Mugabe brings Bicycle Licenses back into Harare

So Crazy Uncle Bob Mugabe is going to introduce bicycle licenses into the city of Harare ( – September 2016). The Zimbabwean economy is in tatters and this is a great way to kick start things! Tax the poor even more and then deprive them of their only mode of affordable transport. Genius.  But the average Zimbo can’t even afford a loaf of bread (not that he’s clear what currency to use – is it the old Zim Dollar – the one that was designed for Doctor Evil when he ordered a coffee in Harare: “That’ll cost one hundred billion million dollars!“; is it the old United States Dollar – the old filthy and dirty ones that America couldn’t use anymore; or the new Zim Dollar (like a version 2.0) which is based on the US Dollar but printed like the Old Zim Dollar? Capiche?)… Anyway – so back to the desperate Zimbos who can’t afford (or simply don’t know which currency to budget with) a loaf of bread. And the vast majority certainly can’t maintain a car – so let’s tax the bicycle user!  But will the Zimbos be tolerant of such a move? Well, as a start, Uncle Bob says if you don’t pay up, you will have your bike confiscated and face a penalty of up to 12 months in the slammer. Thats nearly as bad as being a homosexual in Uganda. But let me tell you why this will work in Zim: Citizen Preparation.

Its no secret that Bob has sent hordes of policemen running around Harare with large sticks with the sole purpose of beating people. We all saw the clips on Facebook just a few months ago. “Look – there is Blessings polishing shoes. He must be beaten!” says a khaki-clad policemen in a grainy film clearly shot on an old Blackberry. And over they’d walk (at least 8 of them) and then poor Blessings would get a proper hide tanning for what appeared to be no reason. Jokes aside – it was brutal to watch and makes most of us living South of the Limpopo pretty glad we’re not living in a country under the leadership of some crazy leader with an ego problem that the rest of the word laughs at who is robbing the country blind! (Hang on. Oh wait….er…OK. That was awkward). But let me carry on: bicycle licenses will work in Zim because Uncle Bob has already started this campaign of “Street Terror”. And you would simply be too scared NOT to have a license. The streets and the citizens have been prepared for this. I know this works because I was a victim of this phenomenon and I’d like to share that with you:


Grahamstown: fond home to many scholars; drunk Rhodes students; and providing bottle stores for many Eastern Cape pineapple and beef farmers

In 1986, Grahamstown was a vibrant little town. I was 12 and I used to ride my bicycle about 7km across town to school and back each day. Unlike today, I felt safe on the roads and didn’t worry about wearing helmets and all that stuff. The roads were safe because back then we had this thing called Apartheid. And no – I’m not referring to the fact that minibus taxis weren’t allowed to drive through white areas or that “potential muggers” had to be in “their” part of town after a certain time. Not at all. I’m referring to the fact that everyone was scared of law enforcement in those days. When that canary yellow Police van pulled around the corner, you behaved boy. There was no messing around or horseplay. Hell, you didn’t even speak English to these guys. Because as kids we were all told about how a policeman could take you to the station and cane you. Oh yes – even ill-behaved white kids were targets for grumpy rum and coke cops.

Simply put – you obeyed the law because in those days the law didn’t ask permission. And you feared it. And we would see that when the police raced into the townships in their large yellow Samils alongside the SA Army Caspirs into the black clouds of burning rubber…Old South Africa wasn’t for sissies. Its no wonder there are still a lot of pissed off people out there. But it was also tough if you were 12 years old and you owned a bicycle. Because in those days we also needed bicycle licenses! And for those of you who are old enough, you will remember how we would unscrew a bolt off the front fork and reattach it with your coloured licence disc.


An example of classic bicycle license discs

But what good is a license without the fact that it needs to be monitored? Grahamstown had that issue firmly put to bed with the local meter maid: Penny. A diminutive figure who was part human; part dragon, Penny would patrol the Grahamstown pavement beat with the seriousness of an undertaker and the wrath of the grim reaper himself. I’m too afraid to even wander she did at night, but when the covenant let her out in the mornings, she had no problem telling a large pineapple farmer resting on the bonnet of his Isuzu KB250 bakkie that he had better put 10 cents into the meter or he was getting a fine. She had no fear, did Penny.  Remember how we as kids would love to twist that parking meter trigger all the way down and then watch as the needle jumped back up? Every kid loved the feel and sound of twisting a parking meter…. Her other purpose was to monitor any kind of traffic violation on the bustling streets of Grahamstown.


If you remember this, you also remember attaching an old playing card onto your frame with a wooden clothes peg so that the spokes flicked off it, making you sound like a motorbike. So cool….

So the one day I’m freewheeling on the pavement near Bryan Bands Sports shop by the court houses (transgression #1) and I almost bump into Ms Dracula herself. It must’ve been a full moon celebration with the rest of the black pointed hat and broom brigade the night before because she was certainly in no mood to be tangled with. Penny frowned at me with such venom that the paint nearly peeled from my Raleigh’s frame. I knew I was in trouble. She stashed her parking ticket booklet into the old leather postman satchel strung across her wiry frame and raised her witch-like finger in my direction. “Stop!” she yelled. I did. The blood was draining from my face. “You are not allowed to ride on the pavement.” I tried to look surprised and cute at the same time- but it was quickly evident that a twelve year olds’ charm was lost on the meter maid. “And”, she said as looked down at my front wheel, “it looks like your bicycle license has expired.” (Transgression #2). It was here that I had sudden thoughts of being taken down to the local Grahamstown police station where a beating of royal proportions would have been administered by a Konstabel Du Preez or Van Der Merwe….and thereafter it would have been a sentence in some kind of juvenile detention penitentiary or sent to Boys Town with other criminals like scholar smokers (yes – smoking was that frowned upon at schools back then); and kids who spray painted graffiti (also a big no-no back then). I tried to come up with some form of excuse that would spare me from a teenage rehabilitation. “I…ma’am…”, I remember stuttering. This is it, I thought. I’m joining Mandela and I’m going to prison for a long long time. Shit!

Penny let me off with a warning. But I made sure I got my bicycle license the next day and I sure as hell didn’t ride on the pavement after that! Strict law enforcement clearly worked! So back to the original topic: Uncle Bob is bringing bicycle licenses back in vogue with harsh penalties attached. Well, forget the critics who abolished bicycle licenses in Chicago and Switzerland. Just because developed economies and mature democracies have clearly shown that the entire concept of bicycling licensing is about as nonsensical and unfeasible as SABC TV licences (that’s a fact, by the way) is the exact reason why Uncle Bob would bring it back. “I’ll show those Western pigs that we can make these essentially African models work and create wealth!”, Uncle Bob would say to himself, standing in his golden robe in front of his mirror in the evenings.  And I suppose if Uncle Bob wants peace in his land (i.e. no-one DARE oppose me, or else!) then applying the New York Mayor Giuliani “Broken Windows” theory to stamp out minor crimes (i.e. no bicycle license) to eradicate the major crimes, then he’s onto a good thing. But we all know that’s not the real reason behind this. Hell no. Its because all of the former tobacco farmers have moved into Harare and have started their own “Farmers for Freedom” cycling team. Now that he has their land, he wants their bicycles too.

Rens Rezelman

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