A near tragedy was averted Tuesday when a plane carrying some 127 Malawians caught fire minutes after taking off from South Africa’s OR Tambo International Airport. ‘One of the wheels of the plane caught fire soon after take off and the plane had to return to the airport,’ said an eye witness from the airport. ‘It was quite scary but no one was injured.’

The 127 Malawians were illegal immigrants in South Africa whose government chartered the plane from Air Global Aviation to deport them back home. The plane was bound for the Malawi capital, Lilongwe.

Tony Chimpukuso, the Traffic and Industry Affairs Manager at Air Malawi, dismissed rumours making the rounds in the social media that the ill-fated plane belonged the Malawi national flag carrier.

‘No, it wasn’t our plane,’ he said. ‘The South African government chartered it from Air Global Aviation to deport illegal Malawi immigrants.’

It was not clear when the Malawians would finally arrive in Lilongwe. Hundreds of Malawians are rounded up almost on weekly basis in South Africa, southern Africa’s leading economy.

Once caught, the illegals are not allowed to go home to collect their belongings. They are instead dumped in detention centre waiting to be deported.

Most of them cut sorry figures as they alight from the deportation planes – sometimes cargo planes – spotting only the clothes on their backs and skimpy luggage.

Most often go back to South Africa because of tough economic times in Malawi where jobs for unskilled labourers are few.

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