Thursday, 21 Nov 2002

WEST MERSEA, Essex, U.K.

I’m back in the office now, after some damp bike riding.

I met a shipping agent in Colchester, my train station, and got some more info about the shipping industry, which is a funny old business, with the companies competing in some areas and cooperating on other routes. The whole thing has been pretty tight for a while, with lots of companies closing down. The chap I met was very nice. I told him what we’re paying and he’s going to see what he can do. Oh, and we traded “stuck-in-customs” stories.

Which brings me to the South Africa situation, which is distinctly not good. I had an email exchange and phone call from Maikel who runs Afribike, the charity there. He emailed, “The meeting with the minister of transport can be classified as a COMPLETE DISASTER, I think. It was not the minister’s fault, but essentially the officials, including Ibrahim (National Department of Transport) and Nazir (National Roads Agency), who nailed us and said that just calling it a day would be the best thing. They said if Afribike thought it had a claim it should follow the legal route to suing the department. The meeting was declared over quite quickly and I was just left sitting there staring into space.”

South Africa is a very political place, and it seems that Afribike is being used as a scapegoat. ‘Tis a pain, as the National Roads Agency was saying 10 months ago that it was very happy to help/pay/contribute toward the shipping costs. One of the pains here is that the latest decision could have been made then, months ago; living with uncertainty is not “good” for people. Well, at least we know where we stand now.

Afribike does work with other funders, so it does not have all its eggs in one basket, though there has been a very disproportionate amount in the government one. (This is worthwhile bearing in mind in terms of funding, as governments are legendary for changing priority areas in a flash, leaving you high and dry if that’s 70-plus percent of your funding.)

Maikel carries on: “Since then we have regrouped … and the good thing is that we got our proposal to Vodacom (a South African cell phone company, funding a Zulu bicycle cultural tour scheme) approved so there is a lifeline again.”

Maikel’s going to Cape Town next week to meet with some Dutch bicycle manufacturers that are looking to build bikes there, and he will meet with the customs folk, so hopefully will be able to sort it out. He’s emailing me the officer’s number so I can do my charming-him-on-the-phone routine. I’m going to talk to some of the players over there and see what’s going on, and what the future holds …

All this confirms my urge to diversify destinations for shipping, both in and out of Africa, as the bikes keep turning up at our barn in the U.K. Rather than focus our attention elsewhere, I think that Re~Cycle should look at other parts of Africa, particularly east coast, because:

  • We get a good (50 percent) discount with Safmarine, the South African national shipping line. It also ships to other places in Africa, though they are more expensive.
  • South America can be serviced by U.S. and Canada groups.
  • Eastern Europe is cheaper to get to for groups in Germany and Scandinavia.

My lovely 4-year-old daughter Achala (Indian for mountain/steady) has just been dropped off. She turned on the waterworks when I said I wasn’t going to go play downstairs and have supper. She says this diary (she was around Tuesday evening, too) is silly and horrid and why am I always working?

I asked her what crying was going to do about it, and assured her I would rather be playing with her! The working-from-home thing is, as with many other things, a double-edged sword; it’s great to be able to help out during the day, though it does distract from getting stuff done.

Other than funding, the main thing I’m currently looking at is how best to expand Re~Cycle, viz organizational structure. The group very much boils down to logistics, as I see it, in that there are millions of bikes sitting in sheds while there are millions of people walking.

Time to pop next door and get the nipper back.