In South African cities the majority of commuters are served by a relatively unregulated transit system that includes walking and catching a minibus taxi. There is little infrastructure to support these informal transit options, and there is sometimes conflict between informal transit operators and formalised services like bus and commuter rail operations; and often tension between informal operators and private car users.

There is a need to ask questions about how best to make space and provide infrastructure for pedestrians and other non-motorised transport modes in our cities. Tanya Zack will discuss her research about the trolley-pushers who are a key part of the waste recycling industry in Johannesburg; and Andrew Wheeldon, from Benbikes, will share his experience of promoting cycling as a mode of transport in Cape Town.

This seminar also presents an opportunity to think about South African cities in the future where movement systems are more sustainable and integrated. Richard Dobson from ‘Working for Warwick’ will explain how this strategic transit hub in Durban has included informal sectors of the economy through participative development and operating strategies. Finally, Thabisho Molelekwa, spokesperson for the SA National Taxi Association, will share the taxi industry’s experience of shifting from informal and unregulated operational models to more formal transport services like the Rea Vaya bus concession in Johannesburg and the Santaco airline that is operating a service from Johannesburg to the Eastern Cape.

Each presenter will discuss the opportunities and challenges presented by informal movement systems, and share experiences and lessons about how to take advantage of opportunities and confront problems in this space.


  • Melinda Silverman, University of the Witwatersrand


MOVEMENT: the Bicycle

Andrew M Wheeldon, MSc - Bicycling Empowerment Network

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is a protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”
- Nelson Mandela, 2005

"Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race."
- H. G. Wells

Since c.1865 the bicycle has been a powerful innovation in movement by providing Mobility and Access for all. Democratic freedom, without access, is not freedom at all.

The long bike ride to freedom requires innovative techniques, partnerships, creative thought, reaching out to one another, and the enhancing of communities.

Bicycle mobility enables poverty reduction by offering opportunities. Improved bicycle mobility in both rural and urban areas results in:

  • increased social cohesion
  • greater access to food, clean water, education and employment opportunities
  • potentially reduces the negative impact of motorised transport on the environment
  • facilitates a greater sense of our SA community
  • we can see, smell, touch and feel the area through which we travel
  • and, as South Africans, we can learn so much more about one another

We can do this by building a model of community sustainability.

We also need to measure the extent to which the increased sustainable access/use of the bicycle as a form of mobility affects:

  • Economic poverty
  • Lower cost of mobility
  • Environmental poverty
  • Cleaner air, access to water
  • Societal poverty
  • We move with one another

Challenges to movement

  • distance
  • time
  • cost
  • infrastructure
  • weather conditions, topography
  • comfort and style
  • accessibility


  • bicycles are low cost, efficient, healthy and more convenient than one would think
  • bike paths, sidewalks, parks and public transport facilities are members of the same family, and distant cousins of private vehicle freeways and roads
  • if we plan the movement and mobility of all South Africans based on the needs of those most at risk, not the convenience of those most privileged at the expense of others, we will be planning truly democratic cities for all...

A brief history
Industrial transport & communication timeline:

  • 1771 canals and waterways
  • 1829 railways
  • 1875 rail, port, shipping
  • 1880 bicycles the chosen individual mode
  • 1890 cars (bikes alone only had ten years)
  • 1908 mass autos, electrification, radio
  • 1971 telecommunication, IT, micro-chip
  • 2005 renewable energies and transport
  • 2015? bicycles are the mass mobility of all

What has the motor car done?

  • The first documented fatality from a car accident occurred in Crystal Palace, London on 17 August 1896 when Bridget Driscoll (UK) walked into the path of a vehicle moving at 6.4 km/h (4mph)
  • In the 115 years since, the motor vehicle in its various forms has been responsible for 100m+ deaths globally
  • This is close to all the deaths in all the wars of the 20th century – estimated to be 160-200 million.

BEN South Africa
Our organisation was established in 2002 as a Civil Society Organization for public benefit. We imports used utility bicycles from Europe, China, US, Canada, Australia, and the UK.

BEN’s mandate is to:

  1. establish Bicycle Empowerment Centres (BEC’s) and train managers
  2. Train school children and adults in safety, skills, and the culture of using bikes
  3. Distribute bicycles to low income areas
  4. Facilitate expert exchange programs
  5. Advocate for bicycle infrastructure
  6. Inform policy development in Mobility

BEN has established partnerships with the Netherlands-based Interface for Cycling Expertise (I-CE) and the Shova Kalula (Pedal Easy) project of the South African National Department of Transport (NDoT), as well as the cities of Cape Town, Tshwane and Johannesburg.

NDoT’s Shova Kalula programme aims to address the issue of the mobility of children. Of the 13m + school learners in SA:
9m + walk to school; while
3m + walk more than 1 hour per day to school – resulting in absenteeism and fatigue.
BEN has been tasked with the programme assessment and the delivery of one million new bikes, supported by the Department of Education, to assist the travel of learners to school.

To date, the BEN Bicycle distribution includes:
Bicycle Empowerment Centre’s (BEC’s)
Schools – Primary and Secondary
Corporates/ Companies/ NGO’s
District Health Care Programs
Municipality staff (Transport, LA21 etc.)
DoT (Shova Kalula), with BEN as a service provider
Events such as Car Free Days; Bike to Work Days, Redhill Challenge, bike counts and bike park day
Involvement in the Tour d’ Afrique; Cape Argus Cycle Tour; Cape Epic,, and Big Ride In Day.

At the Velo Mondial 2006, economist Margaret Legum observed, on the role of bicycles in tomorrow’s economy:
“The history of labour arrangements shows a shift from slavery to serfdom, and to employeeship – broadly comprising people working for others; there is much evidence to suggest we are now moving to a new phase where work will comprise livelihoods rather than jobs, when people will work for themselves. The bicycle, as a means of transport, fits perfectly into this paradigm and, by its very nature, is profoundly democratic.”

Bicycle Empowerment Centres
The goals of BEN’s Bicycle Empowerment Centres (BEC’s) are:

  • An independent projects within every 5km radius
  • Unemployed, semi-skilled project managers trained and set up with businesses – to sell and repair and train
  • Training includes basic accounting and finance, bike maintenance, safety skills, project management, community liaison
  • Stock of bicycles + tools for the ‘container’ workshops
  • Linking of BEC’s with surrounding schools, organisations, infrastructure projects, tourism
  • To create a bike neighbourhood in your community.

To date, seventeen BEN Bicycle Empowerment Centres are having a positive impact on the lives of children and adults in the communities in which they are situated, through:

  • Bicycle training at schools:
    • Schools based and Adult training
    • Bicycle maintenance skills
    • Bike road safety skills
    • Learning to ride for the first time?
    • Correct clothing - for comfort and to look cool
    • Acceptance of peers
  • School route map training:
    • Safe routes to school;
    • Knowledge base – distances and time

Home-based Health Care Workers: with bikes, care workers’ visits have increased from 7 to 18 patients a day.

  • Policy and planning:
    • Workshops to establish safe bicycle infrastructure
    • Cape Town (BEN/I-CE MOU 2007)
    • Pretoria/Tshwane (BEN/I-CE MOU 2008)
    • Johannesburg (BEN/I-CE MOU 2009)
    • National Dept of Transport: policy advice
  • BEN CSO consulting
    • NDoT policy framework guidelines
    • City bicycle distribution programs
    • Linking planning and distribution projects

True democratic cities cater for those that are most at risk – be they economically, physically or otherwise challenged – in a dignified, friendly and welcoming manner. This makes for a fair, free, democratic and equitable city. The greater the gap of privilege and advantage provided for those with economic or social power over those without, the greater the inequality of the society. The bicycle is one of the brilliant inventions of the past 125 years that brings equality to society, that allows us to both move about and meet one another as equals, whilst demonstrating our compassion and care for the environment in which we live. With the simple and humble bicycle we are able to care for the environment, our health and for one another. It allows us all to be able to truly say ‘this is my city, place, environment - I can see it, breath it, smell it, and live it – and I can move freely and democratically about it’.

Working and living in Johannesburg: Insights into informal recycling

Dr Tanya Zack and Sarah Charlton, Johannesburg, 2011

“The world’s 15 million informal recyclers clean up cities, prevent some trash from ending in landfills, and even reduce climate change by saving energy on waste disposal techniques like incineration” (Chaturvedi 2009).

Informal recyclers1 comb the dustbins and sidewalks of residential and commercial neighbourhoods in Johannesburg for selected solid waste items with resale value which they load onto makeshift trolleys. On foot and with sheer muscle power they pull their loaded carts for many kilometers through the streets to privately owned buy-back centres where the waste material is weighed and sold.

Recyclers operate independently of labour regulations and protection, without employee benefits, using improvised transport, and frequently - inadvertently - contravening by-laws and city rules in their living and working activities. But they are intimately entwined with the formal, recognized systems of urban life: essential suppliers to registered recycling businesses, intense users of city roads, sidewalks and public spaces, specialised reclaimers competing daily with the crude appetite of the City’s Pikitup trucks.

The lives of recyclers reflect a wide variety of circumstances. Many recyclers sleep in conditions that are outside of formal residential accommodation.

Table 1: Informal recyclers’ nightly accommodation. Non-formal accommodation column 3, ‘rough sleeping’ column 4. (research conducted in 2009 by students in the course ARPL 3013 at the University of the Witwatersrand, School of Architecture and Planning)

Interviewee Nightly accommodation Non-formal accomm. Rough sleeping
1 Shack in Orange Farm X  
2 ‘In the bush’ close to where he is likely to get waste X X
3 In the open veld (grass) behind Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet X X
4 In a warehouse in Faraday X  
5 In a parking lot in Braamfontein X X
6 In a shack in an informal settlement in Booysens X  
7 In an park located behind a large dumpster X X
8 Under the freeway bridge in Newtown X X
9 Orlando East (type of accommodation not clear)    
10 On the pavement next to the depot in Bryanston X X
11 On the pavement next to the depot in Bryanston X X
12 Room in a flat in Doornfontein    
13 In the basement of a building in Hillbrow X  
14 At the taxi rank in town X X
15 In a park in Plein Street X X
16 At the recycling depot X X
17 Unoccupied house in Brixton    
18 Flat in Johannesburg CBD    
19 In a homeless shelter on Kerk Street in town    
20 Under the bridge in Newtown X X
21 Under the bridge in Newtown X X

1 An activity known by other names elsewhere such as ‘binning’ (Gutbertlet et al 2009) or ‘reclaiming’. In Brazil recyclers are known as ragpickers or catadores de lixo( da Silva et al 2005).

Many of the recyclers who sleep rough in the inner city go to homes elsewhere in Gauteng, at weekends or several times a month.

Table 2 below lists nightly as well as other accommodation used weekly or monthly, or visited less frequently (adapted from Bickford, Shapurjee, Ramokgopa, Raymond 2009).

Interviewee Nightly Weekly or monthly Longer term
1 Shack in an informal settlement in Orange Farm   Bloemfontein (whenever has money)
2 ‘in the bush’ close to where he is likely to get waste   KZN(last went in 2007 due to lack of money)
3 Open veld behind KFC in Glenanda


Mpumalanga (doesn’t go back by choice)
4 Vacant warehouse in Faraday with other people RDP house in Protea Gardens, Soweto (‘once in a while’) Nqutu, KZN
5 Parking lot in Braamfontein with girlfriend and friends. Occasionally food and shower at the Recreation building in Hospital Street, Braamfontein Shoshanguve(every week)  
6 Shack in informal settlement in Booysens (with 3 children) Government subsidised house in Tsakane, Springs (every month)  
7 ‘in the bush’ – in a park located behind a large dumpster Escort(once or twice a month) Mozambique
8 Under the bridge in Newtown House in Dobsonville, Soweto with siblings (every weekend) Osizweni, Newcastle
9 Orlando East   Mashaying. Fryburg, Free State
10 Street alongside the depot in Bryanston Orange Farm (every weekend - Friday to Monday morning) Lesotho
11 Pavement next to depot in Bryanston Backyard shack in Kaldevin rented from a friend for R250 (month end and public holidays) Free State
12 Shared room in a flat in Doornfontein   Lesotho (every 2 months)
13 Basement of a building in Hillbrow (with other recyclers) Shack in Diepsloot (every weekend) Zimbabwe (every December)
14 At the taxi rank in town   Komatipoort, Mpumalanga (whenever has money to go home)
15 In a park in Plein St Germiston (every month)  
16 On the street outside the depot in Bryanston Carltonville (every weekend) Lesotho
17 Unoccupied house in Brixton   Nkandla, KZN (once a year, usually December when it rains)
18 Flat in JHB CBD   Lesotho (every 2 months)
19 Homeless shelter in Kerk Street in town   Mabopane, Pretoria (never goes home by choice)
20 Under the bridge in Newtown RDP house in Evaton West (every weekend)  
21 Under the bridge in Newton RDP house in Evaton West (every weekend)  

These regular street sleepers have different motivations and housing needs from the city’s ‘destitute homeless’. Indeed some are property owners in their own right.

Recyclers choose to spend work nights in Johannesburg to save on transport costs; and to be ready to start their outbound journeys to suburbs very early in the mornings. They choose spacious places where their accommodation may be cramped but they are able to store their goods. Recycling work involves gathering and then later, sorting the load prior to having it weighed at the depot. Recyclers need space for separating and sorting bulky items and they need time to do this sorting. They also need place to stockpile items until they have amassed enough of a particular material to make exchange at the depot worthwhile.

The business of informal recycling depends on the prices paid by buy-back centres for particular categories of waste. Recyclers typically accumulate stock over the week, and on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings they sort the stock and take it to whichever accessible recycling station offers the highest price per category.

These were typical prices in 2010:

Table 3: Typical prices for resaleable waste in Johannesburg in 20102

Paul Motshweneng and his partner have both worked as recyclers since they came to Johannesburg from Lesotho in 2005. They live with their baby in a makeshift room, 2m X 2m, in an illegally occupied warehouse in Doornfontein. It is a building with no formal water or electricity services. From here Paul conducts his daily routes to the destinations (suburbs of Johannesburg) outlined in Table 4. He says the competition has increased and so he has to wake earlier and earlier to be first at the bins he works every week.

Table 4: Daily schedule of a recycler3:

2Amounts estimated by recycler Paul Motshweneng, interviewed by Tanya Zack, 2010
3As described by recycler Paul Motshweneng, interviewed by Tanya Zack, 2010

Paul’s Wednesday route is a return journey of some 34kms. On the way back he is pulling more than his body weight in waste and in wet weather it is a much heavier load.

Chaturvedi, B (2009) A scrap of decency. New York Times, August 4. Available at

Gutbertlet, J; Tremblay, C; Taylor, E; Divakarannair, N (2009) Who are our informal recyclers? An inquiry to uncover crisis and potential in Victoria, Canada. Local Environment 14: 8 733-747
Da Silva, M; Fassa, A; Siqueira, C (2005) World at work: Brazilian ragpickers. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 62 (10) 736-740