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 He told me not to do so, as every time money goes into that account it is immediately withdrawn,” she said.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