In a small township called Dlamini in Soweto, where bicycles are the epitome of cool, a spark lights up in the eyes of Mpumelelo Mtintso, 29.
“I’ve always loved bicycles,” he beams. “Being a kid in Soweto, a bicycle was like a car for us … and for Christmas you would expect a bicycle. If you didn’t get one, you would be disappointed.”
Mtintso’s first business venture was a marketing company he opened in 2013, just after graduating from college. He then went on to start a bicycle tour company with his brother-in-law before venturing out to start his own bicycle tour company.
Through his unique bicycle tour packages, he aims to promote a healthier lifestyle and the importance of literacy among children in his community.
He said it was the perfect choice for him because he always loved meeting new people and exploring new cultures.
“I like adopting new cultures and learning about different people and how they were brought up, so it made it easier for me because I’m not a person that can keep a friendship or a relationship for long.”
After a few years of working with his brother-in-law, he decided to start up his own tour bicycle company, Book Ibhoni, on the famous Vilakazi street in Soweto.
His ideas included offering discounted bicycle tours in exchange for books, which he would donate to libraries and schools in his community.
The book component of his business materialised when he observed his peers participating in the #FeesMustFall campaign in 2015. Although he wasn’t a tertiary student at the time, he felt that the struggle also related to him.
“During the fees must fall campaign, there were snide comments saying that it was the youth’s excuse to be lazy, especially those that did not want to go to school and who didn’t know how to read or write. So, I wanted to contribute positively.”
In his years of growing up in Dlamini, he went to a number of township schools and says it exposed him to the low literacy levels in schools and prompted him to want to make a difference.
“Given where we come from, everyone preaches that education is power and key to the future, but yet no one is doing anything about it. You say knowledge is power, but you are not willing to share yours with the next person.
“That’s when I thought, [our household] has books in the garage and they’re not doing anything, what am I doing to help the community?”
It was then that he decided he would create a unique package for his clients that no one else in Vilakazi Street was offering: an exciting tour that included hiking, beer tasting and more. He said he has formed good relationships with the businesses in the area that allow him to do this.
He also organises events where he engages with the children of the community and reads books to them.
“I’m the only guy in Orlando that is doing this – and this is specifically aimed at the locals to learn more about our community,” he says.
He held his last community outreach event on his birthday in September, with a fun day at a children’s home in Orlando West.
Mtintso and his friends donated the books they had collected and also clothes and nonperishable food. He estimates that about 80 to 100 children were in attendance. They also read books with the children and organised outdoor games for them to play.
“It was such an emotional day when we saw the turnout. So many people came to support us. We even got the chance to see the small infants in the [children’s] home!”
Mtintso says the impact the event made on him was immense as it showed that his initiative and company was making a difference in his community.
“Growing up, we never had anyone doing this for us, so it feels good to be doing something different for the kids that will change the way they interact with books and their general outlook on life,” he says. “Sometimes, we even ask [clients] to bring a book that changed their lives, so we can read it to the children.”
He would like to start up his own NGO in Orange Farm, where children can go to for assistance with their homework.
“The main goal for the NGO is to upgrade the skills of the kids, especially reading skills,” says Mtintso.
While he is happy to inspire the youth in his area and promote literacy and education, it hasn’t come easy.
“My parents are still not convinced with this bicycle thing. They say it’s a hobby,” he laughs. “It’s hard to follow your dreams in this day and age but when you’re ready, find out what you want to do and go for it!”
Bryan Tracy’s “Kiss the Frog” is by far one of his favourite books. He says its balance between motivational tips and business inspired him to start up something of his own.
But for now, he runs his bicycle tour company on a daily basis and offers a package for R450. It includes a walking and bicycle tour around Orlando West, wall climbing, beer tasting and hiking.
“We accommodate everyone!” he says.