- Torch 3 police units
- Demand cash from motorists
Three police units were burnt down in Blanytre yesterday following riots ignited by minibus drivers and conductors in protest against fines and arrests for various road offences.
The burnt police units are Khama, Makhetha and Nanthoka in Machinjiri Township.
In other townships such as Zingwangwa, Ndirande, Chilomoni, Bangwe, Chirimba, the atmosphere was synonymous to that of war zones where residents have gone into hiding or fighting back as rioters blocked roads and burned tyres.
To disperse the rioters who had taken control of most roads in residential areas, police fired tear gas canisters.
The rioters blocked the townships’ roads with huge rocks and burnt tyres on the roads. In some townships such as Zingwangwa, Machiniri and Bangwe, they were demanding cash—K500s—from motorists for them to pass.
Police officers, who were in some cases overwhelmed and retreating, and in some areas such as Ndirande, literally ran away for their dear lives. They returned to their stations and units to recharge.
At Zingwangwa Primary School, witnesses claimed that police fired tear gas at students who were in class and beat up people in residential areas. They also claimed police arrested people in streets, some right from their homes.
In an interview, Southern Region Police Headquarters spokesperson Ramsey Mushani regretted the rioting, saying they were trying all they could to protect lives of people and their property.
He confirmed some of their police units were burnt and also that police made arrests in different townships, but said he could only come up with a proper update on the damage caused and the number of people arrested later.
Mushani said the Roads Traffic Act that the Police have intensified to reinforce on all vehicles amid numerous road accidents that are costing lives have been there all along (see below for some of the rules).
“There is nothing new we are reinforcing, these traffic laws have been there [all along],” Mushani said.
The police spokesperson described as an exaggeration messages that have been circulating on social media, including WhatsApp, about hefty offences to be meted on minibus operators.
While admitting that minibuses carrying passengers are not allowed to carry a bag or bags of maize or overload passengers, according to the available road traffic regulations, Mushani said messages being circulated are exaggerated.
Government spokesperson Nicholas Dausi, who is also Minister of Information, Communications and Technology, condemned the riots in an interview yesterday, saying the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration is a listening government that is ready to resolve issues amicably.
“We are ready to listen to grievances anyone or any institution may have. Police is only doing their job for people to follow regulations to the letter,” Dausi said.
Minibus Owners Association of Malawi (Moam) president Coxley Kamange in an interview yesterday spoke against the strike.
Kamange said as much as some of the concerns the drivers and their conductors raised were genuine, the appropriate solution was to keep on negotiating with the authorities and not take to the streets.
He feared some people had taken advantage of the strike to engage into criminal acts.
The association at a news conference later called upon all owners of the minibuses to contact their drivers and conductors to return to work and be on the road today, explaining they were in touch with police and requested them to guarantee security.
Malawi Watch executive director Billy Banda in an interview blamed authorities, police in particular, for reinforcing regulations in the Roads Traffic Act now when these laws have been there for a long time, stressing the timing was bad.