/ 19 May 2023

Corruption rap for NPA pair for failing to prosecute Bushiri

Shepherd Bushiri
Fugitive: Malawian millionaire preacher Shepherd Bushiri waves at sympathisers as he leaves the Lilongwe magistrate’s court on 19 November 2020 after skipping bail in South Africa. File photo: Amos Gumulira/Getty Images

After two months, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has yet to decide whether to prosecute two of its senior advocates for corruption for failing to charge self-proclaimed prophet Shepherd Bushiri over the alleged rape of children and young women. 

According to an information sheet seen by the Mail & Guardian, a criminal docket was sent to the Pretoria magistrate’s court on 1 March for the NPA to make a decision about whether to prosecute Adina van Deventer and Alicia Roos for corruption and defeating the ends of justice. 

This has raised questions among senior law enforcement and NPA sources about whether the authority would be objective in the matter, given that it has steadfastly defended Van Deventer and Roos’s handling of the Bushiri prosecution. 

Bushiri fled South Africa for his native Malawi in November 2020, days after he and his wife Mary were released on bail of R200 000 each by the Pretoria magistrate’s court. They had been arrested on fraud and money-laundering charges involving more than R100 million. 

The case against Van Deventer and Roos was opened in March 2021 by Lieutenant Colonel Phumla Mrwebi — an officer with the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) — known as the Hawks — who was the lead investigator in the rape and human-trafficking leg of the probe into Bushiri’s alleged crimes.

The M&G has also established that the Hawks allegedly “forced” two of Bushiri’s alleged victims, who attended his Enlightened Christian Gathering and were aged 17 and 21 when the alleged rapes and trafficking occurred, to make withdrawal statements, exonerating the accused rapist. 

The angry parents of some of the victims, who spoke on condition of anonymity, claimed that Hawks officers obtained the withdrawal statements from their children, who are now in their early twenties, without a guardian or legal representative present. 

According to investigative documents, the victims were led to the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria by Bushiri’s runners, where they were raped by the church leader. 

Some of them were paid amounts ranging “from R5 000 to R25 000 to silence them”.  

Corruption case against the NPA

After Mrwebi opened the case against Van Deventer and Roos in March 2021, more than three months after Bushiri fled South Africa, there was no activity on the criminal docket until September 2021, according to an internal police report. 

The report shows the next activity on the docket was on 1 March this year when it was booked and taken to the Pretoria magistrate’s court for a decision on whether to prosecute Van Deventer and Roos. 

The docket was booked out about five days after the M&G published its first investigation into allegations that the two advocates had shielded Bushiri from prosecution by impeding his arrest. 

In an affidavit against the two prosecutors, which as been seen by the M&G, Mrwebi claimed that after she completed her Bushiri rape probe in February 2019, the NPA — on two occasions in August and October 2019 — “blocked” Bushiri’s arrest when he was supposed to appear in the magistrate’s court on fraud charges. 

This included allowing the accused rapist to appear virtually. 

“It is clear that this move was to block me from arresting him. After that [Van Deventer and Roos] never communicated with me until Bushiri escaped,” Mrwebi alleged.

She then opened a corruption and defeating the ends of justice criminal case the prosecutors. 

Mrwebi again declined to comment. 

An officer aware of the investigation into Van Deventer and Roos’s conduct said it was “suspicious” that the docket was only booked out five days after the M&G had published its first investigation, after the case had “remained dormant” for nearly two years.

“Now the NPA is going to play both judge and jury regarding prosecutors it has publicly defended,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous. 

On 12 May, the M&G sent detailed questions to the NPA requesting comment. On Tuesday, 16 May, spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga apologised for the delayed response and requested an extension, asking Gauteng spokesperson Lumka Mahanjana to comment.

On Thursday, Mahanjana posted a message on the NPA media WhatsApp group to say she was on leave. The NPA has not responded.

Previously, communication director Bulelwa Makeke said the NPA was satisfied with the work its advocates had done on the Bushiri rape and trafficking case.

Makeke said the NPA’s director of public prosecutions, advocate Sibongile Mzinyathi, was satisfied that the “prosecutorial decision taken in the case was correct and in line with the prosecutor-guided investigation principles, where a prosecutor is best placed to make an assessment on whether or when a matter is ripe for enrolment”. 

Hawks ‘forced’ the withdrawal statement

According to a well-placed source, Colonel Corrie Maritz of the Hawks’ serious and violent crime office assigned Lieutenant Colonel Adelaide Mboweni and Colonel Nkele Ndlovu the task of going to Bushiri’s alleged victims to obtain withdrawal statements.

The parents of three victims told the M&G that the officers had called to say they wanted to visit and discuss the rape case.  

“Ndlovu called me last year sometime to say she wanted to speak to me about the case but I was not at home at the time. When I returned, my daughter told me that she was asked whether she wanted to continue with the case or withdraw,” one parent said.

“My daughter eventually relented and said she was tired of the case because it was dragging [on for] long, and she wanted to focus on her tertiary education. I believe she was forced by the Hawks to withdraw.

“I called [Mboweni] to ask where she got the right to speak to my child without me present. 

“The officer said she was assigned to go to my daughter and the officer said she didn’t know much about what was going on.”

The parent of two alleged victims also said two “black female Hawks officers” had tried to get withdrawal statements but the parent and the daughters refused.

“We can never withdraw from this case. We wanted to take it to the end — that’s why we refused,” they said. 

Maritz, who heads the Hawks’ serious and violent crimes unit, was named in a July 2020 investigative report by Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation judge Frans Kgomo on “delaying” Bushiri’s arrest for rape. 

The NPA had allegedly said it could not prosecute Bushiri for rape until it had concluded the fraud and money-laundering section of the probe. 

Maritz had initially led the fraud investigation. 

“A status report of the investigation is requested because it appears that the money-laundering investigation under Colonel Corrie Maritz may be the delaying factor,” Kgomo wrote. 

The DPCI judge’s office acts as an ombudsman for all Hawks-related matters. 

Responding to queries from the M&G on Thursday, Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Nomthandazo Mbambo said the investigating officer — whom she did not name — said they were not aware of withdrawal statements being taken.