#SheUntamed Mentor Making the Cycling Circle Bigger for African Women

Absa has announced its title sponsorship of the African Icons Invitational, an annual cycling charity event, and among the distinguished African Icons - who will champion the cause - is Caroline Matsimela, founder of Matsimela Ladies Clinics. All photos: Supplied

Absa has announced its title sponsorship of the African Icons Invitational, an annual cycling charity event set to take place from 22 to 25 February 2024, amid the captivating scenery of the Drakensberg.

This partnership follows Absa’s donations and support to the charity over the past two years, solidifying its commitment to supporting African Icons’ mission to make a positive impact on South African police families who have lost their breadwinners in the line of duty.

A group of 50 riders, including participants from Absa’s #SheUntamed community, will start the four-day social expedition on 22 February, in the Drakensberg. The #SheUntamed community, an Absa initiative that promotes diversity and inclusion in cycling, focuses on empowering women in the cycling realm.

Rory Steyn, founder of the African Icons Invitational and former policeman of more than 17 years, says, “We are thrilled to welcome Absa as the title sponsor for the African Icons Invitational. Their support will empower us to reach more families and make a lasting impact on the lives of those affected by the loss of their loved ones in the line of duty.”

In the pursuit of making a meaningful difference in the lives of South African police families, the Absa African Icons serves as a fundraising platform, bringing together cycling enthusiasts, supporters and some of the world’s most esteemed athletes to champion the cause. 

Among the distinguished African Icons, are Caroline Matsimela, founder of Matsimela Ladies Clinics, an organisation teaching African ladies to cycle, and a mentor and ambassador to #SheUntamed, Absa’s initiative for women in cycling. 

Matsimela takes us through her journey in Cycling: “After completing the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon (56km) in April 2017, It gave me the confidence that I am capable of completing the 94.7 Joburg Ride, which was my goal when I started cycling. I bought a bike and I was then taught by another woman, Mandisa Makalima, to ride. 

“Incredible journey, I completely fell in love with cycling, having started with road cycling and later moved to MTB, it gave me the freedom, happiness and I got to travel to places that I do not think I would have seen, if I was not on my bike.”

That story eventually led to the birth of Matsimela Ladies Clinics. “I missed having a community of women which I had in running, hence I started Matsimela Ladies Clinic where I teach women how to ride a bike so that they can also experience the freedom and happiness of riding a bike. Matsimela Ladies Clinic has provided so much healing and growth to women overall and that’s what keeps me going.”

Amongst women of colour, cycling is not the most popular sport, in the communities that she’s been working in, the response has been amazing.

“Having grown up in a small township, Zamdela, Free State, I had never seen women cycle, it was mainly males using the bicycles as a means of transport to go to work, boys to show off their stunts, and buy bread at the local shops. 

“The response has been overwhelming in a positive way in that every year we are oversubscribed and, unfortunately, unable to accommodate all the ladies who wish to be part of the program. The waiting list keeps growing year after year. 

“The biggest challenge we face with beginners is FEAR of falling – once we overcome that, the Queens just want MORE!”

The partnership between ABSA and African Icons Invitational will bode well for the sport and for ambassadors like Caroline. She lets us in on the difference cycling has made in the lives of the women she works with: “These partnerships are intentional about making the circle bigger for the sport, giving access to more #SheUntamed women in the MTB world. Above all for participating in a bigger purpose to those who are in need. 

“The skills sessions have provided the real clinics  in that it has provided therapy and promoted mental wellness for most women, the confidence to ride, regardless of their age and background with their own partners and kids. Above all it has provided the SISTERHOOD community of like-minded individuals.”

As an ambassador, Matsimela plays a role in motivating women that it is possible to ride a bike, especially MTB which is regarded as challenging, dirt and hard. 

“As a mentor I get to guide, encourage and support strong women who are part of the initiative. I am that shoulder to cry on so that they get to perform at their maximum.”

Caroline has big dreams and plans for Matsimela Ladies Clinics, “The dream is to get more kids into the sport, especially the girl child to start cycling and get to professional level. We are starting with the kids camp this June. I would also love to see the growth not only in South Africa, but to grow to all 54 African countries. The dream is to see us host our own Tour de Africa Femmes.”

Some 2023 highlights for Matsimela Ladies Clinic: 

  • 80 women completed 947 Joburg Ride. 
  • 20 women travelled to Swaziland to ride, some it was their 1st time stamping a passport
  • In 30 years of Double Century, we were the 1st all African women team to complete 200km.
  • President Award by Cycling SA for contribution in women cycling 
  • Nelson Mandela Day raised R102 000 for Zamdela Primary School in the aim of making a difference in education. 

“That’s how we make the circle bigger for African Women.”


Photo Caption: Absa announced its title sponsorship of the African Icons Invitational, an annual cycling charity event, and among the distinguished African Icons – who will champion the cause – is Caroline Matsimela, founder of Matsimela Ladies Clinics. All photos: Supplied

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