The problem with problems is that after a time, no one sees them as problems any more. They become just a part of life.
One example is the appalling situation our children face going to and from school in urban areas. A latent war between bus conductors and students primarily causes this. And, as usual, we blame the bus conductors, insisting that they take more students and then do nothing.
When we see hundreds of students stranded at a bus stop for a very long time, when we see them being prevented from entering a daladala, we might mutter to ourselves but then do nothing.
However, if we get home and find our kid is late coming home, we will throw a book of blame at him, or especially her, even calling her a prostitute in the making, not realising she may well have been one of those hundreds, if not at that bus stop, but another one. And maybe severe punishment as well.
So, conveniently, we blame the bus conductors, and then we blame our kids. We also blame our kids for laziness; they don’t get up early enough to catch the first daladala at 5:00 AM before the adults appear.
We blame them for falling asleep in class because they do not get enough sleep. At most, we might worry that kids walking alone at 4.30 or 5.00 AM is dangerous and makes them highly vulnerable, but we don’t take any action.
Probably, we don’t take any action because we always blame the wrong people.
Let’s look beneath the surface.
Daladalas belong to the private sector. In what other part of the private sector are owners required to subsidise the government, which is what daladalas are needed to do?
Daladala owners pay taxes like any other private company, and they depend on their investment in transport to make a profit. Yet they are required to take large numbers of students at half fare.
The students may be travelling to ‘tuition’ for which they do not pay half price or be going to buy things at the market or shop for which they do not pay half price. Why are private operators of buses required to subsidise the government?
In other countries, particularly in public transport, half fares exist but only up to a certain age, around 15 years. It does not apply to everyone wearing a uniform, even adult students.
In the UK, for example, one of the fundamental principles of the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) is that it should be cost-neutral for bus operators. The general principle is that operators should be “no better and no worse off.”
They may not make a profit, but they also do not make a loss. Requiring them to make a loss, as happens here, is a recipe for mistreating students.
There is a hidden issue which has not been addressed at all. Bus owners may be less concerned about the issue of half fares because they lay down their requirement to the drivers and conductors that they must be paid a certain amount daily.
It is up to the driver and conductor to ensure that they generate the required amount and extra; otherwise, they do not eat themselves and can take nothing home for their families.
Every student they take reduces their chances of making sufficient money to pay the owner and have enough for themselves—no wonder they see students as ‘threats’ to their livelihoods.
As a result of this situation, which has been going on for thirty years or more, many students have been adversely affected. As stated earlier, they have to wake up in the dark and return home in the dark.
They do not get sufficient sleep, which also affects their performance in school. In worse cases scenarios, many have been assaulted, robbed, sexually harassed and even raped because of not being able to board buses like adult passengers.
In other cases, girls, in particular, have been known to form sexual relationships with drivers and conductors to get home early and avoid their parents’ anger, who had no such problems with travelling home.
Pupils have also been pushed off buses and injured. Others have asked for lifts, putting them at further risk from unscrupulous drivers. It shocks me to see even six- or seven-year-old kids asking for rides from drivers.
We know this happens, but it has become something we no longer notice, and we might even start blaming the pupils because they don’t show proper respect when pushing onto buses. We don’t want to ask ourselves why.
I think it is time the government – national and local– sat down with owners of the buses, drivers and conductors who are directly affected, and students themselves to work out a system acceptable to all parties.
It is unfair to force private sector operators to subsidise the government, and as a result, it is not fair to the students themselves. They are indeed the grass that suffers as different elephants continue to fight.
On another note, we always blame long-distance bus drivers for reckless driving. And indeed, many do drive recklessly. But have we asked why? Consider this scenario.
The driver goes to the bus owner and says, “Boss, you know I really care about your bus and the passengers. I have therefore decided that I will only drive at 80 kilometres an hour in the future.”
You all know what the boss’s reply is. I know drivers who have also been forced to drive their buses knowing there are problems with the tyres, brakes, etc. because the boss is not prepared to lose one day’s profit.
“Just go to Songea and back, and then we will see to the issue,” the boss would say.
Drivers are put under immense pressure to arrive faster, and when they make an error of judgement, like driving at high speed, they are always to blame. Isn’t it time we held their bosses accountable?
We can solve many problems if we identify who or what are the real causes of the problems.
Richard Mabala is an educator, poet, and author. He is available at firstname.lastname@example.org or on X (Twitter) as @MabalaMakengeza. These are the writer’s own opinions, and they do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at email@example.com for further inquiries.