Children flock to the pied-biker of Khayelitsha

Bongani Ndlazi’s bicycle workshop on Mey Way in Khayelitsha. Photo: Zimbini Molisi.

A roof-high jumble of old bicycles piled on the sidewalk like a modern sculpture grabs the attention of motorists driving along Khayelitsha’s Mew Way.
The pile is made even more arresting by the shacks of wood and rusting corrugated iron that line the township’s main thoroughfare.

Khayelitsha, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Far from being an artwork, the bicycle scrap heap is a resource for Bongani Ndlazi’s pavement business which draws children from around the township to his front door.

Ndlazi is a bicycle fixer, and his scrapheap is his treasure trove of spare parts.

He’s been fixing bicycles since he was a child, starting with his own that was given to him as a gift. He discovered he was good at it, and more importantly, that he enjoys doing it. At first he was fixing his friends’ bicycles, and then took to asking children to collect parts for him.

Now 33-years-old, it is still something he loves doing, although his clientele aren’t able to pay him much. He tried to work as a security guard in 2007, he says, but stuck at it less than a year before returning to his bicycles.

“The children were crying when they saw me going to work because I was not getting time to fix their bicycles and play with them. Working for someone is not what I want. I love children and fixing bicycles,” he says.

His dream is to take care of children and keep them busy after school by teaching them bicycle mechanics. He said his prices are not fixed and he charges according to what needs to be fixed, as his customers are children who are not working. They pay by money they’ve scraped together from doing odd jobs or saving their pocket money.

Although his towering bicycle scrapyard has attracted so much attention that he is now tired of people knocking on his door and taking photographs, no-one has stepped forward to help develop his humble business.

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He believes Velokhaya – an initiative using cycling to involve children living in marginalised communities in a positive after-school activity – was his idea. He occasionally gets asked to fix one of their bikes.

As for his pile of parts being stolen by scrap collectors, he says the local scrap dealers always call him if someone hands in bicycle parts, and check with him. He also has younger relatives staying in the shack behind his pile of parts, and he has a shack across the road and so is able to keep an eye out for any thieves.

It does mean he is not able to go away to visit family in the Eastern Cape though, as his spare parts would be taken if he was away for any length of time.

He said it would be great if he could get a container or some other means to store his old bicycles and keep them safe, and perhaps build a little workshop so that he does not have to work on the pavement. He did approach Pick n Pay for sponsorship or assistance but says he was told that he needs to develop a business plan.

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