The song Nine Million Bicycles by Katie Melua is perhaps not the most inspirational song in the world. However, it does make you feel good, if you are even just a little bit as nostalgic as I am. Recently the Facebook social networking website has moved from a boring distraction to a powerful communication tool for me in the last two months. I cannot say exactly what the trigger is; maybe it is simply connecting with like-minded people directly and just in time.

One of those people is Anthony Fitzhenry whom I first met in May 2007 at the now defunct Futurex event. Anthony is the founder of a non-profit organisation, Qhubeka Bikes for Life, which helps poor, previously disadvantaged communities across South Africa purchase bicycles to solve a serious transport and movement problem that exists, especially remote towns or villages. This has been my first exposure to this project and it hit my like a ton of bricks…here is a real solution.

It was starring me in the face all along. And its especially poignant for me because I’ve been talking about purchasing a bike to increase my fitness levels. I’ve always hated jogging and the machines in gyms are even more mechanical. The beautiful things about a bicycle is that I can do some sight seeing while working out as well. In this day and age I suppose the environmental concerns are valid when it comes to reducing car pollution.

Anyway I still have to get my own bike but maybe the Qhubeka movement I can get one for me, and for the Uitenhage community. Taxi fare from the Rosedale, Gamble suburbs into the Uitenhage town area is R7.50 and that makes a return trip R15. Now multiply that by 5 or rather 6 days a week and you’re spending R90 per week on travel and a whopping R378 per month. That monthly amount is particularly important because its about enough to purchase food for a week if you stretch it. The taxi drivers, in my view, do very little to give back to the communities. They monopolise transport, especially in Gauteng where trains and in general, the entire public transport system, is horrendously unsafe and unreliable for a multitude of reasons.

Back to bringing Qhubeka to Uitenhage and the Kwa-Nobuhle township…this is really something tangible for the community to work towards. Its just ironic that most of the people working at the Volkswagen factory in Uitenhage, the biggest employer in the town, will never, ever be able to own the vehicles they are building.

Here’s some more from the Qhubeka Facebook group:

In the Nguni languages of South Africa , of which Zulu is one, Qhubeka means “to carry on”, “to continue”, “to progress” or “to move forward”.

Transportation is a fundamental element of development. Most of Africa’s rural population have no access to any form of transport and people have to walk long distances to access economic opportunities, education, healthcare, shops and other community services.

Rural schoolchildren are particularly badly affected by this lack of mobility. Of the 16 million children in school in South Africa, 12 million walk to school. Of these, 500,000 walk more than two hours each way, spending four hours getting to school and back each day.

The bicycle is the most effective and economical method of quickly (and permanently) addressing some of the problems relating to lack of mobility in the disadvantaged communities of South Africa. Bicycles play a vital role in advancing sustainable socio-economic development in both rural and urban communities around the world.

Some of the potential benefits attached to bicycle transportation include:

  • Cost effective transport
  • Environmentally-friendly transport
  • Time savings
  • Healthy extra-curricular activity