How apartheid killed Johannesburg's cycling culture
Racial segregation meant cycling lost status in South Africa earlier and more intensely than in the rest of the western world
- Cycling Cities: the Johannesburg Experience is published by the Foundation for the History of Technology
“The writer counted, in the space of only four minutes, 93 native cyclists riding past the Astra theatre,” wrote a journalist for the Star newspaper in July 1940. Standing almost 80 years later on the same corner of Louis Botha Avenue at the same time and day of the week – 6.30pm on a Monday – it is hard to imagine. The theatre is long gone and not a single cyclist is to be seen on the car-choked thoroughfare.
What happened to Johannesburg’s once vibrant commuter cycling culture? The dominance of the automobile marginalised the bicycle in many cities around the world through the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s but that process was accelerated in South Africa by apartheid. When policies of spatial segregation forcibly moved black people to faraway townships at the periphery of the city, the distance between work and home increased dramatically and cycling collapsed as an everyday practice.
It may be said of the Johannesburg child that he learns to cycle before he can walk
Members of Johannesburg Amateur Bicycling Club, a white leisure cycling group, in the 1890s
Alexander Township residents ride bicycles in 1957 as part of a boycott of bus services in protest at high fares
Left: two men pose proudly with their bicycles in 1922. Right: 1890s Johannesburg
Workers from a white working-class neighbourhood cycle towards the then city centre
Left: white children’s bicycles at an airshow. Right: Alexandra Township residents discuss the 1957 bus boycottContinue reading...