Raditsela lives on the outskirts of the non-descript, desert-like farming town of Ottosdal in the North West Province of South Africa. Like his fellow 22 Tswana colleagues, Raditsela is used to walking the 10km to and from the hot and dusty Witpoort pyrophyllite Quarry where he works as a miner: Unless lucky enough to hitch a lift, until recently the miners’ only other alternative to walking was the prohibitively expensive local taxi service. But all that changed in August this year after Peter Ringdahl, the raw materials manager of the mine, heard about Afribike, promoters of alternative, low-cost and sustainable transport options in Africa.
After Peter contacted Afribike it wasn’t long before the Witpoort Quarry team took delivery of twenty-two Swedish Kronan bikes – modern-produced retro bikes based on the original Swedish Army design – precariously packed onto the back of his bakkie. As the overloaded truck pulled into the quarry there where whoops and whistles of excitement from the team of miners. A few minutes later the cargo was unpacked and Raditsela and his friends set to assembling the brand new shiny bikes with great zeal.
The Kronan military bike was specifically chosen for its sturdy functionality and the simplicity of the design – making it easy to assemble and repair. The bike’s fitted with a rear carrier, a dynamo driven headlamp and a bike pump. Some even have a specially designed front carrier that can easily take a 10kg sack of mealie meal and more besides.
The bikes retail in Sweden for £240, but through Afribike, each bike was bought for a marginal fee of R600 (about £50), which also covered the delivery and import duty costs. R400 of that came from Idwala Industrial minerals, the mining operator, and Witpoort Quarries, the mining contractor. The remaining R200 (£16) is to be paid off by the miners themselves over next few months, the idea being that their contribution will instil a real sense of ownership.
The bikes have had an enthusiastic reception from the miners. One, Honger, explained: ‘The bike will save me a lot of money, I now won’t have to take the taxi and I can use it to go to town to do my shopping’.
‘I like the bike rack because I can carry many things,’ added Mojeje, another.
‘You can’t find strong, good bikes like this in Ottosdal,’ said Raditsela as he adjusted the seat and handlebars of his green machine, registration BD 606.
‘My wife and children can have a ride on the back and I can get strong legs’, grinned Solomon with clouds of red dust puffing beneath the tyres as he gleefully whirred along the road for a test ride.
Not that these are just bikes for work, the miners have already formed the Witpoort Quarry Kronan bike team and pledged that they will all participate in the annual Ottosdal bike race. As I watched the group disappear into the dust and heat of distant Ottosdal, clearly delighted with ‘det grona alternativet’, I was certain they’d be true to their word.
To find out more about how Afribike work, and how you can help, check out their website.