"My Passion to Bushiri" – City Press reporter in Malawi


"Sorry, we will not stamp your passport," said the young immigration officer.

She politely let me know that there would be no proof that I was ever in Malawi, or even my 24 hours in the Chilean police station in Blantyre.

When I arrived at the International Airport Chileka, it was drizzling.

A police officer took my passport and asked me if I was Ntombizodwa Makhoba from South Africa. I said yes and was asked to follow him.

I knew something was wrong. My suspicions were further raised when he and his colleague asked if I had been booked into the local Protea Hotel – even the person I picked up from the airport did not know.

I asked what was going on and they told me to wait and said I should not ask any questions.

The only word I recognized in their conversations in Chichewa was a name – Bushiri, which they kept repeating.

I asked if I could make a call.

"We do not have airtime," was the answer. "Anyway, you'll see your family tomorrow. We have instructions from above. You will be held in a police station for one night, and we will deport you to South Africa on the first flight tomorrow. "

The drive to the Chileka Police Station is less than 1 km away, but feels much longer in a police car on the gravel road.

"Here you spend the night," said the immigration officer.

The tiny police station was occupied by two men in the early thirties. I wondered how I would make a night there, and the possibility of being raped came to my mind.

I still had no idea why I was locked up – until I saw the book that recorded all the names and charges of the suspects.

My name was already there. At the same time someone had written that I was detained for security reasons.

I had to call my editor and my family.

"Please bring all your belongings, including your laptop and your money, and we'll have to put them in a locker," said a policeman in a khaki camouflage.

Finally, they said I could use his phone. I gave him money for the broadcasting time.

I was told there was no extra cell, but I could sleep on one of the benches in the charging station.

The first call I made was to my news editor, who was surprised at what I had told her.

While she contacted Ndivhuwo Mabaya, spokesman for the International Relations and Cooperation Department, for help, the officer's phone rang constantly as my editor and family approached to find out if I was safe.

The friendly police officer knocked for the day and was replaced by another, who demanded that I sit on the ground – according to his "rules".

I received a call from an SA High Commission official in Lilongwe who told me the police station was safer than my hotel.

He said two people from OR Tambo International Airport had followed me and they had my photo and passport number.

"If you go where you are, you are not sure. Please make sure you are accompanied when you go to the bathroom, "he insisted.

Two Malawi journalists who visited me and brought me food accompanied me to the pit latrines. At 10pm, a policeman offered me a mattress and blanket, but I did not sleep.

The next morning, the same van brought me back to the airport. I was taken to an immigration officer who returned my passport.

I still do not know what crime has been accused me. I read in Malawi newspapers last week that I refused to provide "relevant" documents – which is wrong – and not "seeking approval from the relevant authorities".

When I got home, the people of Malawi called me, claiming to be government officials, and asked if it was true that I was examining one of their country's famous prophets, Shepherd Bushiri.

Three of my sources in this country were arrested and taken for questioning.

A high-ranking Malawian journalist I spoke to received threatening phone calls and was told to stay away from the "prophets" business.

A former journalist I talked to sent this message: "We were also arrested … They held my phone and all identity documents."

I asked a journalist who visited me at the police station to translate a statement from the police for me because I could not understand Chichewa.

He wrote: "The problem is that Bushiri immigration officials have received information that a particular journalist is coming to investigate him. He called on the officials to arrest the journalist and she must be pushed back. The officers said the journalist was being followed by Bushiri's men on the plane, and one of them signaled that the journalist should be arrested at Chileka airport. "

Another source, who has been imprisoned, says people from inside the Prophet's inner circle promised him a "blessing" not to speak to the media.

He is now afraid for his life.