Situated next to the affluent district of Sandton in Johannesburg, you’ll find the densely populated township of Alexandra. Like the more well-known Soweto, it is a place of great poverty, but its vibrant community and fascinating history make a visit there a unique and unmissable experience. What better way to explore it then, than by bike?
The History of Alexandra
It’s important to know a little about Alexandra before exploring there. Established in 1912 (before the Natives Land Act, 1913) and named a ‘native township’, it was one of the few places where black people were able to own land under freehold title in urban areas. By 1916 there were 30,000 inhabitants, and then in 1948 under the National Party’s apartheid policy, Alexandra was put under direct control of the Department of Native Affairs.
In the 1960s, the government decided to demolish all family accommodation in Alexandra and in its place build single-sex hostels. This plan was met with widespread resistance and objection from residents. This, coupled with the high costs of building the hostels and the lack of alternative accommodation for those affected, meant that the scheme was cancelled after only 2 hostels were completed.
From 1980 onwards there have been several attempts to revitalize and rejuvenate Alexandra, with varying levels of success. In recent years there has been a large investment in improving the town’s infrastructure, and while there are still difficulties, today it is a bustling community with warm and welcoming locals.
From bike tour to business
One Alexandra resident whose mission it is to showcase the positive side of his hometown is Jeffrey Mulaudzi. In 2010 Jeffrey set up his business, Mulaudzi Alexandra Tours, showing tourists the sights of his beloved town by bicycle. The idea was formed when Jeffrey was asked by one of his teachers, a French hockey coach at his school, if he would take him and a friend on a bike tour of the township, allowing them to interact with their surroundings and get a real feel for the place. The tour was a huge success and inspired Jeffrey to launch his business – he even used the money he earned hosting that initial tour to buy his first bikes!
Why choose a bike tour?
Jeffrey wanted his tours to stand out from the competition and believes that the organic nature of his tours is what sets them apart: “Our tours are not planned, the main purpose of our tours is for our clients to meet the community and be part of the community,” he says. He takes people through Alexandra and tells them about its history, including a visit to where former president Nelson Mandela lived as a young man. The tour also visits a local shebeen where you can try Umqomboti (African home-brewed beer), and there is an option to stop for a traditional lunch.
Clients get to truly experience the way of life and warm atmosphere of township dwellings by bike or on foot. Jeffrey explains that clients get most excited about meeting the residents, and the locals love it too: “They get excited and happy because it shows that people are keen to know their township and are no longer afraid, as they were in the past.” When asked what’s been his most memorable tour experience he replies, “It’s hard to say, all the tours are memorable.”
The next adventure
Not content with running an award-winning tour business, Jeffrey’s showing his entrepreneurial spirit with 2 new ventures designed to benefit the South African people. He is involved with a library in Limpopo called The Business Library, which helps young people develop into successful entrepreneurs, and he has also launched a bicycle sharing system. This social venture lends bikes to children who have to travel long distances to get to school, allowing them to save time travelling, and giving them more time to study. At just 25 years old, Jeffrey’s accomplishments are pretty impressive and his future looks set to be very bright.