Words: #CountryCyclist Ian Macleod
I’ve seen the black and yellow of Qhubeka around town, on their vehicles and online. I knew they had a pro team and ran a cycling charity of some sort, but it was only last week that I decided to satisfy my curiosity about what this oddly spelled entity actually does.
In fact, they didn’t start out in cycling at all. The goal was to push for internet access in rural school in South Africa. However, as founder Ant Fitzhenry soon discovered, “some children walked three hours to get to school and were exhausted by the time they got there.” In that case, pillows might be more useful than access to the web. But Ant and Qhubeka had a better idea: the humble bicycle. Founded in 2005, Qhubeka has since distributed more than 44 000 bikes, each one reducing one child’s school commute time by as much as 75%.
I spoke with Ant to find out more about this innovative strategy.
#CC: The entity has some striking differences to most charities. What are the keystones that make Qhubeka unique?
AF: We don’t believe in giving something for nothing. All the bicycles handed out in our programmes have been earned by the participants. They can earn bicycles in return for work done to improve communities, the environment or academic results. Having a bicycle changes lives by increasing the distance people can travel, what they can carry, where they can go and how fast they can get there.
#CC: What are your most important achievements thus far?
AF: The willingness of big companies to support Qhubeka. We have been delighted at the major brands in the world who’ve come on board. People like Coca-Cola and MTN getting involved is really good for us.
#CC: What is the next milestone you’re chasing?
AF: The goals are still the same. Our objectives are still clear. We’ve distributed 44 000 bicycles. It is humbling because it sounds like a big figure but it’s a small drop in the ocean when you think there are still 12 million children walking to school.
#CC: How does the pro team fit into your strategy?
AF: The awareness the team has brought to the charity has completely surpassed my expectations. Team MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung was registered as Africa’s first professional continental team and proudly carries the Qhubeka brand wherever it races. Allowing the pro team to carry our brand introduces Qhubeka to audiences that might otherwise be unaware of our work. It also gives the kids who earn bicycles through our programmes a chance to see that a bicycle isn’t only a means to access education, it can also be a career and a vehicle to achieve their dreams.
Still in the afterglow of entering the world of cycling, I can’t endorse Qhubeka enough. The humble bike continues to amaze.
Anthony Fitzhenry is a founding member and director of Qhubeka. In 1998 Anthony founded Axiz (Pty) Ltd, which grew to become the largest IT distribution company in Africa. In 2003 he spearheaded the development of an Employee Ownership Trust, which allowed all Axiz employees to become employee owners and to democratically influence and benefit from the future growth of their company.