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Mandechu: Tributes flow freely for smart, humble veteran city driver
Seldom do people shower praises on a matatu crew member; because majority love to operate in a world that has no respect of the rule of law or decency. In their world, it is their way or the highway.
But the recent demise of Buruburu-based former driver Gabriel Maina alias Mandechu lifted the lid on the fact that amidst the chaos in the industry, there really exists a few good men serving the public.
Maina’s death served to unite thousands of Nairobians, who happened to ride on the various matatus he has operated plying the city-Buru Buru route over the years; with torrents of warm tributes flooding social media pages.
What came out was that Mandechu as he was fondly referred to by matatu passengers and crews had captured the imagination of many across generations thanks to his discipline and more importantly, his unique manner of dressing.
He loved his all-white dress code and a designer cap resembling that of marines and pilots. Sometimes, he would dress like the famous American rappers.
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George Kihuria, his nephew, recalls that his uncle was a good man.
“That is why many people will remember him for long. He passed away on March 8. He had been unwell,” says Kihuria.
Mandechu, according to Kihuria, started as conductor in Eastlands before graduating to become a matatu driver. It is during this time that he pioneered the souped-up matatu culture in Buruburu estate in the early 90s.
“He was the brains behind ‘whistling exhausts’ in matatus (Kinyambi). Many described him as the “baddest” when he was spinning popular matatus dubbed Wrath, Definition and Drama,” he recalls.
At the time, Buru was the only hood in the city with coluorful matatus dubbed Manyangas with neat conductors and drivers known for winning hot lasses with free rides, cash, oversized designer jeans and vests worn on top of T-shirts.
“He was father of many and a loyal employee, who would drive himself to where his matatu was parked, get on the wheels and stay busy until close of business. He assisted many drivers before being absorbed by City Hoppa where he was working as operator until his death,” adds Kihuria.
“I Met him in June 1999, although he didn’t know my name, he made sure my journey from Buru to CBD was nywee. I would then take a South B mat to KIMC. Hata kama mathree imejaa, he would get me a seat. RIP madechu,” City Hall journalist Sarah Ndung’u posted.
“I remember this guy way back, the smart guy with a husky voice. You could not even think he was in the matatu industry....very polite, funny and loving,” wrote Frank Juma.
Another Buru resident Joy Njeri wrote: “I knew this man as very dedicated and loved his job very much. When I first saw him, I thought he was a police officer. He used to visit my place of work for lunch and we shared a lot.”