What You Need To Know
Blantyre is Malawi’s centre of finance and commerce, and its second largest city, with an estimated 1,068,681 inhabitants as of 2015. It is sometimes referred to as the commercial capital of Malawi as opposed to the political capital, Lilongwe. It is the capital of the country’s Southern Region as well as the Blantyre District. The Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), the country’s state broadcaster and the provider of one of Malawi’s television channels, has its headquarters in Blantyre. The Supreme Court is located here. The city houses the College of Medicine, the Malawi Polytechnic and the Kamuzu College of Nursing, constituent colleges of the University of Malawi. The Malawi College of Accountancy is also headquartered there. Its rather unconventional location has meant that Blantyre is surrounded by Mount Soche, Ndirande mountain, Chiradzulu mountain and Michiru Mountain which consolidates the Michiru Mountain Conservation Area. Blantyre supports a small expatriate population of about 25,000, mainly from the United Kingdom, the rest of Europe, and South Africa.
Area: 228 km2
Population: About 25,000
Blantyre City, the commercial and industrial capital, has a strong solid economic base for sustained economic growth and a diversified modern economy offering a wide range of employment opportunities. The commerce, trade and industry sector is the leading driving force of economic development in Malawi, second only to agriculture and, therefore, a major contributor to GDP. It is by far the major employment generator in the city and has the greatest multiplier effect on the urban economy. The city is Malawi’s industrial centre with many manufacturing plants. There are eight designated industrial areas:Makata, Ginnery Corner, Maselema, Limbe, Chirimba, South Lunzu, Maone and Chitawira. Of these Makata, Ginnery Corner, Maselema, Limbe, Chirimba and Maone are actively hosting industries whilst South Lunzu is yet to be developed. The existing industrial sites are further categorized into heavy and light sites. Makata and Limbe, for example, are the sole heavy industrial sites hosting more than thirty companies. While Chirimba industrial area is designated a heavy industrial area, it is the least developed in terms of number of industries. Apart from Makata, Ginnery corner industrial site is another active site followed by Limbe and Maselema. The least are Chirimba and Maone industrial sites. Chitawira and Maselema are classic examples of light industrial areas. All the industrial areas are located along the banks of the main rivers or streams of Blantyre city. Makata industrial area lies between Mudi and Nasolo streams whilst Ginnery Corner industrial area is along Mudi River. Maselema industrial area exists along the Naperi river and Chirimba stream hosts Chirimba industrial area. There are several rules for treatment of wastes in the industries, but disposal of untreated wastewater into drains and, subsequently, into the city’s major streams is very common, thus posing a potential health and environmental risk to the people in Blantyre and downstream. Other sources of water pollution in the city such as runoffs from domestic and agricultural activities and vehicle emissions have been identified. Previous studies have indicated substantial heavy metal pollution in the city’s water bodies including streams. Major changes in industrial activities have occurred in the city including decrease in volumes of wastewater generated by David Whitehead company which used to be a major contributor of wastewater effluent in Makata industrial area; change of ownership and wastewater management of Cold Storage Company; closure of the Shire Bus Line; doubling of wastewater generation from both Carlsberg and Chibuku Products due to increase in production and installation of some industrial pretreatment plants such as at Chibuku, Plascon and Dulux. Manufacturing contributes approximately 14% to GDP. In the period 1996–1999 the sector showed 0% growth, partly due to the rapid liberalisation of markets exposing Malawi’s manufacturers to competition from South Africa and Zimbabwe. The sector is still hampered by monopolistic behaviour (cotton), trade barriers, lack of access to capital, illegal imports, and unpredictable implementation or lack of implementation of existing bilateral trade agreements. The employment structure includes formal and informal sectors, together offering employment that is estimated to be between 50,000 and 55,000 jobs and absorbing 62% of the labour force. The formal sector employment consists of primary, secondary and tertiary industry subsectors, and the informal sector is principally small-scale business operations. The tertiary or services industry subsector is leading in terms of employment creation and importance to the economy of the city; it employs 26,074 people accounting for 56.5% of total formal employment. The secondary industry subsector employs 18,824 people principally in manufacturing and accounts for about 41% of the total employment. Information on informal sector activities is scanty or non-existent. But a recent study by Africon and field investigation under the Blantyre City Environmental City Profile, leads to the conclusion that it is a substantial and vibrant economy, offering employment to about 4,500 people who would otherwise be unemployed. Blantyre is home to the Malawi Stock Exchange located on Victoria Avenue, the heart of the city. It opened its doors in November 1996 and operates under the Capital Market Development Act 1990 and the Companies Act 1984. Before the listing of the first company, the major activities that were being undertaken were the provision of a facility for secondary market trading in Government of Malawi bonds namely, Treasury Bills and Local Registered Stocks. As Malawi’s main economic and financial hub, the city plays host to an annual international trade fair each May. The event seeks to showcase the best of Malawian commerce, industry, agriculture and information technology and opened under a theme of “Building Productivity Capacity to Achieve Export Competitiveness” in 2007. On January 15, 2007, it was revealed that Zimbabwe-based bus and truck building firm AVM Africa (Pvt) Limited will be investing over K100 million to buy and renovate a site in Makata with the intention of building buses and trucks in Blantyre. The company plans to employ about 1,000 people — all locals, in the manufacturing venture and AVM Africa is expected to subcontract about 10,000 others for production work.
The health care delivery system in the city has both curative and preventive health care services, and this is provided through a network of hospitals and health centres/clinics which are distributed in different parts of the city. The government runs Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), the biggest referral hospital in the country, which has a total of 1,000 hospital beds, and the three private hospitals, have a total of 122 hospital beds. The 18 public clinics are run by the District Health Office in partnership with the Blantyre City Assembly and service Bangwe, Chigumula, Chilomoni, Chirimba, Limbe, Ndirande, Manyowe, Masala, Mapanga, Misesa, Mzedi, Nancholi, Nkolokoti, Ntenje, Ntonda, South Lunzu, Zingwangwa and Civic Centre. There are several clinics run by religious organisations where people get paying health care services and those owned by statutory corporations/companies (serving their staff) such as ADMARC, Malawi Railways, Portland Cement, Lever Brothers, Tobacco Processors, and National Seed Company of Malawi. Following the liberalisation policy, the city has witnessed the establishment of many private clinics and hospitals (including Blantyre Adventist Hospital and Mwaiwathu PVT Hospital, arguably the country’s best medical facilities) which complement the few limited old facilities. The majority of these offer out-patient services while the few well-established ones offer both. Besides the city-based health services, many city residents make regular use of mission hospitals which are outside the city to the extent that these form part of the health delivery system of the city (Mlambe Hospital and Nguludi). In addition, traditional healers (herbalists) and traditional birth attendants play an important role in providing health care to the city residents. The health delivery system of the city is grossly inadequate. The public hospital wards are very congested and long queues are characteristic of outpatient services. The average clinic-population ratio for the city is between 25,000 and 28,000 persons per clinic, and the unplanned settlements are the least served with over 40,000 persons per clinic, compared with the recommended urban planning standard of 10,000 persons per clinic. Mwaiwathu Private Hospital and Blantyre Adventist Hospital provide the best medical services in the city, with many residents of Lilongwe travelling to Blantyre to receive treatment from them. There is also the Beit CURE International Hospital, one of the very few hospitals where hip and knee replacement surgery can be done in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The official language of Nigeria, English, the former colonial language, was chosen to facilitate the cultural and linguistic unity of the country. Communication in the English language is much more popular in the country’s urban communities than it is in the rural areas (comprising about three quarters of the country’s population). The other major languages are Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Ibibio, Edo, Fulfulde, and Kanuri. Nigeria’s linguistic diversity is a microcosm of Africa as a whole, encompassing three major African languages families: Afroasiatic, Nilo-Saharan, and Niger–Congo.
As the commercial center of Malawi, travelers come in from all over the region (including neighboring Mozambique) to stock up on supplies — food, construction materials, electronics, etc. The downtown area is full of Asian (Indian) run shops, as is nearby Limbe. A bustling market area popular with locals offers all kinds of fruit, vegetables, second hand clothing, construction materials, etc. at a cheap price. Newer Western-style shops are available at Chichiri Shopping Center, arguably Malawi’s largest mall. The mall offers consumers a wide range of facilities: banking and ATM services from First Merchant Bank (FMB), Standard Bank, NBS Bank, MSB Bank, National Bank of Malawi, Western Union and other Forex bureaus, telecommunication services such as Airtel Malawi, Telekom Networks Malawi, MTL, many fast food restaurants such as Nandos, Hungry Lion, Jungle Pepper Pizza, Curry Corner Indian Food, Shoprite, Games Stores, a movie theater, furniture shops, clothing stores, book stores, pharmacies, dental surgery, optician, Digital Photo Express, florist and hair dressers. Alternatively, Savers Choice is a well-stocked Asian-run store heading toward Limbe that caters to the expat community with hard-to-find food items, a good bakery, an ice-cream bar and candy shop.
Blantyre City is served by a road network totaling about 554 kilometres (344 miles) consisting of six categories of roads: designated, collector, distributor, residential, industrial and access (in descending order of importance or traffic volumes). Very few formal footpaths exist in the city besides sidewalks, although the predominant mode of travel is walking.
Traffic has increased tremendously in the past few years mainly due to the liberalisation of the economy and overall economic development growth. The most noticeable are private cars and minibuses which have completely replaced buses as means of public transport in the city. Minibuses, a main fixture in most African cities, begin services from the early hours while the last services usually finish by 7:00pm. The taxis mainly found outside the city’s top hotels, Mount Soche and Ryalls, provide an alternative mode of transport to the residents of Blantyre.
Railway services contribute enormously to the city’s status as Malawi’s main commercial and industrial hub. The Central East African Railway, formerly Malawi Railways, has its headquarters in Limbe. It operates through Blantyre to Nsanje, near the southern border with Mozambique which connects Malawi with the Mozambican ports of Beira and Nacala; Mchinji, near the border with Zamibia; Salima and Lilongwe; and between Nkaya and Nayuchi on the eastern border with Mozambique, covering a total of 797 kilometres (495 miles). There is a rail-lake interchange station at Chipoka on Lake Malawi, from where Malawi Railways vessels operate services to other lake ports in Malawi. In September 2007, President Bingu wa Mutharika commissioned locomotives donated by the Taiwanese government which will provide passenger train services from Blantyre to other parts of the country. Prior to this, a government subsidised passenger rail service operated three times weekly from Blantyre to Makhanga and the border with Mozambique at Nayuchi.
Chileka International Airport, located approximately nine miles from Blantyre city centre, has two runways which serve Blantyre with flights to South Africa and other African countries. The airport is the main base for the country’s flagship airline, Air Malawi. Chileka airport also houses important weather stations. In 2007, the Government of Malawi proposed expansion plans that are yet to be realised. In 2009 it was announced that the Government of Malawi was seeking partners for a $1 billion rehabilitation of the airport which will include the construction of a new terminal building and the widening of the current runway. The city has coach services which run from the city centre and Wenela bus station to Lilongwe, Mzuzu and other African cities including Johannesburg and Harare.
The climate of Blantyre is classified by Köppen-Geiger climate classification system as a Tropical climate (Cwa) and is greatly influenced by its location in the tropical zone and altitude. The city experiences the tropical continental climate with two distinct seasons in the year (three proper seasons). The rainy season is from November to April, with continuing light cold showers locally known as chiperoni from end of May to July. The dry season is from May to October. The mean annual rainfall is 1,122 mm (44.17 in), of which about 80% falls within 3½ months between November and March. The city is generally cool with mean monthly temperatures ranging from 19 °C (66 °F) during the cool season (May to July) to 26 °C (79 °F) during the hot season (September to November). There are particularly two spells of uncomfortable weather; the hottest season associated with high humidity soon before the onset of the first rains (end October to November), and the frost along rivers, mist and chilly showers and winds characteristic of the cold season in June and July.