Commuters were on Tuesday morning left stranded as minibus drivers and conductors staged protests to force government to adjust downwards fuel pump prices or alternatively allow them carry more passengers despite Covid-19 precautionary measures.
The minibus drivers and conductors want the seating capacity revised to three per row from the present two imposed as a Covid-19 preventive measure.
The disgruntled drivers and conductors blocked roads in some parts of Chikwawa, Mulanje, Blantyre, Zomba and Lilongwe with stones and burning tyres. The development forced other motorists to seek alternative and safer routes. Mzuzu City was not affected by the strike.
In some cases, the drivers and conductors pelted stones at other motorists who were either picking up some of the stranded commuters or were driving around doing their personal business.
But things turned nasty in some areas such as Bangwe, Chirimba, Lunzu and Chilobwe in Blantyre, Mwanza, Chikwawa and Zomba where police moved in to quell the situation.
Police used tear gas to chase the drivers and conductors while they removed the stones and burning tyres.
In Zomba, the situation was volatile at Chinamwali Trading Centre where business ground to a standstill. The Zomba-Liwonde-Mangochi Road was rendered impassable.
In a telephone interview, Minibus Drivers and Conductors Association spokesperson Evans Galasi said they staged the protests after traffic officers continued to restrict them to two passengers per seat despite an earlier agreement on the same.
He said: “However, we decided to call off the strike to see what happens next. ”
Galasi said it was unfortunate that some people attempted to hijack the protest and pelted innocent motorists with missiles.
Following escalation of the first wave of Covid-19 last year, the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 and the Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) resolved to reduce the seating capacity in minibuses to two per seat as a social distancing measure to avoid further spread of the pandemic.
Minibus Owners Association of Malawi (Moam) national chairperson Felix Mboonekera on Tuesday distanced the association from the strike, saying the association has nothing to do with it.
DRTSS director Fergus Gondwe said on their part as government, they are engaging Moam to resolve a number of issues, including the seating capacity debacle.
He said on their part, they are still enforcing rules and regulations in line with the Covid-19 prevention measures.
In December last year, Moam also staged a similar protest a week after government raised fuel prices.