South Africans and Their Bicycles

Lifa Mabena, Esselen st., Sunnyside, Pretoria, South Africa: 'I've had it for the last six months, I like it because, you know, it’s light, when you are riding this bike you don't have to feel like you are riding something like a mountain bike with heavy wheels. This one is flexible and quick. This is my second bike, I had a mountain bike before. This bike is strong, it has thin wheels that last. I use it when I want to run errands, just to beat traffic, like going to the bank. I've got a car, but with this I save and the more I use it the more I exercise my body.'

Stan Engelbrecht and Nic Grobler are both South African and both cyclists in a country that doesn’t have much of a cycling culture. Instead, in South Africa and several other African countries, bikes are prized more for utility than leisure or sport: a good way to get from one place to another, an efficient way to make a delivery, an often dangerous way to crisscross through town, depending on how hectic the traffic is.

But there is still a wide range of reasons why South Africans own and use bikes, and Engelbrecht and Grobler recently set out to find out why. In a project that they hope turn into a hardcover photographic book (help them do so here where you can watch a vivid short film), they photograph and ask everyday South Africans about their relationships to their bicycles. Both the photos and the answers are surprising, visually arresting and a portrait of the new South Africa. The project is called Bicycle Portraits and many more photos can be seen here.

Henderson Gwadan and Samuel Manje, Cnr. Main rd. and Paddington rd., Diep River, Cape Town, South Africa: Samuel: ‘I’m coming from work and I’m going home now, to Plumstead.’ Henderson: ‘I’m going home also. To Capricorn. I’m coming from Plumstead. We just met each other on the road now! We’ve been friends for 2 years... we’re both from Malawi. We both rode bicycles in Malawi as well.’ Samuel: ‘We came to South Africa because Malawi has no work. Malawians like riding bicycles! And now I use the bicycle to go everywhere. I cycle to work in Hout Bay, Pinelands, Fishoek. All over we use our bicycles. I don’t like taxi’s because they always make us late!’

Louisa and Johanna Mokoaqo, Jan Louw st., Prince Albert, South Africa: Louisa: ‘If I want to go somewhere and I want to go quickly, I ride my bike. My boss, Juan, bought it for us as a present in December. We come from Lesotho. I like Prince Albert, it’s a nice place - I love it, especially in winter, sjoe! I never had a bike in Lesotho, I started to learn the bike here, in 3 weeks I got right. Last year September , October - but it was my twin sister who started to learn the bike, when she got it, I was jealous! I also wanted to ride a bike like my sister! And I got it! I love to ride a bike! Now I also want to put a crate on the back to carry something - my sister she put a crate on the back. When I do shopping I’ll be able to put it in the back.’ Johanna: ‘I think I inspired my sister to learn how to ride a bike, I did! I didn’t know how to ride a bike before, and I was just like - how hard is it? Last year August I decided to set a goal, I thought - I’m tired of saying I can’t do this, let’s try it! I tried and an I thought - this week, at the end of this week, definitely I have to know how to ride this bike! I didn’t fall, but still I was scared of falling! I learned balancing, up and down and little and my mind said - I can get into this! I taught myself how to ride, all alone! Louisa saw me riding and riding, and she tried it, and slowly but surely she got it right. And in December our boss gave us each a bike, they just surprised us, and we were so happy! It wasn’t long before we were on our new bikes! No one could believe I learned how to ride. People were seeing me and saying, “Sjoe, you ride like a crazy thing, eh! I can’t believe it is you riding a bike!” It’s changed my life, really!’

Ezweni Moyo, Oxford Road, Rosebank, Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa: 'I just use it for delivery. Maybe ten or fifteen times a day. Just around two kilometers, not more than that. I like it but it is not safe sometimes - too much traffic. I've never had an accident, I'm very careful. I don't have a bicycle at home, I used to have one when I was young. I have children back in Zimbabwe, they don't have bicycles, my dad is the one who has a bicycle, maybe they are using it.'

John Mungamba, Main rd., Diep River, Cape Town, South Africa: ‘I’m on my way to church in Maitland so I’m in a hurry! I bought this bike because of the train strikes, so I bought it for me to help me get to my job and church, and if I have to go somewhere then I just use this bike. I had it now for something like 3 weeks. I like it because it helps me! It helps me too much...’

Akhona Kuhlane, Sulani dr., Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa: ‘My name is Akhona Kuhlane and I am 17 years old. I got this bicycle from my friend. I asked him if he was still going to use it because it has some rust and he just gave it to me -so I can ride to school, I can go to Stellenbosch, just for riding... you see. Stellenbosch, also Cape Town - 2 minutes and I’m gone! It’s a powerful bike, you see. I trust it. I’m thinking of going to join a cycling club so that I can go places. Maybe be on television one day! Then I will ride and get paid for it! I want to fix this Colnago so that it can look like a new one.’

Marnus Human, Duncan st., Hatfield, Pretoria, South Africa: 'I cycle to get to work, I work as a waiter and I don't have a license to drive. So a bike is my only option. I live in Queenswood and work in Hillcrest, cycling everyday for three years now. I really enjoy cycling, as it keeps me out of trouble. You know I just made a choice, drugs or cycling... and cycling is the healthier option. This bike might not look like anything, but it means a lot to me.'


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  1. Pingback: 20 awesome expat blogs (Matador Network) | Anne Merritt

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