Maputo — The Mozambican police claimed on Thursday evening that the situation has returned to normal in Maputo and the neighbouring city of Matola after disturbances in protest at an increase in bus fares.
The director of operations in the police General Command, Antonio Pelembe, told a press conference that there had been incidents in which burning tyres were used to try and block roads, and stones were thrown at vehicles.
The main points affected by the disturbances, he said, were the Maquinag area, close to the toll-gate at the end of the South Africa-Maputo motorway, the neighbourhood of Zimpeto, close to the national stadium, the sprawling informal market known as Xiquelene, and a stretch of Avenida de Angola, near the Imperio cinema.
He said that in all cases the police brought the situation under control without using anti-riot equipment. No bullets were fired, and there were no injuries, much less deaths,
Although Pelembe he did not have an exact figure for the number of people detained, he said it was "less than ten".
He denied that the disturbances were a mass phenomenon or represented popular resentment against the fare rise. Pelembe claimed that most of the population "accept the fare rise", after the drive by the City Council to explain the reasons for it.
However, people were angry that many drivers of the privately-owned minibuses (known colloquially as "chapas") were still shortening their routes, thus obliging passengers to pay twice for what should be one journey. Pelembe said that "small groups" had attempted to take advantage of this discontent, and were behind the arson and stone throwing.
Unlike the previous riots (in February 2008 and September 2010) there was no looting, and no damage to private property. The stones thrown at some vehicles did not cause any serious damage, Pelembe said.
The fare rise means that a journey of up to ten kilometres by chapa now costs seven meticais (about 24 US cents), an increase of 40 per cent on the previous fare of five meticais. For journeys longer than ten kilometres, the fare rises from 7.5 to nine meticais.
The Maputo City Councillor for Transport, Joao Matlombe, told the press conference that if, as the associations of transport operators are promising, the chapas now stop shortening their routes, the new fares will actually save passengers money.
For by shortening the routes for which they are licensed, many chapas have forced passengers to pay two fares of 7.5 meticais rather than one. If the routes are no longer shortened, "people who have been paying 15 meticais will now pay only nine meticais", Matlombe said.
Matlombe denied that the disturbances had forced the municipal bus company, TPM, to take its buses off the streets. When AIM pointed out that this had indeed happened in parts of the city, such as Hulene, Matlombe denied that this was a general phenomenon. He said that TPM had 105 buses in service and they covered most of Maputo and Matola throughout the day.
TPM has 220 operational buses – but since the buses run at a loss, the company puts less than half of them on the streets at any one time. One of the reasons for the fare increase is to provide additional funds for TPM so that it can put its entire fleet to work.
Both Matlombe and Luis Munguambe, deputy chairperson of the Mozambican Federation of Road Transport Operators (FEMATRO), urged all chapa drivers to work as normal on Friday. Indeed, Munguambe claimed that chapas are already back on the roads, and could transport students who need to go to night classes on Thursday.
Munguambe claimed that FEMATRO has always been opposed to route shortening and promised to take tough measures against any chapa driver who continues to cheat his passengers by refusing to drive the full length of the route for which he is licensed.
Despite claims of a return to normality, by early evening there were still very few vehicles on the roads of central Maputo, and most shops remained closed.