I previously mentioned the Rural Bicycle Initiative I headed up in South Africa from 1998 to 2003 when I was in the kwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport. The project involved the establishment of sustainable bicycle micro-businesses to sell and maintain bicycles in rural areas in South Africa. The concept was first trialed by Afribike in two pilot projects I had the privilege of leading.
In 2001 the Shova Kalula project of the National Department of Transport rolled out the program throughout the country with a promise to distribute 1 million subsidised bicycles by 2015. Through this we established another 10 micro-businesses in kwaZulu-Natal.
The program was hamstrung however by a reliance on donated recycled bicycles from Europe and America. Although this scheme worked reasonably well for the initial small pilot projects it fell apart for the nation wide roll out because the supply of bicycles was not reliable. So cheap mountain bikes were procured and distributed, but they were not popular. The poor standard of the components meant they were wrecks in no time. In 2006 the program started buying California Bikes, a purpose built bike designed for rural communities in Africa.
(picture from Wheels4life)
The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) designed a hardy 6-speed and single speed bicycle for rural areas that is now the standard bicycle distributed under the Shova Kalula program. It has a steel frame (so that it can be welded to repair or modify), a rack and few accessories and moving parts to minimise maintenance. ITDP have some info on their program to roll out the California Bike throughout Africa.
The bicycles are used extensively for transport in these communities because there is no other option for local trips.(Photo: Maryann Shaw)
I was reminded about the program when I saw some photos of the California Bike (branded Shova Kalula under the South African program) on a friend of a friend's web site. She recently wrote an article for Mobility Magazine on an empowerment. To read the article you need to register on the site.
It is great to see the program still going after almost 10 years at one of our first sites established in kwaJobe, close to Durban. It feels good to have been a part of something great like this.