When we met Joyce Mapira on March 10 on the bank of Livunzu River in Chikwawa East, she was exhausted from crossing many rivers on her way to Mitondo where she teaches.
But the Mitondo Primary School teacher, who had gone to Blantyre a week before, was not alone in this desperate attempt to cross the river.
There were business people from Fatima, boys from Livunzu Trading Centre, cattle herders and many others anxiously waiting to go across.
The heavy rain from March 5 to 8 damaged the bridges and culverts on the 60-kilometre road from Thabwa on the M1 in Chikwawa to Fatima on the East Bank. The overflowing rivers rendered the road impassable for five days until the waters subsided.
During this period, no car was travelling on the road, making mobility for people difficult in the area.
“I delayed my return from Blantyre where I had gone before the rain because no cars were travelling to Mitondo. Even now, they are not. So I got a kabaza [motorcycle] from Thabwa,” she says.
When the motorcycle reached Livunzu River, she disembarked to wade in the waters to the other side. The motorcycle was then carried across by some boys whose work is to help people cross the water points along the road.
Medson Namkwemba, 21, from Mfunde Village in T/A Makhuwira is one of the boys helping people cross Livunzu River. He charges K100 to guide a person or carry a bicycle across.
“For a motorcycle, we need two people to lift it. So I involve friends to help me. We charge K200 to take it across. Every day, I help about 20 people cross this river by either carrying their goods or guiding them,” he boasts.
At the end of the day, Namkwemba makes about K2 000.
His trade has contributed to increased travel costs from Fatima, Masenjere or Mitondo to Blantyre. People from Fatima used to pay K5 500 to Blantyre on matola. Those from Mitondo would pay K4 500 while those from Livunzu would pay K3 500.
“But today the journey from Blantyre to Mitondo has cost me K10 000 because the kabaza operators at Thabwa are overcharging,” she complains.
John Chiyenda is the kabaza operator who is taking Mapira to Mitondo and he attributes the high fares to extra costs of involving others in carrying his motorcycle across rivers.
“There are many points on the road where bridges have been washed away. I have to pay K200 for people to carry my motorcycle across,” he says.
The kabaza operator spends K1 400 to reach Mitondo and another K1 400 back to Thabwa. In total he spends K2 800.
The high costs of travelling on a journey that was otherwise affordable is forcing some business people not to go to Blantyre until waters levels reduce in the rivers to enable vehicles drive by easily.
The road challenges have not spared local communities around Nkhate, Livunzu and Mitondo whose itinerary involves crossing rivers to the trading centres. The locals say they cannot do without markets, maize-mills and other services at trading centres.
At Nkhate, we saw a woman who had gone to the maize-mill on the other side, struggling to wade in the waters.
“I just have to cross the river to the trading centre where there are many services. I cannot do without a market and other things found there,” she says.
Other roads apart from the Thabwa-Fatima Road have also suffered damage during the four-day incessant rain two weeks ago.
Still in Chikwawa, the M1 was cut off at Domasi, 500 metres away from Kamuzu Bridge. For two days cars could not go either way.
Again, the Blantyre-Mulanje Road [Midima] suffered damage at Thuchila where a contractor is putting up a new bridge. In Mangochi, four bridges were washed away on the Mangochi-Makanjira Road and Mpatamanga Bridge on the Chileka-Mwanza Road was damaged.
In an interview, Minister of Transport and Public Works Jappie Mhango bemoaned the damage to the roads, describing them as a setback.
According to Roads Authority (RA), K4.6 billion is needed to rehabilitate major roads and bridges. n