Pandemonium ensued at Zomba main bus terminal on Friday morning as irate minibus drivers and conductors were seizing their counterpart’s minibuses that were carrying passengers in protest of the alleged new Road Traffic Regulations prohibiting minibuses to carry heavy load and passengers in excess of the stipulated standards.
There were ugly scenes, where innocent passengers were forced to disembark minibuses, some en route from Blantyre to Mangochi.
Some minibus drivers had to drive dangerously away to safety as the fracas raged on between the two disagreeing parties.
However, Eastern Region Police spokesperson, Joseph Sauka, said in an interview that no serious incident had been reported in Zomba city, while confirming the armed police presence in strategic points was aimed at protecting important installations as part of their routine job.
By noon, business was normal in the old capital with many shops open and a few minibuses were seen carrying passengers, a sign that the situation had normalized.
The event also follows the experience of high rate of road accidents involving bus service carriers in the first six months of the year as compared to last year according to statistics released recently in the media by National Police Headquarters.
However, Amos Gondoza, who is an Executive member of MOAM Eastern Region in Zomba said the minibus operators were angered by the harsh treatment and punishment being unleashed on drivers by both the Road Traffic Directorate (RTD) and the Traffic Police following the much touted new provisions.
“I believe the RTD and the Police should have consulted representative of the owners of minibuses themselves and other key stakeholders before implementation of the new arrangement,” said Gondoza.
Gondoza suggested government should review the regulations, call for the all inclusive round table meeting including RTD, Traffic Police and other relevant stakeholders including some ordinary owners of minibuses to resolve the impasse.
In a related development, Edwin Njobvuyalema, who identified himself as a minibus driver confirmed that he was locked in a police cell for carrying heavy load in Mangochi, adding he had no problem with carrying three passengers on each seat, but the bus fares should also be raised.
Njobvuyalema also faulted the heavy handedness on the part of Road Traffic Directorate and Traffic Police before sensitization of the drivers on the new arrangement, adding road enforcement alone without education cannot solve the current road accidents.
He appealed to government to reconsider the conduct of these officials on how they transact their job on the roads before things become uncontrollable.