By HELLEN TEMBO –
A BICYCLE is a simple, multi-purpose machine which people use for transportation.
However, the abundance of bicycles in the Eastern Province town of Chipata is something that travellers find surprising.
It is in this town alone, more than anywhere else in Zambia, where bicycles are used as a means of public transport.
Bicycles in Chipata are a means of livelihood to those who own them in the same way as a taxi provides income to its owner.
Bicycle owners earn a leaving by providing transport services to the public, especially short distance travellers.
Owing to its widespread use, some people even consider the bicycle as the cheapest and fastest mode of transportation.
Due to the popularity of bicycles, the community in Chipata came up with an annual cycling competition called Choova in 2002.
The competition was initiated by Perry Patel of Exide Batteries. His idea was to keep community members engaged in productive activities, as well as promote good health and entertainment through a cycling competition.
Since 2002, the Choova cycling contest has not only attracted able bodied participants but also people with disabilities. This has made the event to be inclusive and exciting.
Choova is now in its 14th year. It takes place in July of every year.
Gracing the event this year was Sports Minister Vincent Mwale who pledged continued Government support toward the community initiative.
Addressing residents who gathered for the event on Saturday, July 16, 2016, Mr Mwale said on his ministry would continue working with stakeholders and partners to ensure that the event is developed to international standards to match competitions such as the Tour de-France.
Mr Mwale said Choova was unique because it was attracting local people and foreign tourists.
He said sports events such as Choova was providing communities with the much needed entertainment while and keeping young people out of unhealthy and illicit habits.
He said the annual event was also preventing youths from indulging in vices such as alcohol abuse, beer drinking and prostitution, among others.
“In this regard, Choova as a well thought community sport initiative will remain supported by the Government through the Ministry of Youth and Sport,” he said.
Mr Mwale said the Government, under the leadership of President Edgar Lungu, would implement policies to encourage community participation in sport which empowered people socially and economically.
He paid tribute to the organisers of Choova for the tireless efforts in making this year’s event a success despite challenges they faced during the preparations.
Among organisations that have partnered with the organisers of the community event is the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) which used the event to educate cyclists on road safety.
RTSA Chipata station manager Stanley Mwanza cautioned cyclists to be careful when cycling by ensuring they respected road traffic rules and regulations to avoid traffic crashes that often caused injuries or fatalities.
Mr Mwanza said RTSA was happy to be part of the successful hosting of Choova which he said was part of the organisation’s efforts to create awareness amongst the cyclists.
He said RTSA had targeted Chipata because most of the people were dependent on bicycles for transport and income generation.
“We want people to know that the bicycle is a machine, though man powered, and so all cyclists should follow the rules governing the use of the road. So before getting onto a bicycle one must make sure that the bicycle is road worthy, fit to ride otherwise do not use it,” he said.
Mr Mwanza advised people to make use of the RTSA call centre by dialing 983 and report people who did not adhere to stipulated road traffic rules.
The Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) was also present at the event to sensitise people on dangers of drug abuse.
DEC education and counselling manager Mulube Khan said drug abuse was armful because the habit could lead to negative consequences such as behavioral change and mental impairment.
Ms Khani said one of the major problems in Zambia today was cultivation and abuse of cannabis which was common among the youth.
“Since time immemorial, cannabis has been an illegal drug in Zambia, but culturally, it was accepted in many regions of the country. After realising the negative effect of cannabis Government reinforced the law by listing cannabis as an illegal substance,” she said.
Ms Khani urged people to desist from engaging in drug abuse which also contributed to road carnage in the province and elsewhere.
She urged the public to always remain sober minded and avoid engaging in cycling or indeed any other activities when under the influence of alcohol or drugs to avoid road traffic accidents.
Eliab Ngoma won the 2016 Choova men’s bicycle race competition beating 60 cyclists who participated in the 52.2 kilometers race.
Mr Ngoma walked away with a mountain bike.
He was followed by Maliseni Phiri who won a plasma television set.
The third slot was taken by Peter Phiri who received an eagle bicycle.
In the women’s category, Chance Mhango retained her title after winning the 48 kilometre race. She went away with a plasma television set.
The second slot was scooped by Margaret Jere who won herself a brand new bicycle.
Ester Phiri receiving a radio set, a tyre and a tube for finishing third.
Mr John Phiri won the wheelchair category ahead of David Lungu after a 1.2 kilometre race. The two won themselves bicycles.
Sarah Ngoma was the only woman who featured in the wheelchair category that attracted nine entrants.