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Cycle of township life – can Langa become a model for bike transport?

Cycle of township life – can Langa become a model for bike transport?
A walkabout or 'talking streets' event was held in Langa to discuss the future of transport in the Cape Town township. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

Cycling is becoming popular in Cape Town’s oldest township, and a way to make a living.

A pedestrian crossing where vehicles almost never stop. Bicycle lanes obstructed by parked cars. An informal market that is starting to use bicycles to deliver their products.

These are some of the issues raised during a walkabout or “talking streets” event in Langa about the future of transport in the township.

Organised by the Langa Bicycle Hub and Human Sciences Research Council, the walk took City of Cape Town officials, local organisations and groups interested in mobility and public spaces around the city’s oldest township, which is celebrating its 100th year in 2023.

Mzikhona Mgedle, founder and managing director of the Langa Bicycle Hub, said they are doing this to connect government, the community and organisations to find better ways to improve mobility. They wanted to “redesign and rethink” Langa to have more cycling-friendly streets.

During the walk the group of about 20 stopped at a pedestrian crossing where almost no vehicles stopped for road users. A man in a wheelchair patiently waited while cars zipped down the street until he had a gap to cross.

Another stop was at an informal market where Mgedle explained that bicycles are being used to transport meat and other goods for informal traders. The Shoprite and Boxer stores have also started to use bicycles to transport goods to people’s homes, creating jobs.

Mgedle says that because these “innovative ideas” are happening, both the government and private sector need to support these businesses. He says many unemployed people are buying second-hand bicycles and starting to do these deliveries.

Growing bike culture

Nokwa Kha has been selling braai chops and sausage from the same market since the 1990s. She uses a taxi to take her meat to the taxi rank. From there she uses a bicycle service to take it to her shop. Kha said the problems informal traders face include a lack of electricity, no bins and a lack of place for branding. Despite this, she wouldn’t want to move. Working here, she is able to feed her family and put her children through school.

Langa cycling bikes

Nokwa Kha uses a bicycle service to deliver meat from the taxi rank to her shop. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

Two organisations that are using bicycles in Langa are Mgedles’s own Langa Bicycle Hub, which started by delivering medicine and food during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Today they also teach people to cycle, and hold workshops and tours.

The other organisation is Cloudy Deliveries, which does deliveries for restaurants, supermarkets and stores.

Read in Daily Maverick:Youngsters guided from despair to success by tutoring organisation in Langa

Mgedle said that bicycle culture is growing in the township. He said more people are cycling for work. Langa is central and it is easy to cycle, but there are safety concerns, he explained.

When travelling from Langa on bicycle, Mgedle sometimes uses the highway during peak traffic because it is safer. He does this because he has been pelted with stones near the flats in Athlone. He said people will try to steal your bike. “They can’t catch you so they will throw stones at you,” he says. But commuting on the highway on a bicycle is illegal and he has been fined R2,000.

“We must use our feet more and we must use our bicycles more,” said Western Cape minister of mobility Ricardo Mackenzie. He said that congestion in Cape Town is a problem, especially with rolling blackouts, and that roads need to be designed better.

He said we need to give people a reason to use bicycles by holding bike-friendly events, creating bike-friendly public spaces and building infrastructure for bikes.

Mgedle said many people see bikes as toys but for some who can’t even afford a taxi, this is their only means of transport. DM

First published by GroundUp.

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