Police and Immigration authorities on Monday detained and barred South African journalist Ntombizodwa Patience Makhoba from entering the country through Chileka International Airport in Blantyre.
Makhoba, who was reportedly on an assignment to work on an investigative story for her publications News24 and City Press, said in a telephone interview yesterday she was not told why she was detained and subsequently deported.
She said she could not divulge more information on the phone, but insisted she had an assignment.
Makhoba said: “I am very disappointed and shocked about the treatment. I was detained for seeking to do my job and I was told by Immigration officers that they had received an instruction from above. This shows that we are not safe as journalists.”
Police refused to comment on the matter, but Immigration national spokesperson Joseph Chauwa claimed that Makhoba was not detained. He said she was “kept at a police station as she waited for her flight the following day [Tuesday]”.
He said Makhoba allegedly failed to produce relevant documents to allow her to do her job in the country and was taken to police “for her own safety” because the country has no holding shelter.
Said Chauwa: “Initially, she was supposed to apply to the Ministry of Information for clearance and the ministry was then supposed to issue a clearance and host her in case she had no host.
“However, she failed to explain whoever was hosting her so security officers took her to police for her safety. She was not arrested as such… She was kept at the counter, not in a police cell.”
But a witness, who only identified himself as Mr Mhango and was at the airport on Monday when Makhoba was arrested, said the journalist was approached by security officers on arrival at the airport and told her that she was not allowed to enter Malawi.
A source, who went to see Makhoba at Chileka Police after her arrest, said the journalist spent a night at the station where she was handed over by Immigration Department officers who confiscated her passport.
Said our source: “They held her at the airport for two hours [on Monday] before handing her over to Chileka Police where she spent the night.
“Police confiscated her mobile phone and she was only able to call me from borrowed phones.”
The source said Makhoba was booked at the four-star Protea Hotel Ryalls by Marriot in Blantyre; hence, the assertion by Immigration that she had no host in the country did not arise.
Reacting to the issue, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Malawi Chapter chairperson Teresa Ndanga said they were following the issue with keen interest and were yet to establish the reasons for her detention and deportation.
She said: “Being a fellow journalist, we began to push for her release and we are already in touch with the South African [Misa] chapter to map the way forward.”
Chauwa defended the security officers’ action on Makhoba, who flew back to South Africa on Malawian Airlines’ flight number ET20 that left Chileka at 9.45am yesterday, saying it was backed by Section 21(1) of the Immigration Act (1988) which, in part, states that “no person shall enter, be or remain in Malawi unless he or she is in possession of a current permanent residence permit, or current temporary resident permit, a current business residence permit or a current employment permit”.
However, Section 36 of the Constitution guarantees the press “the right to report and publish freely, within Malawi and abroad, and to be accorded the fullest possible facilities for access to public information”.
Sources indicated that Makhoba was on an assignment to trace the roots of a prominent Malawian entrepreneur based in South Africa.