Alexandra Commuters Boycott Johannesburg Buses - 1943


Reversion of bus fares from six cents to five cents

Time period notes

The boycott lasted nine to ten days in 1943.

Time period

August, 1943 to August, 1943


South Africa

Location City/State/Province

Alexandra Township of Johannesburg

Location Description

The 9.5 miles between Alexandra and Central Johannesburg hosted the march
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

  • Protesters boycotted public transportation

Methods in 2nd segment

  • Protesters boycotted public transportation

Methods in 3rd segment

  • Protesters boycotted public transportation

Methods in 4th segment

  • Protesters boycotted public transportation

Methods in 5th segment

  • Protesters boycotted public transportation

Methods in 6th segment

  • Protesters boycotted public transportation

Segment Length

1.67 days

Notes on Methods

The daily walking commute served as a march for this campaign, though no marches outside of this commute occurred.


Boycott Committee comprised of community members


Alexandra Health Committee

External allies

SAIRR (South Africa Institute of Race Relations), Miriam Janish (Department of Native Affairs)

Involvement of social elites

not known


Bus Company

Nonviolent responses of opponent


Campaigner violence

No campaigner violence

Repressive Violence

No repressive violence





Group characterization


Groups in 1st Segment

15000 Black Commuters (men and women)

Segment Length

1.67 days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

10 out of 10 points

Database Narrative

Black South Africans suffering under restrictive racially-based laws relied heavily on public transportation to commute to their jobs in the urban center of Johannesburg. One community, Alexandra Township of Johannesburg, experienced a fare hike from five cents to six cents in 1943, which put financial strain on local individuals and families, for whom transportation constituted a major household expense. During this time period (1940s and 50s), many bus boycotts occurred in South Africa in the Johannesburg area, all of which contributed to the eventual deconstruction of Apartheid, but which dealt specifically with issues such as "routing, overcrowding, departures from schedule, danger, unsheltered terminals, and rude staff". In Alexandra, residents’ debts on their properties, lack of social services, and youth unemployment rates exacerbated the seriousness of one penny per bus ride to these black South Africans. Commutes of four hours per day were not unheard of, and the buses were in poor condition. They were often not hygienic and functioned poorly. 

The strike committee responded to the fare hike by initiating a boycott of the buses, with commuters refusing to ride and instead walking the 9.5 miles to and from central Johannesburg daily. This daily commute became something of a de facto march for the commuters, representing their unwillingness to submit to increased fares while at the same time encouraging the community of Alexandra to act collectively. Fifteen thousand people walked together to their jobs in Johannesburg. In response, the government commissioned a task force called the “Commission of Enquiry into Non-European Bus Services in Johannesburg” to evaluate whether a fare hike could be effective or reasonable with respect to the income of those using bus services. The Alexandra Health Committee, the township’s unofficial government, stated the worker’s case: that they were living on “sub-subsistence” wages and could not afford to pay anything at all for bus fares. A fare hike, they said, would be out of the question for these individuals and families. They cited a study by Miriam Janish, who worked for the Department of Native affairs, which said that most Alexandra residents lived below the PDL (Poverty Datum Line). They also cited a report by the SAIRR( South African Institute of Race Relations) which showed that prices on necessities for Alexandra residents had spiked 20-50 percent in recent history. The bus commission decided that the fare hike was inhumane and  after nine to ten days of boycotting (sources differ) the bus company reverted fares to five cents, and the commuters resumed riding the bus into central Johannesburg. 

This successful boycott helped garner support for later bus boycotts throughout the 1940s and laid the groundwork for the 1957 Alexandra bus boycott. (See…). In later boycotts, organizations such as the African National Congress (ANC) and Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) formally supported boycotters, having witnessed the success of this boycott.


This boycott was influenced by the work of Nelson Mandela and by the 1940 Alexandra boycott.(1) This boycott's success influenced the later bus boycotts of Johannesburg and its surrounding areas, namely, the 1944 Alexandra bus boycott which lasted seven weeks.(2)


Akubuiro, Henry. "The Long Walk…." The Sun News. Sun News Online, 7 Dec. 2013. Web. 02 Feb. 2015.

"City of Johannesburg - A Penny Sparked Alex Bus Boycotts." City of Johannesburg - A Penny Sparked Alex Bus Boycotts. Joburg 2040 Growth and Development Strategy, 31 Oct. 2007. Web. 01 Feb. 2015.

Davie, Grace. 2015. “The Minimum Standards Movement.” Pp. 118-121 in Poverty Knowledge in South Africa: a social history of human science, 1855-2005. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Evans, Ivan Thomas. "Urban Administration." Bureaucracy and Race: Native Administration in South Africa. Berkeley: U of California, 1997. 39-41. Print.

First, Ruth. "The Bus Boycott." Africa South 1.4 (1957): 55-64. DISA. Web. 2 Feb. 2015.

Lodge, Tom. Black Politics in South Africa since 1945. London: Longman, 1983. Print.

Walker, Cherryl. "Grassroots Protests among Women." Women and Resistance in South Africa. London: Onyx, 1982. 76-77. Print.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Beatriz Grace Baker 02/02/15