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Minibus drivers, conductors demonstrate against laws

Chaos ensued in most townships in Blantyre City as minibus drivers and conductors protested against the introduction of new traffic laws which they have described as “unfair”.

Among other things, the laws provide for the option of custodial sentences in cases where drivers and conductors violate traffic laws.

Passengers were stranded in the city as minibus drivers and conductors engaged in running battles with police.

The demonstrations in the city turned violent as some protestors started smashing vehicles deemed to be carrying passengers. A police vehicle was stoned at Kamba bus stage as the law-enforcers were dispersing protesters.

The angry protesters also torched police units in the city, one of them being Khama Police Unit.

The situation got out of hand as police fired teargas canisters at protesters in Chemusa, Ndirande, Soche East, Manase and Naperi townships.

One of the concerned residents in Manase area, Tony Phiri, expressed disappointment with the way police officers dealt with protesters, saying he was chatting with his friends and family when a teargas canister fell into his fenced yard, choking everybody inside.

“We did not go to the streets. We just observed that there was commotion as people demonstrated and, before we knew it, a teargas canister landed in the compound. Everyone choked and started running to the streets,” Phiri said.

One of the residents in Ndirande Township, Jean Wilson, said she was negatively affected by the strike.

She said she was at a bus stage by 4 o’clock in the morning but could not find a minibus to go to Limbe to buy merchandise for her business.

“I came here at around 4 o’clock in the morning and, up to now [around 10 o’clock in the morning] there is no minibus to take us to Limbe. The drivers are justified. There is no way small business people such as me can hire big vehicles to transport our merchandise,” Wilson said.

One of the drivers, Lawyer Kaphiri, said the laws are unfair and they must be reversed.

“We accept some of the offences but this is too much and unfair. It is unfair for traffic [officials] to impose a five-year imprisonment sentence or in the alternative impose a K20, 000 penalty for the offence of loading a bag in a passenger service vehicle,” Kaphiri said.

Meanwhile, Minibus Owners Association of Malawi (Moam) has distanced itself from the strike.

Moam General Secretary, Coxley Kamange, told journalists at a joint press briefing with Blantyre vendors that the strike did not have the blessings of minibus owners.

Kamange said minibus owners have lost a lot of money due to the strike, adding that four minibuses were smashed during the riots.

National Police spokesperson, James Kadadzera, said the decision to start enforcing the traffic laws has been made after observing that there has been a wave of fatal accidents on the country’s roads.

On non-discriminatory use of teargas, Kadadzera said it is difficult to control teargas as it is transmitted by wind.

Kadadzera also declined to comment on the torching police units, saying they did not have official reports on the matter.

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