Minibus operators in most parts of the country Monday downed their keys as a way of expressing anger over the two-per-seat Covid-19 rule which road traffic regulators set.
The operators fear that, following Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera)’s decision to raise fuel prices last week, passengers would not have the buying power and minibus operators would bear the brunt of Mera’s decision.
However, the situation stabilised after a meeting between Minibus Owners Association of Malawi (Moam) representatives and Southern Region Police Commissioner.
Moam Chairperson Peter Mvalo said the strike had been called off after the meeting.
He said the authorities bowed down to their demand but was quick to say that Covid-19 preventive measures would be followed.
“We have received good news and let me urge all minibus operators to go back to work because demand has been considered. This is a temporally move until the authorities come up with their last stand on the issue,’’ Mvalo added.
Southern Region Police spokesperson Ramsey Mushani confirmed that there was a meeting between police officials and minibus had given a nod to the drivers to carry three people per seat but with protective measures.
After eight-month hiatus on fuel price movements, the regulatory body on December 16 raised fuel prices in a highly anticipated move. It marked the second time this year for fuel prices to rise, and only the third time since November 9 2019, when a litre of petrol was selling at K930, diesel at K924 per litre and paraffin at K710 per litre.
In a rare move, the prices plummeted by May this year and, when Mera effected a fuel price reduction on May 8 this year, a litre of petrol was going at K690.50, diesel at K664.80 per litre and paraffin at K441.70. This represented a 12.31 percent reduction in the price of petrol and 13.10 percent decrease in the price of diesel.
However, following the latest rise in prices, the price of petrol has jumped from K690.50 per litre to K834.60, representing 20.87 percent, while that of diesel has gone up from K664.80 per litre to K826.40, which is a 24.31 percent increase. Paraffin’s price per litre has also been increased from K441.70 to K613.20, which is an increase of 38.83 percent.
As a result of yesterday’s strike in townships in Blantyre, as well as parts of Mangochi District, crowds of people were seen walking to get to workplaces while others relied on motorcycle taxis.
By 7 am at Weaving Factory in Bangwe Township, for example, business came to a standstill as drivers and call boys barricaded the Robert Mugabe Highway with stones and burning tires.
Chairperson of minibus drivers and call boys in Bangwe Mike Kalima said they organised the demonstration to force policymakers to act on their concerns.
“We are concerned with how things are going. The authorities told us to carry two people per seat due to Covid-19 and it was ok because the fuel price was fair. Now the price has gone up and they want us to continue with the same arrangement, which means we will be incurring losses. So, what we want is to be allowed to be carrying three people per seat,’’ he said.
In Ndirande, motorcycle taxi operators took advantage of the strike to operate from residential locations to Limbe and Blantyre Central Business District.
Police used teargas to disperse the demonstrators, which forced business operators to close.
In Mangochi, those travelling from the lakeshore district to Limbe in Blantyre had a nightmare when they learned that minibus operators had downed tools to force the government to increase the carrying capacity for minibuses from nine to 16 passengers.
The drivers, who were supported by Moam, blocked the road at Mpinganjira Bridge near Radio Maria, where they were forcing all passenger-carrying vehicles to return with the passengers.
Representative of the drivers, Farook Kambwiri said the drivers were not happy with the way traffic police officers treat them on the roads.
“There is a lot of corruption on the roads by traffic officers. They allow small vehicles, which are not authorised to carry passengers, to exceed their capacity yet they deny the same to us. This is bad and we want the government to bring sanity to the roads,” he said.
But, after lengthy negotiations with police, the drivers started granting passage to non-passenger carrying vehicles.
Mangochi Police Station spokesperson Roderick Maida said the police had instructed the disgruntled drivers to leave the road as they discussed how best to resolve the issue.
Maida denied that traffic personnel treat motorists differently, saying the law enforcers use the same laws governing the roads to all motorists.
“We are a professional entity such that we cannot treat motorists differently,” he said.