Since Malawi’s independence in 1964 up to the early 1990s, the country had a very vibrant civic education programme. Programmes aimed at sensitising the masses on crucial matters of public interest were delivered through well-designed radio programmes, as well as through a subject in the primary school curriculum called civics. The secondary school curriculum had its own upgraded version of civics called MYP (Malawi Young Pioneers), which delivered lessons on patriotism, discipline and loyalty to the motherland, among other topics.
One of the most popular radio programmes called Zapanseu, ensured that every Malawian road user-from the motorist to the cyclist and the pedestrian-knew the Highway Code. This particular radio programme always captured one’s attention with its captivating road safety messages contained in music jingles, such as the famous Ukamwa mowa, usayendetse galimoto, oyendetsa galimoto asamwe mowa.
Presenters of this programme were drawn from the police, traffic and road safety Departments, and had such eloquence and a unique style of delivering the message to their audience.
These programmes played a big role in preventing road accidents.
Today, the situation on our roads has become chaotic. The removal of both civics and MYP from the school curriculum and the watering down of road safety programmes on the public airwaves, means Malawians no longer have sources of vital information on such matters of national and public importance.
Today, the pedestrian has developed a complete disregard for road rules, ignoring zebra crossings and traffic lights, thereby putting their lives and that of the motorists at risk. Pedestrians are seen crossing the road dangerously through undesignated spots, somehow trusting that motorists would apply brakes when it matters. School children are seen running across streets, ignorant of the speed of oncoming vehicles and unaware of the rule that requires one to look left, right and left again before crossing. Incidences of school children being hit by vehicles on our roads have become common. Our roads have become death traps, especially for young pedestrians.
The recent phenomenon of Kabaza cyclists has ushered in a new threat to the travelling public. These new transport service providers have entered the sector en masse, without any formal training on how to handle public safety of the passengers they ferry. The Kabaza cyclists operate a passenger service which is unregulated and where rules for road users are virtually non-existent.
People are dying or getting injured on Kabaza bicycles. As if that is not enough, Kabaza cyclists are free riders, who have the privilege of plying their trade on our roads without paying a single cent. While the vendor in the market pays a fee to use the market space, the Kabaza cyclist enjoys free-rider privileges on our roads.
I would, therefore, like to urge government to seriously intensify road safety messages even by incorporating it in the primary and secondary school curriculum. I would also love to see those Road Safety programmes hitting our airwaves regularly with the zeal and passion of the former days.
Furthermore, government must bring back the crossing wardens who used to assist children cross streets and stop traffic to ensure safe passage at key crossing points leading to schools, especially in cities. Likewise, I would urge government to bring back those physical exercises of taking children to the road and showing them the practical aspect of crossing the street.
As for our celebrated kabaza riders, I urge government to introduce a mechanism that would make them pay for the privilege of competing with motorists on the roads. Furthermore, like Mzuzu City has done, Kabaza cyclists should be governed by strict regulations, including in the domain of their dress code, so that they are properly attired especially during night assignments.
Government must, therefore, take a stand so that the Kabaza operators understand and respect traffic regulations. That way, travelling on Malawi roads will be enjoyable and not death a trap! n