Blantyre Minibus drivers take to streets on Jan 20 over capacity

Minibus boarding with police enforcing numbers

Public transport users in Blantyre are feeling the pinch following a hike in prices due to government's decision to reintroduce two passengers per seat due to rise in COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Minibus Drivers Associations were to take to the streets to express their grievances over government's decision on January 13, but had to cancel as the country went into a three day mourning period for deaths of former Ministers Sidik Mia and Lingson Belekanyama and others.

The demonstrations have since been postponed to January 20 in Blantyre with motorcycle and small business operators popularly as kabaza also joining in.

Malawi Police started enforcing the restrictions as the country faces a surge in COVID-19 numbers with well over 10000 infected.

The drivers complain they were not informed of the decision despite the Inspector General of Police having a meeting with them a few weeks back to allow two passengers and reduce their prices.

This was to people's advantage but the drivers say they face hardships as fuel was adjusted upwards but were advised not to increase fares.

Vice Chairperson Vincent Chingwalu said they were informed by Minibus Owners Association (MOAM) of the change but complained of being not consulted.

"It is not that we don't want to comply considering the pandemic, but we should have sat down and discussed. The biggest issue for us is fuel. If they could have considered that, reducing the fuel. The costs are high for us who are on the ground and we feel the pinch.

"We are also complaining of the way in which traffic officers operate. Off the books as well as charges they give us as well as the payments," he lamented.

Chingwalu said they are asking government's consideration because the same prices they give passengers for two passengers will hurt their businesses badly.

Information from the City Council shows officials will not receive the petition for fear of COVID-19.

Reacting Chingwalu said: “We are at pains to accept that someone in a public office can stand publicly to say they will not receive your petition.

“The same time that person is fully aware that it is a constitutional provision that we as citizens have a right to hold peaceful demonstrations. That is a clear case of impunity and executive arrogance."

He pointed out preparations are at 95 percent saying the presence of the fourth arm of the state means the President will get to hear of it. 

On the safety of Malawians who will attend the demonstrations, the Vice Chairperson said they will take this as an opportunity to disseminate preventive measures.