Running battles between Malawi Police Service officers and taxi and minibus operators spoilt the mood on John Chilembwe Day in Mzuzu City, where those in the passenger transport sector do not want to adhere to Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 guidelines on carrying capacity.
The development comes at a time the country has witnessed a surge in Covid-19 cases, with the number of those with coronavirus reaching 10,494 on Thursday.
This has prompted Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 co-chairpersons John Phuka and Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda to announce that people have to wear face coverings in public places and that those in the passenger transport sector strictly follow two-per-seat rule, among other things.
But Mzuzu City taxi and minibus operators Friday took their display of anger over the new rules to the streets, where they, in some cases, engaged in open combat with law enforcers. They demanded, through song and stone-throwing, that the government allow them to carry passengers as they have always done.
However, things came to a stand-still when other demonstrators decided to block public roads to traffic, in the process drawing the ire of police officers, who threw teargas canisters at the irate protesters.
Northern Region Police spokesperson Maurice Chapola justified the use of teargas, saying they used “reasonable force”.
“Much as people have a right to peacefully demonstrate in the country, they have to be responsible by not violating the rights of others.
“It is true that there were some ugly scenes in the streets because the operators were not allowing others to pass through. Therefore, we used reasonable force to disburse the crowds,” Chapola said.
However, Northern Region Taxi Operators Chairperson Stanley Mhone blamed police for using teargas.
“The teargas affected people that were not part of the protests,” he said.
Mhone said all they wanted was for the government to either reduce fuel prices or allow them to be ferrying four passengers per seat in minibuses.
“They are telling us to reduce the capacity of passengers but the price of fuel is still high, why doing so? Let them allow us to take normal capacity. They just have to tell us that we should be making sure that all passengers should be washing hands and putting on face masks when boarding our vehicles,” Mhone said.
In the melee that followed, some shop owners closed their business premises for hours on end. There were also few vehicles on the streets and people had no option but to use motorcycle or bicycle operators to move from one place to another.
As of Friday, the country registered 503 new cases, with 10 new deaths.