It is a Friday and people are counting down the hours before they step out of their offices and enjoy a weekend breather. In fact, this one is a long weekend in Malawi.
People have different ways to unwind in their free time. Among the most common social indulgences that people engage in is drinking beer in various joints. A drink provides the perfect opportunity for many to reset their faculties.
However, when weekend dawns, the imbibers have one worry: the omnipresence of police breathalysers on the roads. The task of manoeuvring through the police check spots has become harder than finding money to spend on drinks.
Once you find yourselves on the wrong side of the law, a K200 000 fine awaits you. Now, the imbibers have to develop a thick skin to survive.
Renato Kachingwe, an Area 49 resident in Lilongwe, said: “The police are almost everywhere. They are even following us in residential locations. The trick now is just to be drinking closer to home and that is how I have been surviving.”
As for Martin Malata from Ndirande Township in Blantyre, he tags along with a driver to drive him back home after drinks.
“I was once a victim of these fines and it is not fun. It pains. Since then, I invite my driver to take me home after the night’s business. It is working for me,” he said.
As the stopping space for imbibers is shrinking, the bar owners are feeling the pinch too.
Bar Owners Association of Malawi general secretary McDonald Soko said the breathalysers enforcement is killing entertainment and their business.
“It is not done in good faith. You can’t have police officers on the road daily with an excuse of minimising road traffic accidents. The charges are exorbitant,” he said.
Soko said it should, however, not be understood that they are encouraging drink and drive as they also have a responsibility to safeguard the lives of their customers.
A recent study conducted by Kamuzu Central Hospital in collaboration with Norwegian Institute of Public Health and Oslo University Hospital titled ‘Road Traffic Injuries in Malawi with Special Focus on the Role of Alcohol’, provided insights on the use of alcohol in different road user groups.
“The prevalence of alcohol is almost 60 percent among the drivers. Patients injured during weekend night crashes showed the highest prevalence of alcohol (59.6 percent), followed by those injured during weekend evenings (36.8 percent) and weekday nights (35.3 percent),” says the study. n