He is 65 years old. Lean, mean and fit and he cycles an average of 35 km per day. He has been doing this since 1975, not because he wants to, but because he has to. Meet Zacharias Iita, the oldest tricycle ice cream vendor in the country and a man who knows his ice cream and bicycle better than anybody else in town.
He was born in the far north in 1951 and came to Windhoek as a contract worker in the then South African colonised South West Africa, desperately in search of a job that could support him and his family.
He didn’t find a pot of gold and did many odd jobs and contract work before he climbed onto an ice-cream tricycle. It turned out to be a life changing experience as he decided there and then to make a career out of it.
“I was just another uneducated youth with a bleak outlook of the future. I had to grab what was on offer and I grabbed the ice cream vendor business which was very big way then,” he recalls with a razor sharp memory. Iita says he’s been doing this for so long that at one stage he was afraid he would turn into a lolly pop himself. ”But who would like a black lolly pop,” he giggles, showing off his good sense of humour.
New Era Weekend caught up with the very busy man this week at the Deutsche Hὅhere Privat Schule (DHPS) after quite an extensive search.
“I’m always on the move in the morning and up to after lunch when the desire of school children for an ice cream has died down,” he muses as children from the school come running to his trusted old blue steed with the familiar white ice cream box mounted on the top.
The steed has carried him and heaps of ice cream for the past decade after he literally rode the previous one into the ground. His current ‘trike’ is a single speed tricycle that weighs a ton when loaded with mouth-watering ice creams from supplier Polar Ice Creams, run by Godwin Walters from the Southern Industrial Area.
“I suppose you can look at it as hard work, cycling to schools on weekdays and through neighbourhoods on Sundays, but I don’t see it like that. It has become a lifestyle for me and I still like what I’m doing. Plus, it pays for some of the bills and life is not easy for a pensioner to has to survive on N$1 000 per month. For me, it’s a perfect mobile business.”
“Even after 41 years in the saddle, it still brings great joy to me when I see the smiles on the faces of children when they unwrap one of Polar Ice Cream’s delicious treats,” he says.
When it comes to selling ice cream, re-inventing the wheel has not been necessary. The old-school way of delivering delicious cones and lollies to consumers by vendors travelling on bicycles, has survived almost miraculously and an ice cream is possibly the only thing you can’t order online these days. The Manager of Polar Ice Creams, Godwin Walters, says there are about 15 active ice cream vendors buying from him and the concept of taking your product where consumers are by tricycle remains a fascinating concept.
Ice cream on trikes is something the older generation grew up with, and it is heart-warming that the tradition has not died out in modern times. The vendors travel all over town, delivering frozen snacks to retirement homes, sport fields, schools, parties, and even to convention centers.
He says the trikes avoid the expense and hassle of ice cream trucks or brick and mortar locations. “Gasoline? No Way. Traffic jams? Goodbye! Expensive building?! Rent? Static locations? Why? Be your own boss with an ice-cream tricycle,” says Iita.
Walters says he would love to supply the vendors with better trikes as theirs all have seen better days. “I am working with a supplier of modern and lighter trikes in Cape Town to roll out used ice cream bikes to our local guys,” he says.
These bikes will be equipped with gears to make short of those dreaded hills and get the treats somewhere faster. The bikes will also have much better brakes for a balanced slow down and strong stopping power and even a parking brake to have your business roll when you want it to.
Modern trikes also have easily customised, insulated boxes – for keeping your sweet treats nice and icy, and all day long. Iita says he is not fluent in English but he knows the words to one song in English: “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.”