Pandemonium in Blantyre, army offers help

The problem of fuel shortage in Malawi reached a nasty state at Chichiri Puma Filling Station (formerly BP) in Blantyre Monday when the place turned into complete turmoil as fuel seekers engaged in free for all brawls.

The situation turned worse when police officers on duty failed to bring public order forcing Malawi Army soldiers to take over control.

About eight solders (two of them corporals- Cpls) in full combat and led by an unidentified Warrant Officer class two (WOII)- manned all the three entry points to the filling station, which is located at the Chichiri Shopping Mall (Shoprite).

The solders, who came on their military Tata vehicle registration number 2236 MDF, took over the job of traffic police officers as they controlled the flow of vehicles to and from pumps.

Fuel crisis in Malawi

However, it was not clear whether the solders were called to help quell the volatile situation as was the case in Lilongwe on January 5, 2012 when irate vendors engaged the police in running battles and eventually overpowered them or they were also fuel hunters.

Equally, if the soldiers offered themselves to help, it was also not clear if they sought clearance from their superiors at Army Headquarters in Lilongwe or Changalume Barracks in Zomba where those who are based at the army camp (about 50 meters away from the scene) belong.

Military brutality

Nyasa Times reporter who witnessed the mayhem taking an ugly face between 14:00hrs and 16:00hrs said there were cumbersome queues in all the directions which made the people to quarrel and then exchange some slaps and punches.

The Malawi Army vehicle was parked right in the middle of Shoprite exit to block all cars coming to the pump station using that route to skip others.

“A number of fights were witnessed mainly because some people wanted to use shortcakes. The other involved three people after their vehicles’ bumped into each while wanting to cover space,” said Nyasa Times correspondent Green Muheya who was on scene.

Our reporter said over 300 vehicles (which he counted) snaked through the Smith Road (Chichiri Roundabout-Kwacha), Masauko Chipembere Highway and inside the Chichiri Shopping Mall parking area.

There were also over 100 people wanting to buy using jerry canes and drums. But our reporter openly saw buyers paying an extra K500 for buying in a jerry cane.

For three times, attendants had to stop selling fuel for closed door meetings in their office and after the last meeting (which was around 16.00hrs) they announced that they would only serve those with motorcars.

Chaos

While at Puma it was all chaos, about a kilometer away, at Engen Filling Station, Ginnery Corner (situated opposite College of Health Sciences) despite the long queues that reached as far as the Road Traffic Department, some 300meters away, there was orderliness.

Pump owners were seen busy helping six traffic police officers controlling the lines and some of those who wanted to use shortcuts had their car keys confiscated by the police officers.

While at Puma there were no restrictions on the number of liters to buy per customer, at Engen, they were only allowing 30 liters for saloon vehicles and 60 for bigger cars while those with jerry canes were being turned back.

Malawi has been facing the worst fuel crisis ever since 2010 with people spending nights at the pump stations while President Bingu wa Mutharika has been singing songs of normalizing the situation day in day out.

The president has also kept changing statements time and again as to what is the real cause of the shortage.

Among others, at one point he blamed congestion at Beira Port in Mozambique, the other day he said it was because foreign investors were externalizing forex which would have been used to import the precious liquid and just recently he put the blame on former ruling parties UDF and MCP for failing to construct reserves.

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