16 Apr, 2015

Jozi goes for a ride


Thousands of Johannesburgers dusted off their bicycles and took to the streets of the Northern suburbs to take part in the Freedom Ride as part of Cycle Jozi Week. One of them, Jen Law from, tells us her experience and another, Hugh Fraser, shares his photographs.

On 22 March, we rode our bicycles through the streets of the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. It was the day after South Africa’s Human Rights Day public holiday.

Our busy lives have caused us to forget the significance of the public holidays, especially those that fall over weekends.

How many of us remembered that Human Rights Day commemorates the tragic day back on 21 March 1960? On that day, the South African Police opened fire, without order, on a crowd that had gathered in Sharpeville to protest the humiliating and degrading pass law which required all black people to carry a “dompas” and produce these passes whenever the police requested it.

As we mounted our bicycles for the third edition of Freedom Ride Jozi, did we remember that on that fateful day in 1960, 69 unarmed people were killed and 180 were injured?

The Freedom Ride should mean exactly that for us – FREEDOM – free to run, walk, and ride through any street in South Africa without harassment or intimidation; and may we never forget how we got here and always be grateful.

The song by Starship “We Built this City” resonated in my head as we set off after 07:00 outside the Gautrain Station in Sandton and headed towards “Sandton Extension”, better known as Alexandra township. We passed the industrial zone of Wynberg.

I read in a national newspaper the next day that the prospects of entering Alex township became too much to bear for some riders, and they turned back to the comforts of the slick urban Sandton streets at this point.

I had the complete opposite attitude, I wanted to take in the sights and sounds of Alex. I saw shebeens, shacks, spaza shops and huge rats as big as cats in the narrow, congested streets.

Residents took photos of riders on their cellphones, riders took photos of residents on their cellphones – everyone just took pictures of each other. Bewilderment all around – I guess not an everyday sight for either the residents of Alex or the cyclists.

Of course, no township experience would be complete without buying a quart of Black Label from a pavement reseller!

Some riders just had to buy beer at 08:00 on a Sunday morning! The experience is certainly memorable – I never really get to venture into the streets of Alex, and outside the confines of my locked, safety-filmed, SUV. Soweto is one thing, but Alex for me (in my limited view) was an eye-opener. The filth, the poverty, the lack of basic services on the doorstep of Gauteng’s most affluent suburbs is astounding. Although the presence of satellite dishes per square kilometre is probably higher than most suburbs!

Once out of Alexandra township, you can’t not notice the wealthier contrast of standards of living in Waverley and Rosebank. Where else would you get gardeners walking eight immaculately trained Labradors at a time?

Or nannies pushing their employers’ toddlers in prams, waving to us from street corners, while their parents enjoy a few more hours under the duvet or a croissant with their double Nespresso!

We climbed and climbed many of Johannesburg’s little known hills. Yes, Jo’burg is certainly not flat. Take Bolton Avenue in Rosebank for instance – our own baby version of Suikerbossie. Thank goodness for the cool, overcast weather!

Once around the corner into Oxford Road it was downhill back to Sandton and into the Mushroom Farm Park, a delightful little park in the heart of Africa’s most expensive commercial and tourism heart.

This time around, there was no huge Mandela celebratory cake; but we did have well-stocked water points with enthusiastic volunteers who urged us to take water sachets.

Johannesburg Metro Police did a sterling job of marshalling every intersection, keeping irate motorists at bay, so we could safely cruise the city.

It’s a pity cycling etiquette lacked a bit on the day as the expression “thank you” was hardly heard. Also, a big shout out goes to the cleaning crew who walked the route picking up empty plastic sachets, gel packets and any rubbish left lying behind in the streets.

At this point, I climb onto my soapbox and will remind cyclists that we should take our rubbish home – this is why we have back pockets!

I cannot wait for the next Freedom Ride, rumour has it that it is going national, and I hope so! One Ride, One Day, for One Country!