It was a fairly cold morning with the sun hesitantly rising from the thick horizon.
I was on a trip from the dusty capital city of Lilongwe to the commercial city of Blantyre.
At Area 36’s popular bus stage, Matanki, we stopped to a rush of over 15 men and women jostling for a ride in the small five seater wagon that was the car we were travelling in.
They pushed and shoved, in all directions and measures of strength, just to get in and secure a seat. This is a common spectacle of desperation in an era of a colossal lack of reliable and efficient public transport system.
People have resorted to thumbing a lift, sometimes in vehicles not very convenient to carrying passengers along such a long route.
‘Mukundiponda! [Mind your foot, you’re stepping on me!],’ screamed one woman, who now had her torso in the vehicle but the rest of her frame was outside and mobbed by the unrelenting ‘competitors.’
Against all expectation, one of the ‘competitors’, a man with a deep voice, thundered in anger:
‘Mayi, mukagule yanu ngati simukufuna kupondedwa! [Woman, just buy your own vehicle to avoid all this!]’
A few metres away, a Toyota Sienta with a red registration number came to a hurried stop, wooing some ‘competitors’ away from our vehicle.
Unlike our vehicle, which strictly took in just as much as the official capacity allowed it, the Sienta packed in too much for its capacity.
Now with some luggage protruding out of the Sienta’s windows, and the burden of the passengers weighing heavily on the vehicle, it took off with a show of the driver’s haste.
In no time at all, the Sienta had driven into the oblivion that was the road ahead of us.
‘Komatu timagalimoto iti tipha anthu [these vehicles will kill a multitude!],’ screamed one lady passenger in our vehicle, and the discussion about the now so many Sientas plying the Blantyre – Lilongwe route began.
Upon reaching Nathenje, we found the Sienta parked by the roadside, with about four men in uniform quizzing the driver on the load that was passengers and luggage.
‘Muona, atidutsa pompano. Sangawagwire; amadziwana bwino [Just wait will soon overtake us. The police wont detain them for long; the Sienta drivers and the police know each other so well],’ we were privileged to learn from one passenger among us.
True to his word, the Sienta was soon signalling for an overtake, and off it promptly sped ahead of us!
In more than five police stops the Sienta was stopped by officers it left the same way it got there—overcrowded with passengers and luggage!
To cut a meandering story short, the speed at which this overcrowded Sienta and many more of its kind cruised on the Lilongwe-Blantyre stretch was fierce and unsettling.
The numbers of these cruising Sientas are growing by the day and the Mzuzu-Lilongwe stretch is no different.
The only hope is someone is watching and will do something about them, and soon, before the appetite for speeding sheds blood on the tarmac! n