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Fear grips Kabaza operators

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Despite the Constitution of Malawi promoting the active participation of the citizenry in economic activities, others who are putting this constitutional provision to good use are being physically assaulted and even killed. JARSON MALOWA writes.

Peter Bulayani, 31, from Thabwa in Chikwawa District may not know the constitutional provisions that provide for the right to freely to engage in economic activity in the country but is so sure that someone, somewhere, violated his rights.

“I run a kabaza [bicycle taxi] business, which I embarked on in December 2016. At first, everything was going on well, only for things to turn on their head in February 2019, when one of my clients attacked me.

“He asked me to take him to his field where, he said, he had two bags of cassava that had to be ferried to Ngabu. On the way to the so-called cassava field, he suddenly changed countenance, forked a six-gear [knife] from his side pocket and told me to leave the motorcycle in his hands, otherwise he would chop my fingers with the six gear. Fortunately, two kabaza operators who had ferried customers appeared on the scene and the attacker ran away,” he said.

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His case is just a tip of the iceberg as, countrywide, kabaza operators are literally under attack.

This has prompted Kabaza Association of Malawi (Kam) leaders to sound alarm bells, claiming that cases of attack and robbery targeting bicycle and motorcycle taxi operators have reached unprecedented levels.

Just in the past 30 days, two people have been arrested on suspicion that they attacked and robbed bicycles from some kabaza operators.

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Coincidentally, the people were arrested in Chikwawa District, some three years after Bulayani was nearly attacked with a knife.

Dickson Matemba, who is Chikwawa Police Station spokesperson, acknowledges the extent of the problem of attacks targeting kabaza operators in the Southern District.

“On our part, we are doing everything possible to contain the situation and bring those perpetuating the practice to book,” he said.

He, however, advised kabaza operators to refrain from working during night hours since most of them are being attacked at night.

Kam Vice Chairperson Chimwemwe Mangani said they have been doing their best to avoid a situation where they become targets of robbers.

“We are, for example, urging our members to refrain from working during odd hours.

“Or, when working during odd hours, they should inquire about the personal particulars of those they are ferrying to avoid falling victim to attackers,” Mangani said

He, however, said attacks continue.

In April 2022, Lilongwe-based Blessings Lifa pleaded guilty to the charge of killing 10 kabaza operators and robbing them of their motorcycles.

High Court Judge Anabel Mtalimanja subsequently convicted Lifa, a resident of Lilongwe’s Biwi Township.

However, security expert Edward Chaka said Lifa’s case could just be a tip of the iceberg.

“There could be more people targeting kabaza operators in the country, something that necessitates that we join hands,” he said.

He said kabaza operators deserved protection, citing constitutional provisions that promote free enterprise.

The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi provides for freedom to engage in economic activity.

Last month, Eastern Region Police Commissioner Casper Chalera expressed worry over increased cases of motorcycle taxis’ robbery.

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