Qhubeka: bicycles for rural development

2 May 2013

Team MTN-Qhubeka, Africa’s first UCI-registered Professional Continental cycling team, is the most successful and largest multi-discipline cycling race team in Africa, comprising 24 men and women of varying African nationalities competing in road, mountain bike and BMX racing.

MTN-Qhubeka races a full professional UCI-continental road and mountain bike schedule throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific. In March, it became the first African team to line up in a World Tour race when it took part in the Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy.

In the team’s follow-up race, the classic Milan Sanremo – at 298km the longest one-day race in world cycling – MTN-Qhubeka’s Gerald Ciolek claimed the first victory for an African team at World Tour level, while Songezo Jim became the first black South African rider to race a World Tour event.

‘Mobilising change – one bicycle at a time’

The team’s focus, however, is as much on youth and community development as it is on winning races – although the vehicle in both cases is the bicycle.

Through its partnership with South African non-profit organisation Qhubeka, the team helps rural African communities by giving bicycles to children in return for work done to improve their environment and their community: for every 100 trees grown to at least 30 centimetres, or for every ton of waste collected, Qhubeka donates one bicycle.

No ordinary bicycle, either, but a Qhubeka Buffalo Bicycle, engineered specifically for African terrain and load requirements, designed by World Bicycle Relief in Chicago, USA and assembled and tested in South Africa.

Qhubeka, in partnership with the Wildlands Conservation Trust, has distributed more than 40 000 of the bicycles since 2004, in the process making a massive difference in the lives of rural communities lacking a fundamental element of development: transport.

“Rural schoolchildren are particularly badly affected by lack of mobility,” Qhubeka notes on its website. “In South Africa, of the 16-million school-going children, 12-million walk to school. Of these, 500 000 walk more than two hours each way, spending four hours getting to and back from school each day.”

Creating community ‘tree-preneurs’

Providing bicycles is a quick, effective and economical method of addressing this problem, while doing this in return for growing trees helps to nurture community “tree-preneurs”, who grow trees from seed and then barter them for food, clothes, education support – and bicycles.

Eleven-year-old Katlego, who lives in Vosloorus in South Africa’s Gauteng province, is one of many who have used the opportunity to become a savvy micro-entrepreneur.

Having grown 100 trees in a milk bottle nursery in her family’s small yard, Katlego went on to grown 600 tree seedlings and bartered these for six Qhubeka bicycles.

One of these she uses to cycle to and from school, drastically reducing her commute time and so giving her more time for homework. The bicycle, designed to carry up to 250 kilograms, also makes it easier for her to fetch water, give someone a lift, or transport groceries.

And the other five bicycles? Katlego rents these out to community members for two hours at a time, bringing in money that has significantly boosted her family’s income.

“Qhubeka believes that human well-being is dependent on environmental health,” the organisation says. “Through our partnership with Wildlands Conservation Trust we are actively pursuing a world that is not only greener but provides more opportunities for those at the bottom end of the economic scale.”

SAinfo reporter