Maputo — Life in Maputo and the neighbouring city of Matola returned to normal on Friday morning, after a day in which the two cities had virtually closed down, due to fears that a bus fare increase might spark off riots.
Businesses that had closed early on Thursday have now reopened, and the flow of traffic on the streets is also back to normal.
It is now clear that the disturbances in Maputo and Matola were minor, when compared with the widespread rioting against the previous attempt to hike fares, in February 2008, or the two days of turmoil that followed an abortive attempt to increase the price of bread in September 2010.
Attempts were made on Thursday to throw up barricades in some areas, notably the Nkobe neighbourhood of Matola. Here residents told reporters they were complaining, not against the fare rise, but against the decrepit state of the main road, which is preventing buses from reaching Nkobe. Four people, accused of being the ringleaders of this protest, were arrested.
Elsewhere (such as in the outlying Maputo suburbs of Jardim and Benfica, on parts of the main thoroughfares Avenida de Angola and Avenida Acordos de Lusaka, and near the toll-gate at the start of the Maputo-South Africa motorway) burning tyres were thrown onto the roads, and stones were thrown at some vehicles.
Unlike the 2010 riots, this time the police were not taken by surprise, and moved quickly to disperse groups of youth and clear obstacles from the roads. The General Command of the police say that only a handful of arrests were made, and that the police did not need to resort to ammunition (either live or rubber bullets) or tear gas. There are no reports of any deaths or injuries during the disturbances.
In the first few hours of the morning, transport seemed fairly normal, with both the buses of the municipal bus company TPM, and the privately-owned minibuses (known as "chapas") circulating. So many people who live in the suburbs, but work in central Maputo arrived at their workplaces.
But when the reports of burning tyres and gangs of stone throwing youths spread through the city, the chapa owners took their vehicles off the roads. There was an exodus from workplaces, as people headed for home by whatever means they could find, often on foot. Most (but by no means all) shops closed.
Despite assurances by the police that the situation was under control the great majority of chapas stayed off the roads. In the late afternoon and evening, the only form of passenger transport available on the city streets were the buses of TPM. Television reports showed the large minibus terminal at the informal market known as Xiquelene totally deserted, with not a chapa in sight.
The Maputo City Councillor for Transport, Joao Matlombe, claimed that TPM never interrupted its services, and that 105 of its buses were on the roads all day.
But this was not entirely true. Journalists from the daily paper "Noticias" saw TPM buses parked outside a police station – their drivers would only leave when the police agreed to escort the buses to the TPM headquarters.
The fare rises for chapas authorised by the Maputo and Matola municipal councils is 40 per cent for distances of up to 10 kilometres. The fare rises from five to seven meticais (from 17 to 24 US cents). For distances longer than 10 kilometres, the fare goes up from 7.5 to nine meticais, a 20 per cent rise.
Passengers interviewed by the various media on Thursday were almost unanimous in saying that what they really objected to was not the far rise, but the practice of chapa drivers of shortening their routes. Many chapa drivers are illegally refusing to carry their passengers for the full route for which the minibus is licensed. So a journey which ought to have cost 7.5 meticais ended up costing twice as much.
For these passengers, the fare rise will actually cut their transport costs, provided the chapa drivers honour their promise to end route shortening.
At a Thursday night press conference both the director of operations in the General Command of the police, Antonio Pelembe, and the deputy chairperson of the Federation of Road Transport Operators (FEMATRO), Luis Munguambe, promised that stern measures – including the confiscation of the vehicle – would be taken against anyone who shortens the route they are licensed to operate.
Matlombe said that passengers should refuse to pay for a shortened route, and should denounce any chapa driver who continues to indulge in this illegal practice.
Chapa drivers claim they shorten the routes because they cannot make enough money to meet their costs, if they operate the entire route.