If you have been to or lived in Kolkata, it wouldn’t be an unfamiliar sight. But rickshaws pulled by men in this eastern coastal city of South Africa do stump you if you are a newcomer to this place. Unlike in the biggest city in eastern India, these are meant to entertain tourists and not used as a means of regular transport.
Locals say these rickshaws were used by the Zulu people to travel short distances many decades ago. They have made way for more sophisticated vehicles in the course of time and survive solely as an attraction for people visiting this place. They look bright in traditional designs and the pullers of these rickshaws also appear in colourful attire.
Dlamini Mjabuliseni is one who depends on a rickshaw to sustain himself and his family. He waits outside hotels to attract foreign tourists, having left his job at a security agency two years ago. It fetches him between 100 and 200 rands on a good day and there are days when he “sits all day and gets nothing”.
Very similar to the ones seen on the roads of Kolkata, these rickshaws seat two adults and ply on the pavements only. Their owners and pullers are very particular about the rates and as soon as you take out a camera from your bag, they point to the rate card that tells you that a 20-minute ride would cost 20 rands and just a snap would mean eight rands.
According to Mjabuliseni, this business requires a hefty investment, to the tune of 6,000 rands. The cost of maintenance is not negligible either because apart from the puller’s traditional clothes, the rickshaws have to be painted colourfully and to make sure that the sheen remains intact they have to be polished from time to time.
So if you have only heard of these vehicles and never taken a ride, you might just plan one if you are travelling to Durban. It wouldn’t quite be an experience of a lifetime, but a ride on a rickshaw with your Zulu puller in vibrant clothes on a bright day down the shore of the Indian Ocean on the North Coast might mean inexpensive fun for a few minutes.