Bicycles have been touted as one of the best ways to stem the over-reliance oil powered transportation and, at the same time, can significantly improve people’s health.
In Zimbabwe, bicycles are increasingly becoming popular, albeit for a different reason: money and economics. With a current world record inflation of 11,2 million percent and rising on a daily basis, many people in Zimbabwe are struggling to make ends meet with very meager salaries.
As a means to cope with high transport costs (a product of the Zimbabwe’s hyperinflationary economy), many workers have taken to bicycling in their hordes. Previously stigmatized as a sign of poverty, bicycles have taken on a new form as a means of affordable transportation to work.
Average salaries in Zimbabwe range between three to ten United States dollars, enough for three loaves of bread or a week’s transport costs. Bicycles thus help poor workers to avoid exorbitant transport costs. However, it is mainly men that have taken to using bicycles as a form of transport.
Unfortunately, the major roads in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, were not built with the bicyclist in mind which makes bicycling riding a highly hazardous act. Bicyclists are forced to ride at the edge of the road, often on stony gravel which makes the ride bumpy and uncomfortable.
If a bicyclist makes any mistake, the chances of being hit by oncoming traffic is highly likely.
To encourage the bicycling trend which has take a grip in Harare, and many other urban areas of the country, the central government will need to invest in constructing well-signed cycle tracks that are friendly to bicyclists.
In addition, there is need for social awareness programmes that inform people about the environmental benefits of bicycling besides the obvious and direct benefit of saving money.
In fact, the uptake of bicycling in Harare is replete with lessons that environmentally friendly initiatives have to be functional in daily life if they are going to prove successful. If people do not perceive a direct benefit in an environmentally friendly strategy, there is a high likelihood of minimal uptake.
Moreover, environmentally friendly initiatives need to make an appeal that goes beyond the abstract and cerebral, and actually prove that they can have an economic impact that can improve people’s lives and livelihoods.
While many people sympathize with the good arguments put forward by well-meaning environmental activists, as long as there is no perception of an immediate benefit in engaging in an environmentally friendly practice, there will be less people willing to take it up.
The fact that many women are not willing to take up bicycling is itself a worrying developing. Most likely, women are not willing to expend the high energy levels required to cycle. What this means in the bigger picture is that environmentally friendly strategies need to be gender sensitive in order to have a wider societal appeal.
Alternatively, environmentalists need to note the gender disparities and make relevant policy and practice formulations that take into account the needs of women and men.
In the meanwhile, for the ordinary cyclist in Zimbabwe, the roads are a death trap, and prayers need to be said before jumping onto a bicycle.
As the world gets a grip of the green consciousness, hopefully Zimbabwean cyclists will not have to mutter a constant stream of prayers for fear of being hit by fast-moving vehicles and, in the process, help to make the environment better.