Railway robbers and disgruntled communities are riding high in Balaka and Machinga, pulling off brazen daylight heists on trains and inflicting serious damage on the rail business and national economy.
According to Central East African Railways (Cear) managing director Hendry Chimwaza, theft and persistent looting of Nacala railway infrastructure is putting a strain on their business.
Chimwaza said this on Wednesday during an interface meeting the company organised with community leaders, members of Parliament (MPs) from Balaka, and officials from Ministry of Transport and Public Works.
“It is getting worse and it is a risk on our business and investment in the country,” he said.
Train robberies occur at least every week when the train is passing through Balaka.
“So far, more than 150 000 tons of wheat has been stolen by communities who jump on moving trains to attack and steal cargo,” said Chimwaza.
He said once goods are in Cear’s trains it is the company that foots the bill if such cargo is stolen.
“Cear is responsible for anything that happens to the goods that we carry and transport. So when we lose cargo, the client will look at us and we are losing millions of kwacha to pay damages and it is becoming unsustainable for our business,” Chimwaza lamented.
The 912-kilometre railway line from Mozambique’s coal province of Moatize to the port of Nacala which passes through the country is poised to add value to SMEs in both Mozambique and Malawi.
But Chimwaza said with growing theft of cargo and vandalism of rail infrastructure, such gains cannot be realised.
He hoped communities along the railway line will take responsibility to report people who attack cargo trains to security agents.
However, senior chief Kawinga of Machinga faulted Cear for not fulfilling its pledges when it was constructing the railway line. He said Cear pledged to build infrastructure such as school blocks and bridges in the areas where the railway line passed, saying this pledge is yet to be fulfilled a development that has angered communities in his area.
“Vandalism and theft of cargo is taking place because Cear decided to ignore chiefs and other relevant authorities in the whole Nacala railway project,” claimed Kawinga adding: “We needed to work with Cear, but they choose to ignore us. Now they want us to help?
But Minister of Transport and Public Works Jappie Mhango who also attended the meeting said he was saddened with the development and appealed to the police to arrest the vandals saying such people are a threat to development.
“Train operations are important in this country and are governed by the Laws of Malawi. We will not allow this to continue to happen,” said Mhango.
According to Section 70 of the Railways Act, it is a criminal offence for any person to willfully obstruct or impede any ‘railway servant’ in the discharge of his duty.