A postcard from Malawi

May 3, 2008

 From Mabvuto Banda, Namitete, Malawi, May 2

 – Bernard Banda makes $5 a day carrying people on his bicycle, good money in a country
where more than half the 13 million people live below a dollar a day.
    “I charge MK70 (50 U.S. cents) per trip and on a good day I
make about MK700 ($5) or more,” Bernard says.

    Banda is not the only one cashing in on a bicycle transport
industry now booming because of the rising costs of fuel pushed
up by strong global oil prices.
    Along Mchinji road — the highway linking Malawi to Zambia’s
eastern province — colourfully decorated bicycles are neatly
parked, waiting to transport students to a nearby government
college, nursing staff to a hospital and visitors around the
    The bicycles are remodelled to suit the business. A second
seat is attached to the bicycle behind the driver’s seat. The
passenger seat is finished in colourful but cheap leather,
comfortably sized to accommodate any size of passenger.
    Stand by the roadside for just a few minutes and you can see
how important the bicycles are to the area.
    Bernard is hired to transport a bag of maize. Another 
driver picks up a new passenger and cycles off.
    “To do this you have to be strong because sometimes we ride
uphill carrying a passenger or hired to transport a bag of
maize,” says Langiton Sitima.
    This form of transport is fast-becoming a common sight
across Malawi. In each province the bikers are called by
different names.

Dear Mama
    “This form of transport is our future. I can no longer
afford to pay K150 ($1) a day for a one-way trip using public
transport,” says Maggie Yotamu, a student at the College of
Natural Resources which is along the route the bicycles service.
    In the capital Lilongwe and its surrounding districts they
call the bikers “Kabadza”, which means hard worker. In the
Northern Province they call them “Sacramento”, named after the
Brazilian buses that ply the long routes across the country.
    To underscore the importance of the bicycle, police have
been organising identity cards for these bikers.
    “In most cases police have moved in because we recognise
that they are giving a very important service to the public and
therefore we give them identity cards for security purposes,”
police spokesperson Willie Mwaluka told Reuters.

Pictures by Siphiwe Sibeko

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