Feature: Brisk business for bicycle repairman

Joshua Mupfeki repairing a bicycle at Zengeza 2 shopping centre in Chitungwiza

JOSHUA Mupfeki, a bicycle repairer everyday endures cacophony at Zengeza 2 shopping centre in Chitungwiza, a dormitory town for Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city.

He has actually become accustomed to the noise, from foreign currency dealers soliciting for customers, loud car horns as commuter omnibuses crews tout for passengers, to imbibers, downing alcoholic  beverages while cracking jokes at bottle stores at the shopping centre. This is a typical and common hassle throughout the Zimbabwean economy.

And for Mupfeki, he is doing his bit to make ends meet repairing bicycles from under a tree at the shopping centre.

He is the only reputable bicycle repairman in the area and his reputation grows by the day as many people turn to cycling to beat the ever rising cost of transport.

The sexagenarian, who used to work in the pharmaceutical industry in the early 2000s decided to quit his job when Zimbabwe later experienced its worst economic hardships that resulted in the country setting a global hyperinflation record of 500 billion percent.

“I am a self-taught bicycle mechanic. I started repairing bicycles on a part-time basis and noticed that it was more rewarding than where I was formally employed in the pharmaceutical industry. I decided to resign from work,” he said.

It has now been more than a decade repairing bicycles for him, and the country’s continued economic turbulance is creating more business as many workers are now choosing to ride the 50 or so kilometre journey to and from their workplaces in Harare.

Poor wages means many are increasingly finding it difficult to folk out US$1 to US$1,50 single trip fare being charged by commuter transporters. Requiring US$10 to US$15 per week for transport, it now makes more economic sense for many workers to cycle to and from work.

“I have been working here for the past 15 years and I must be honest that I now earn a decent living. I record brisk business during weekends and holidays.

“Mostly on monthly average, I usually get US$400-$500 which is good to sustain my family to buy basic commodities, paying rentals and school fees.

“When I get overwhelmed with work I normally get the service of two guys who come on part-time basis to assist me.”

Although Mupfeki’s business is flourishing, he has also faced some challenges that are affecting its growth.

“I face numerous challenges in my trade mostly, buying fake bicycle parts from manufacturers, which do not last longer, which creates a bad image for my work.

“I have lost a number of customers after using the fake parts. It is a difficult situation since genuine parts are expensive,” he said.

“The most important thing is for council to give me a building to operate from where I can do my work without exposure to rain or cold weather.”

He once erected a small shed but the Chitungwiza Municipality demolished it, despite paying US$30 per quarter to work from under the tree.

Others have since noticed the rising use of bicycles and jumped onto the bangwagon, creating competition for Mupfeki.

In Zimbabwe’s major cities of Harare and Bulawayo, local authorities are responding to the rising use of bicycles by reconstructing cycling lanes which had long been disused and overgrown with grass.

Bulawayo City Council economic development officer Kholisani Moyo said: “Cycling provides affordable and independent travel for those who might otherwise have restricted travel options. Bicycles for many years offered increased mobility to many groups such as low-income earners, students, unemployed people and people living with disabilities who use wheelchairs as modes of transport.”

“Cycling is one of the sustainable transport solutions, unlike other modes of transport. Bicycles do not emit dangerous gases that pollute the atmosphere. This mode of transport is environmentally friendly, and can assist the city to achieve a green economy in line with [Sustainable Development Goals] SDG 13 on climate action.”

Harare, which is currently battling traffic congestion and chaos on the roads hopes to also promote the use of bicycles.

Council spokesperson, Innocent Ruwende said the local authority would start conducting awareness campaigns as well as rehabilitate cycle tracks.

“City of Harare is increasing awareness on active mobility. Three major events have since been held, Harare Bike Day in June 2022 and two open street activities in Highfield and Ridgeway North,” he told NewsDay.

“As a city, we have taken a position that new developments should have roads that have cycle tracks. All old cycle tracks will be rehabilitated when funds are available. Council is prioritising use of non-motorised transport.

 “We are also working closely with interested stakeholders in promoting safe roads for cyclists. A new usable cycle track measuring 800m was developed along Borrowdale Road through the mobilisation of funds by a citizen Jenna Hutchings. Soon, council intends to map out all cycle tracks and plan for more. We are positive that more people will take up cycling and that this mode of transport will be once more safer than currently perceived.”

I appears the southern African country’s economic downturn is at least creating something quite positive.

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