Inside the book Ibhoni Café. (Provided)
- This bike tour operator has found a way to offer bike tours and, at the same time, get much-needed book donations to community libraries.
- By offering discounted tours to customers if they donate a book, Book Ibhoni has helped more than eight libraries with 3,000 books.
- Nominated for a National Tourism Award, the company goes beyond touring and looks for ways to educate community members in and around Soweto about how to ride a bike.
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In a garage; in a spare room of a house or in a shipping container are some of the places where communities in the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Area and Greater Gauteng have opened community libraries to help educate and provide facilities for follow-up to children and people from these communities.
It is to such libraries that Book Ibhoni, a bicycle tour operator founded in Soweto, donated 3,000 books. Soweto resident Mpumelelo Mtintso started operating his cycle tourism business along Vilakazi Street in 2018, offering a 10% discount for a tour in exchange for a book. A given book means you will only part with R585.00 rather than the full fee of R650.
Library Tour book delivery for Grow Your Life Library Project. (Provided)
“Tour de Libraries” is when the tour operator and cyclists go to a chosen library to deliver their collected books. Visits take place twice or once a year, the founder said. Later this month, Mtintso and the runners will embark on two stages to donate books targeting the inner Soweto community on March 19 and outside Soweto. On March 21, they will organize an external stage where they will travel 65 kilometers to the Bophelong Community Library in Vanderbijlpark.
Inspired by the #FeesMustFall protests that have taken place at South African universities, he sees and believes that through his business he is not only making bike rides affordable, but advocating for children’s access to resources and an education by providing books.
Drop off books at the Riverlea Library in Riverlea, Johannesburg. (Provided)
Through his project, he has helped tourists and businesses build relationships with community libraries beyond his involvement in book donation. “They are adopting and donating to libraries on a personal basis,” Mtintso said. Of the nine libraries he has helped, common requests, he says, are that they ask for books of African literature written in the vernacular, as well as children’s books.
When he started, the founder had no bikes or home base. Instead, he rented bikes from local businesses until he could buy his own stock. “My meeting point was Vilakazi Atreet, I would ask tourists to call me when they came to the street and I would meet them there.”
Cyclists who joined the ride to deliver books. (Provided)
Today, Book Ibhoni has 40 bicycles used for tours and a drop-off point, the Book Ibhoni Café, which opened in February and serves as a drop-off point for books. As well as a space for cyclists to gather after or before a ride. Mtintso also says that they service, sell and sell bikes. They were previously running a pilot program as a joint venture with the City of Johannesburg to teach the community how to ride a bike.
It takes you about two weeks or 45 minutes to learn to ride a bike, but he suggests taking lessons for four to five months to learn how to ride comfortably on the road as well as “to gain confidence.”
A member of the Book Ibhoni cycling team in front of the cafe. (Provided)
As an avid cyclist who has been cycling since 1995, Mtintso has escaped the importance of establishing and developing a cycling culture outside of the city. Recently nominated for a South African tourism award, the founder says the idea is not to focus on tourism but on cycling – to teach it to the community and to build a lifestyle around it .
He adds how he sees young children and teenagers in Soweto embracing bike culture by “supporting” their bikes. Clubs like Soweto Riders mimic drifting cars, but BMX bikes see young teens getting together and creatively transforming their bikes with colors, fancy rims, custom number plates and customizing the entire body of the bikes.
With their own cycling team that competes competitively. “This [the bicycle culture] is growing at an incredible rate. The culture and the market are there,” he said.