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visit me in South Africa but I got wor­ried when I did not hear from them on the day I ex­pected them to ar­rive,” she said.

“A day later I re­ceived a call from my brother say­ing his fam­ily and oth­ers from Malawi had been held hostage and the peo­ple were de­mand­ing R5 000.”

She was given de­tails of a bank ac­count into which she was to de­posit the money, but when she tried to do so, the bank teller told her not to.

“The teller ad­vised me to see one of the se­nior bank man­agers. I ex­plained why I wanted to de­posit money into that ac­count. He told me not to do so, as ev­ery time money goes into that ac­count it is im­me­di­ately with­drawn,” she said.

The woman said that night she had re­ceived a call from the kid­nap­pers who said that “as I did not de­posit the money I should meet them in per­son if I want my brother and his fam­ily to stay alive”.

She was told to meet them at a Shoprite branch in Johannesburg and “when I got there they called to say they had seen me, and I saw a van com­ing in my di­rec­tion. I gave them the money and they re­leased my fam­ily.”

In­ves­ti­ga­tions in Malawi have re­vealed that agents who col­lude with kid­nap­pers op­er­ated from a ware­house close to Blan­tyre’s bus de­pot. Pos­ing as a client, a re­porter vis­ited the ware­house and was ap­proached by some peo­ple ask­ing if he wanted to go to Johannesburg.

The re­porter was then di­rected to an of­fice build­ing called “Her­bal Clinic” where he was told to wait for a bus driver named Harry.

“If you want to go to Johannesburg you have come to the right peo­ple,” Harry said. “We leave on Wed­nes­day and Satur­day and the bus fare is MK28 000 (about R505). “You are re­quired to have R3 000 (about MK166 000) to show at the border. If you don’t have it, make sure you have R800, which one of our agents will use to help you pass through,” Harry said. Two women who in­tro­duced them­selves as Florence and Nde­meka and said they worked for “Siko Coaches” also of­fered to ar­range the trip to South Africa. AmaBhungane could find no record of a bus op­er­a­tion called Siko Coaches in Malawi. They said they charged MK33 000 (about R700) be­cause “fuel prices are high”, and added: “We can­not promise when you will ar­rive in Johannesburg be­cause it all de­pends on what hap­pens at Beit Bridge.” Malawi’s con­sul gen­eral in South Africa, Fraser Nkhoma, said he’d heard of Malaw­ian trav­ellers be­ing kid­napped and sub­jected to ex­tor­tion, but his of­fice had not re­ceived a for­mal com­plaint. He said his of­fice in­forms Malaw­ians on cor­rect pro­ce­dures when trav­el­ling to South Africa. *Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Steve Chauluka of Malawi’s Times Group

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