to bring the legislation in line with other technology in the electoral democratic sphere. The proposed amendments to sections 36 and 27 had dominated submissions. Those sections detailed a pilot project as part of exploring future solutions including technology advances, though it was constrained by resources and digital risk.

The team, including Mr Sy Mamabolo, CEO of the IEC, and Mr Masego Sheburi, Deputy CEO: Electoral Operations, provided feedback on other submissions, as detailed in their submissions document. Due to a prior commitment to attend the memorial service of the late Auditor-General Magwethu, Mr Mashinini requested leave to hand over to his team to respond to any follow-up questions.

(See Presentation)

Concluding remarks
The Chairperson was of the view that the submissions were in the hand of the Portfolio Committee, who should look into them further. He commended the work done by the IEC team. Given the fact that Members needed to apply their minds and the Committee had exhausted its time, and there was another meeting in the following hour, the Chairperson proposed that Members synthesise the information and that a subsequent meeting take place.

Mr Moela supported the proposal, as did other Portfolio Committee Members.

The meeting was adjourned.


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