‘Time is money’, so goes the saying. In Malawi, we do not respect time as much as our friends in the developed world do, perhaps because we find it difficult to relate it to money. That relationship is, at best, hazy.
In my first-year as a student at Watford College, in the United Kingdom, I used to stay a good five kilometres from campus and, therefore, needed to catch a bus to get to college. On my first day, I got to the bus terminal and noticed a timetable hanging on the wall. Having come from Blantyre where the Cityline ran to no specific timetable, I ignored the timetable, thinking it was just ornamental. After all, there were many stops along the way and it would not be practical to expect the bus to be on time. To my surprise, three minutes before the time indicated on the timetable, the bus appeared around the corner, some 300 or so metres away. There was one stop before mine and, true, by the intimated time, the bus was indeed at my bus stop.
This pattern repeated itself many times over, and if ever the time was missed it was by no more than two minutes, a far cry from the situation back home where apart from the Express Bus and the Coachline service in those days, all the buses never followed specific time schedules. The situation is, sad to say, a lot worse now. The present mode of public transport, namely the minibus, respects no time, and much less other road users.
Two weeks ago, I decided to drive from Blantyre Mission to Makata Industrial Site. With Makata road closed for renovation works, I thought driving through Masauko Chipembere Highway then connecting to the upper end of Makata Road at Kamuzu Stadium would be a bit of a stretch and so I decided to drive through Ndirande.
As it turned out, I had made a terrible mistake. Getting to the central market at Ndirande, time literally froze. One minibus driver stopped and parked right on the road, holding up all the traffic behind him. Five minutes later, as we were still trying to figure out what the problem could have been, the parked minibus started to reverse into an area where other minibuses were parked on the left side of the road, causing more disturbance and, obviously, more delay.
I ended up showing up for my appointment at Makata 10 minutes late. This was a bother to me, but certainly not to the minibus driver, not in the least. Time means next to nothing to them, like it does to most of us. We have yet to learn to value time.
Often our functions run up to two hours behind schedule, and nobody takes it to heart. I have, on a number of occasions, been asked to coach different choirs. They will ask me to come at a particular time and when I do, I am usually the only soul around. People start trickling in 30 minutes later. If truth be told, a good portion of our failures in this country is a direct result of poor time keeping. If we keep to time, we will be more efficient and if we are efficient we will create more wealth or make more money.
The Watford buses were almost never full, but they were very efficient as a result of which they must have been making good money. The staff members were apparently well paid. The buses featured no conductors. We had to pay our fares to the driver. Sometimes we had to change drivers at a place called Garston Garage. The first time I witnessed this, I saw the driver get off and another come on. The one that had gotten off walked straight to the parking lot, got into his car and drove off. This was strange to me as back home bus drivers were not known to own personal cars. There certainly was something right this bus company was doing despite running buses that were hardly full. And I think it boiled down to running a service that attached so much importance to time, thereby winning the confidence of the public. Because of the confidence people had in the service, many of them would buy seasonal tickets, which gave the company the much needed working capital. Not once did I see a bus that had run out of fuel by the roadside and somebody filling it from a jerrican, a common sight on our roads.
Be honest and search within yourselves, dear readers. How is your time keeping? I rest my case. n