Maputo — Dozens of drivers of mini-buses (known colloquially as "chapas") went on strike on Monday in the northern Mozambican city of Pemba, in protest at what they called "excessive inspection" of their vehicles by the traffic police.
According to a report on the independent television station STV, the chapa drivers blocked one of the main avenues in central Pemba, and prevented any vehicles that had not joined the strike from circulating.
"We paralysed our activities because the traffic police are always carrying out operations directed against the chapas", one of the chapa drivers, Jose Guambe, told STV. "Systematically our vehicles are taken to the police command, and they cannot leave without paying 2,000 meticais (about 32 US dollars)".
The strike disrupted the city, as people who had boarded chapas found that they were unable to complete their journey. At several of the city's bus stops, long queues built up. Eventually the police sent a contingent to end the blockade of the main avenue and to disperse the chapa drivers.
The police had a radically different version of events from the one given by the strikers. "Unfortunately, many of these transport operators don't have licences, and that's what caused the demonstration", said Ernesto Madungue, the spokesperson of the Cabo Delgado Provincial Police Command.
The 2,000 meticais, he claimed, was not a fine, but a bribe. "A driver tried to corrupt one of our agents with about 2,000 meticais, because he was unable to show his licence", said Madungue.
He warned the chapa drivers that, in order to transport passengers, they must possess a public service driving licence. Furthermore "they must check the mechanical conditions of their vehicles and, above all, they must ensure that their vehicles are not overcrowded, and respect the limits imposed by the measures against Covid-19".
"Our operation will continue", he promised, "and we shall not tolerate illegalities on the roads which often endanger the lives of citizens".
Only one person, the driver who tried to bribe a police agent, was detained, and traffic returned to normal in central Pemba after about an hour.