THREE-WHEELED light passenger vehicles, commonly known as rickshaws, are making waves at the iconic Victoria Falls border. This is thanks to the dedicated efforts of two Zambian entrepreneurs, Mr Kelvin Kwibisa (45) and Mr Clifford Chisape (40), who have turned the resort city into their workplace.
The two separately operate a rickshaw each, carrying clients to and from the bridge from the Zimbabwean and Zambian border posts. Zimbabwe and Zambia share the Victoria Falls border across Zambezi River.
Scores of foreign tourists and locals from either side of the river visit the bridge on each day to view the Mighty Falls, the gorges and pose for pictures on the magnificent bridge. While there are several metered taxis that provide transport between the two borders, rickshaws are becoming a popular mode of transport for those willing to explore the other side of life away from the luxury of modern vehicles.
The concept of rickshaw is still new in Victoria Falls and people are just getting used to it and those that have used it, testify to the wild adventure of riding on a small vehicle pulled by a bicycle.
The original rickshaw is a light two-wheeled passenger vehicle drawn by one or more people who pull the vehicle as they run on the ground with clients loaded in it. It has origins in Asian countries and the name rickshaw originates from the Japanese word jinrikisha which means human-powered vehicle.
In Thailand it is also used as urban transport in Bangkok and other Thai cities.
A rickshaw was invented in 1869 in Japan and spread to other parts of the world and in Durban, South Africa they were renamed amahashi (horse) because men who pulled them would be swinging the long pulley the way a horse moves.
Mr Kwibisa and Mr Chisape wake up early in the morning to start work as soon as the border opens at 6am and knock off at 5pm. A majority of their clients are local Zambians and Zimbabweans from Livingstone and Victoria Falls cities.
Few foreigners have used the rickshaw and Mr Kwibisa said many prefer walking as they want to exercise and stretch their bodies after long flights and drives.
People who visit the bridge use the rickshaw either for fun or because they will be exhausted. It costs a minimum of US$1 per person to be carried on a rickshaw and be driven around.
Mr Kwibisa and Mr Chisape’s rickshaws have been modified as they cycle instead of pulling them.
Mr Kwibisa said he built his from scratch, joining together scrap material to come up with a three-wheeler propelled by three pulley-chains. His is a four-seater and can carry eight people during peak periods, as it can carry 400kg load. It is fitted with a top roof for shed just like tour operating vehicles and has side canvas cover which can be rolled down if it is raining for safety of clients.
“I came up with the idea before Covid-19 after seeing it in India and China. So after the lockdown I started doing the business trying to eke a living. I just figured out that Zimbabwe and Zambia share this tourism facility and this could be a business opportunity taking advantage of tourists,” said Mr Kwibisa.
He said while some locals were showing interest in the rickshaw, foreign tourists prefer to walk. Kwibisa works every day except on Sundays.
“I carry four seated passengers but sometimes I can carry eight people and some will be standing. I have done that with those travelling in groups or when it is very busy. There is no fixed fare and sometimes some clients pay more on their own accord after enjoying the ride. This is not an easy job, the vehicle is very heavy especially when going up the bridge,” said Mr Kwibisa.
He said the business does not earn him much but he can afford to take care of his family needs. Mr Kwibisa pays annual returns to the customs department at the end of the year, making the rickshaw a revenue earner for Treasury.
He parks the rickshaw at the border each evening and use public transport to Livingstone. As for Mr Chisape, his is a simple seat mounted on two bicycle wheels and pulled by a bicycle. He said business was low although he is able to take care of his family.
“Sometimes we get clients who pay much and sometimes we just spend the day without any customer. Today I got two foreign tourists who paid a dollar for the two of them and I couldn’t say no because there is no business,” he said.
None of the Zimbabweans in Victoria Falls have adopted the idea and the two men from Zambia enjoy the monopoly of being the only ones operating between the two borders.
Harriet Mark, a tourist from USA said while she is used to seeing the rickshaw in other countries, it was fun riding in it.
Few Zambian vendors also ride on the rickshaw when crossing the bridge carrying heavy loads of goods.
A Victoria Falls young woman, Thando Ncube, who sampled the rickshaw with her young sister, said she enjoyed it.
“We saw this parked and we didn’t know that it’s used to carry people like this. It is fun and we would love to come back and ride around,” she said.