Maputo — Minibus drivers in the southern Mozambican city of Matola went on strike on Monday in protest against the authorities' crackdown against overloading.
The drivers claim that, unless they overload their vehicles, the activity is not sustainable and they cannot provide the owners of the minibuses with the daily revenue that they demand.
The minibuses, known colloquially as "chapas", still provide much of the passenger transport in Maputo and Matola, but, as one of the responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, the authorities are demanding limits to the number of passengers each minibus can carry.
Many of the strikers drive 15 seater minibuses - and the authorities now insist that 15 is the maximum number of people that such a vehicle can carry. But before the pandemic these minibuses carried many more people: the drivers crammed in as many as would physically fit, and are now demanding the right to do the same again.
This was a strike for the right to endanger public health and the lives of passengers, but the drivers interviewed by AIM seemed to care only for the money they collect and deliver to the vehicles' owners.
One driver, Jorge Tembe, told AIM that the demands made of the minibuses "don't make sense", because the large buses, both publicly and privately owned, do not face the same restrictions on the number of passengers they can carry.
With the current limits on passenger numbers, he said, he can't even pay for fuel and vehicle maintenance.
"We have been obeying the restrictions", he claimed, "but we can't bear it any longer. The large buses are carrying lots of passengers and nobody talks about them".
A second driver, Armando Mucavele, claimed that the authorities had always harassed the chapa drivers, and the police had extorted money from them. "Now they are using Covid-19 to press us still further", he said. "Why don't they put pressure on the public buses?"
Most Matola neighbourhoods were affected by the strike. Only vehicles of the Maputo and Matola municipal bus companies and some owned by private associations were on the roads.
The strikers resorted to violence to keep all chapa drivers in line. At the Malhampswene terminal in Matola, AIM witnessed strikers vandalising a minibus which attempted to carry passengers. Only police intervention saved this driver from a beating.
Open pick-up trucks, known ironically as "my loves", were seen transporting passengers around Matola in the afternoon, but they too were threatened by the strikers.
The Mayor of Matola, Calisto Cossa, urged all transport operators to resume their activities. The current situation, he said, was one which required responsibility from everyone to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Representatives of the chapa drivers promised him that they would put their vehicles back on the roads, but asked the authorities to analyse their demands and find "a half way house" so that nobody is prejudiced.