Alexandra Commuters Boycott Johannesburg Buses - 1943

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
The boycott lasted nine to ten days in 1943.
Location and Goals
South Africa
Location City/State/Province: 
Alexandra Township of Johannesburg
Location Description: 
The 9.5 miles between Alexandra and Central Johannesburg hosted the march
Reversion of bus fares from six cents to five cents

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.

Research Notes

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)

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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Beatriz Grace Baker 02/02/15