His job was to ensure that Blantyre City Council (BBC) accords residents quality services ceaselessly. But eight years after the former Blantyre mayor John Chikakwiya was jailed for abuse of office in relation to a K400 000 donation for a road maintenance project in Machinjiri Township, dwellers are dumbstruck by the deepening gullies, potholes and muddy stretches which offer town planning students vivid examples of what not to do in modern times.
On the Nanjiriri roads—with all bridges linking Area 6 and Nanthoka to Limbe-Machinjiri-Blantyre tarmac on the verge of being washed away—it is not unusual to hear residents lamenting: “It is just a matter of weeks before the roads become impassable, what will happen afterwards?.”
But their lamentations always end with questions that remain unanswered by the city council: Why are the inhabitants of Machinjiri Area 6, Area 7 and Area 3 being treated like second-class citizens? Why the delays when it is clear that their right to better roads did not expire with Chikakwiya’s imprisonment?
The residents may not count in a highly urbanised city with signposts that proclaim its population at 600 000 when the 2008 census indicates over 800 000, but their ‘whys’ call for immediate action.
“We met BCC engineers at the Civic Centre and they assured us that they were looking for contractors to maintain the road. As the rains worsen the road condition, we wonder why the contractors are not on site,” explains Area 6 Andersen Village Development Committee chairperson Raphael Chikandeni.
According to Chikandeni, the assurance partly forced them to discontinue a self-help project which saw residents contributing money, sand and stones for the threatened strip, especially the crumbling Area 6 Bridge. Today, weeks of heavy rains are rendering Area 6 “the worst township with no car coming or leaving.”
Actually, some motorists are already evacuating their cars which cannot survive where 4x4s tread carefully. Joseph Banda is compelled to walk over two kilometres to hitch public transport because he has parked his car at his workplace in Limbe.
“Car repairs are not cheap. Mine is safer at work if the bridges finally crumble. Recently, I have lost over K5 000 to locals who are cashing in on vehicles stuck in mud and potholes,” said Banda in an interview.
Getting dirty to free his car from a gullied muddy spot, Dusty Chatepa told The Nation that those who rent houses in the area will soon “start leaving the area because it risks being an island in the city”.
The most affected stretch sits on the border of John Bande’s Blantyre City East Constituency and Felix Njawala’s Blantyre Kabula. The members of Parliament accused the city council of delaying to fix the road, saying they tabled the case long before the rainy season started and it causes heated debate every time they meet.
Bande describes it as a “sorry situation”, saying: “Njawala and I have been reminding the city council about the road since we tabled the issue some months ago. Indeed they have delayed, but efforts are being done. Sometimes, procurement procedures can delay development.”
Njawala’s constituents are the worst hit. He rightly says the road, especially the bridges, a danger to the lives of road users.
“The roads need urgent maintenance. When I took city engineers to the site in November, the condition was manageable, but now it is worse. The council will spend more money if the delay continues,” he said.
BCC has been grading the road annually since the Chikakwiya saga, but Njawala and locals feel the quick fix is not working anymore—saying it is time to upgrade it to gravel or bitumen.
Recently, Maranatha Girls Academy director Ernest Kaonga re-graded part of the road, but the relief for surrounding communities and students’ guardians is vanishing due to heavy rains and massive erosion.
This is a common sight in the country’s major cities. Mzuzu residents point at Zolozolo as the worst hit. Likewise, Kawale, Area 23, Chilinde and Kaliyeka are blights in Lilongwe.
When asked about Blantyre pathetic road network two weeks ago, BCC chief executive officer Ted Nandolo asked for a questionnaire to which he has not yet responded.
Still, a network of poor roads is not only rendering the country’s commercial capital a crap town despite being part of Professor Jeffrey Sachs’ Millennium City Initiative towards alleviating poverty by 2015. It is also puzzling how the city dreams to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with no proper roads to link progressive citizens to centres for trade, commerce, industries, hospitals and schools.
And old-timers say gone are the days trucks used to bring them water every time their taps run dry. Nowadays, the roads seem determined to separate them from ambulance services, police vans, fire fighters, refuse collectors and other essential services.
The affected localities say this cannot continue at a time government acknowledges that poor roads as one of the reasons 675 women out of every 100 000 die while giving birth—an avoidable setback on the country’s quest for MDGs on reducing poverty and maternal mortality.