The operators of minibuses, colloquially known as “chapas”, which provide much of the passenger transport in Maputo, went on strike on Monday morning for several hours, demanding the right to hike their fares, in response to the latest rise in fuel prices, which, they claim, makes their business unsustainable.
“We want a readjustment of the fares, because the price of fuel keeps going up. This business has become unsustainable, it’s like we are working for nothing”, said one chapa driver, on condition of anonymity. Without higher fares “there are no conditions to work”, he claimed.
“We have lost the ability to fuel the buses and we are being forced to park the vehicles”, said another driver, also speaking anonymously.
The latest fuel rise was announced last Friday by the National Energy Regulatory Authority, (ARENE). The price of a litre of diesel rose by 11.4 per cent from 78.97 to 87.97 meticais. For petrol, the increase was 4.4 per cent, from 83.3 to 86.97 meticais a litre. This is the first time that diesel has become more expensive than petrol at Mozambican filling stations.
The chapa owners did not warn the public in advance that they intended to take their vehicles off the roads. Huge queues built up at the main bus stops, as people tried desperately to find ways of getting to work.
“There is no transport. They say they can’t take us because the price of fuel has risen”, declared a woman at one of the city’s main bus terminals.
“Everything is unsustainable. To eat is already a problem, and to make matters worse, the price of transport goes up every day”, declared a man who identified himself only as Mário.
Shopkeepers have closed their stores, fearing looting. “We are prepared for anything. We know that there are many opportunists in these crises, so we have not opened our stores”, said one shopkeeper, who sells beauty products. “In times of crisis, shopkeepers are the main victims. We have been vandalized all the time.”
The government went into immediate negotiations with the Mozambican Federation of Road Transport Operators (Fematro), and reached an agreement which should lead to the immediate suspension of the chapa strike.
According to a report in the independent newssheet “Carta de Mocambique”, Fematro accepted a proposal made by the government last week, under which the operators will be allowed to increase their fares up to a certain point. The government will subsidise, not the operators but the passengers themselves.
But it seems that these allowances will only be paid to passengers using the “Famba” electronic ticketing system.
For a few days the chapas will continue to use the old fares. The government promises to compensate the operators for the days spent with the old fares.
Nothing like this new system has been tried before, and it is not at all clear how it will work in practice.