by in Qhubeka

Today I had the good fortune of witnessing the power of the Qhubeka initiative first hand. I attended the formal handover of Qhubeka bikes to a community who has earned this valuable transport mechanism through their own drive and determination. Through competing in the Freedom Challenge I hope to raise over 100 bikes that can be consolidated with the next community earned bike handover.

Below is the IOL press release for the occasion:


Wheels of fortune for green peddlers

May 31 2012 at 09:00am

Samantha Hartshorne

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Women from Wolf Informal Settlement in Vosloorus who benefited during MTN’s bike handover ceremony take their bicycles home. 24051212. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu 

Lillian Kembo, 47, steps forward to wheel away the third bicycle she has earned for growing 100 trees from seed in her small back yard in Wolf, an informal settlement on the dusty outskirts of Vosloorus.

Her first two shiny yellow bikes, with the word “Qhubeka” on the crossbar, are used by her teenage children to cycle to school and carry water and groceries, but Kembo says this one is for her brother-in-law who “does too much” for her.

Qhubeka (“To carry on”) rewards community members in 80 nodes around the country, as far afield as Khayelitsha and Nelspruit, for environmentally responsible activities like growing trees, vegetables and recycling.

Kembo, known as a “tree-preneur”, says she has 1 500 saplings of various heights growing in discarded 2 litre plastic bottles, which she sells back to Qhubeka when they are 1m tall.

In the case of recycling, the community members “bank” 1 000kg of plastic, tin and paper to earn one bike.

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An excited Nkosi Mchunu rides his bike at Wolf Informal Settlement in Vosloorus during MTN’s bike handover ceremony in conjuction with Qhubeka and Widlands projects. 24051212. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu 

According to Anthony Fitzhenry, director of Qhubeka, they can trade for other items, like Jojo water tanks, and many sell the bikes for cash.

Hlengiwe Mthembu, 30, hands over the 120 bikes, mostly sponsored by MTN, on the bare soccer pitch. She says Vosloorus is now home, even though she grew up in northern KZN.

She has run the Wolf-Qhubeka project for four years since Wildlands (the Conservation Trust that conceptualised reward programmes for communities) transferred her.

“They wanted someone to surrender themselves to Johannesburg.”

Qhubeka also provides support to health-care workers, schools and aims to send the first African team of cyclists, chosen from around the continent, to the 2013 Tour de France.

Operating since 2004, Qhubeka has responded to SA’s unique situation and in line with their motto, “hands up, not hands out”, have handed out 140 000 bikes in all.

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Evans Ntshangase rides his bike at Wolf Informal Settlement in Vosloorus during MTN’s bike handover ceremony in conjuction with Qhubeka. 240512.Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu 

With a goal to put 12 million kids on bikes by 2017, Eleanor Mitrovitch, general manager of MTN Branded, says they support the project because it has a tangible aspect.

“We like it because it rewards and empowers the people rather than simply handing out help.”

While instilling a culture of recycling and home industry, a Qhubeka bike also encourages enterprise as the owners (many of whom are children) do chores for cash.

The frame can support 150kg of weight and the sturdy back-rack, made in Joburg, can carry a sibling to school.

As Kembo hands over her ID book, with her one-year-old on her hip, she is briefed about the bicycle by the area’s facilitator.

The bikes are made of solid steel, with extra-thick rubber tyres and back-pedal brakes.

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Young boys gather around bikes at Wolf Informal Settlement in Vosloorus during MTN’s bike handover ceremony in conjuction with Qhubeka and Widlands projects. 240512.Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu 

They are assembled in Pietermaritzburg. The cost to make up the bike is about R1 500 after assembly and shipping. But, says Fitzhenry, “it’s worth millions in the right hands”.

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