Now this is how to ride out a pandemic. Meet Soweto’s money ...

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Now this is how to ride out a pandemic. Meet Soweto’s money spinners

With a deft switch of purpose, a bike tour operator has turned a downturn into a great little earner

Journalist
Book iBhoni was given huge thermal backpacks which safely store food and goods on the riders' backs so the bikes did not have to be modified.
Hot ticket Book iBhoni was given huge thermal backpacks which safely store food and goods on the riders' backs so the bikes did not have to be modified.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

Sowetan bicycle entrepreneur Mpumelelo Mtintso, 31, watched his business disintegrate as Covid-19 took hold. As borders closed, so did the grip on his Book iBhoni bicycle tours, and by March more than 40 tours he had booked for April started cancelling – with full refunds on their bookings. 

So Mtintso decided to put his pedals to a different use – as a local cycle courier service. And he’s never been busier.

“I’ve always had the idea for a bicycle courier service but the cycle tours just kept me so busy I never had the chance to develop the idea. Cycling is big in Soweto and it is a fantastic way to see the township. What we did was introduce tourists to the smaller Soweto businesses.

“Anyone can go to the big restaurants, but they are full of tourists. We take people to where the locals hang out, where we eat and drink and do our shopping. I wanted to carry that over to the courier business. The smaller businesses can’t afford to use traditional food delivery.”

Mtintso said his most frequent deliveries were for shoe-cleaning companies and for local designers. Delivery of local foods such as Skop (sheep’s head), trotters, Khotas and pap is very popular on weekends. 

Book iBhoni was given huge pink thermal backpacks which safely store food and goods on the riders’ backs so the bikes did not have to be modified.

Their clientele is predominantly young people and their most popular delivery is an item of clothing from the Sula lifestyle clothing brand founded in 2016 by Vusumuzi MrCooper Makhubo. Mtintso said he delivers at least one item of clothing from the designer a day. But he said the calls for bottle store deliveries are picking up.

Without the delivery service I would not have made any money during lockdown, but I was still able to do my job and make an income.

The Book iBhoni courier service has partnered with local businesses in Soweto to deliver to people in the township and to the rest of Johannesburg. 

“We have also partnered with the bigger courier services to perform the ‘last mile’ service. Some parts of Soweto can be hard to navigate, but we know the neighbourhood. We meet the delivery vehicles and take packages from the vehicles to the recipients on bike. There have also been instances where trucks have been hijacked or looted so some companies won’t come into certain neighbourhoods – we handle those packages.”

Now, not only is he able to keep his business afloat, he has managed to hire extra staff. His core staff complement went from two permanent riders to five and an extra five riders working part time. 

Book iBhoni started as an unplanned consequence of the 2016 Fees Must Fall protests. 

“There was this push-back from people about the attitude of the youth, that we are lazy and want handouts. I wanted to prove people wrong.”

Book iBhoni's most frequent deliveries are for shoe-cleaning companies and local designers.
In the bag Book iBhoni's most frequent deliveries are for shoe-cleaning companies and local designers.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

Mduduzi Mnisi, 24, of Mdu Cleaning Services, is one of two shoe-cleaning services in partnership with Book iBhoni. He started the business two years ago because he couldn’t find a job. 

“Without the delivery service I would not have made any money during lockdown, but I was still able to do my job and make an income.”

Mnisi’s gleaming handiwork costs R40 for a standard pair of shoes, R50 for white shoes and R80 for suede, and is sealed in crisp, clean packaging for R15 extra delivery with Book iBhoni.

The cycle courier service charges R15 for a 5km delivery with R2 for every extra kilometre and they charge a R40 standard rate to courier companies for last mile deliveries.