It is Monday, another workday. Commuters in Blantyre are mourning as a minibus they are boarding was driving at a snail’s pace. The road is clogged—or there are more vehicles than the commercial city’s road system can hold.
“Oops! I have to be in the office by 7.30 am,” mourns Nancy Kuyewawa, a resident of Machinjiri on this minibus from Limbe.
The setting is Makhetha on Machinjiri-Limbe. Time check is 7.27am. The traffic jam on the ring road seems relentless.
Kuyewawa, who boarded the minibus at Khama before 7 am, is not amused that the 10km drive to her workplace takes over 30 minutes.
But she is not the only frustrated resident as these delays become a daily drawback, especially during peak hours.
Travelling in the morning, at lunchtime and after knocking off in the evening has never been easy.
Zione Phiri, a Zingwangwa resident, wants an end to this slowdown.
“Gone are days we left home at 7 am and arrived at work by 7.30 am. Nowadays, we leave as early as 6 am and pray that the roads should be clear,” she laments.
Phiri works at Ginnery Corner and boards a minibus that leaves her township for Ndirande via Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
“When we reach Kamba Bus Stop, we usually find an endless jam, with vehicles stretching into some blurry distance,” she says.
Those who drive to work are also equally affected.
Every morning, Jacob Dinemu, from the populous Bangwe Township, has to navigate past a labyrinth of cars in Limbe.
“The road from Bangwe through Limbe down Masauko Chipembere Highway is a thicket that becomes thicker in the evening when returning home,” he said.
Those using public transport have to endure more hold-ups as minibuses frequently stop to pick travellers.
In 2015, the rapidly growing population of vehicles compelled Blantyre City Council (BCC) to come up with plans to construct bypass and detour roads to ease congestion.
Three years on, the Ndirande-Makhetha bypass project has stalled.
“The road has been built 50 percent. But the Limbe-Mpingwe-Bangwe has been built completely,” says BCC spokesperson Anthony Kasunda.
But traffic on the Limbe-Mpingwe-Bangwe Road is low. Motorists still prefer using the Robert Mugabe Highway which they consider the most direct.
Kuyewawa arrived in Limbe at 7.55 am. The hopes of reaching her workplace on time were long dashed. She was late. Her fate was no longer in her hands.
In this rush hour, panicky and impatient motorists frantically overtake one another, blocking the way in the process, causing further delays as drivers hoot and insult others for not following traffic rules.
Retired engineer Benjamin Kapoteka worked with the Ministry of Transport and Works in the 1980s. He was involved in the design of Chilambula Road in Lilongwe as well as Masauko Chipembere Highway, Churchill Road and Kanjedza Road in Blantyre.
He said these alleyways were designed according to the demands of their time.
“Then, the population of cars on the roads was not as high as today. When constructing roads, we gave a projection of five percent traffic growth rate. But now engineers need to increase the projection as more cars pour in,” he says.
The futuristic man feels road expansion projects are sluggish.
But BCC says there are long-term measures to deal with the problem in the city.
One of them include a one-way traffic system they are developing in Blantyre central business district (CBD).
“The council is working with the Road Safety Council, police, Road Traffic and different institutions to end congestions,” says Kasunda.
In the interim, he adds, the council plans to construct bypasses from Namiwawa to Sunnyside, Makhetha to Ndirande, Queens to Chitawira, Misesa to Manja, Chigumula to Mpemba, Michiru to Chileka, Matindi-Njuli and Mzedi-Chigumula.”
“We are also considering constructing a dual-carriageway from Chileka Road at Kameza Roundabout to Clock Tower. It is also in our plans to increase the Zalewa Road to Kandodo corner shop,” Kasunda explains. n