South Africans successfully boycott buses in Johannesburg, 1957

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionPDF versionPDF version
Time Period:  
7 January
1 April
Location and Goals
South Africa
Location City/State/Province: 
Location Description: 
South Africans walked from suburbs/townships of Alexandra, Sophiatown, Germiston, Edenvale, and the Western Native Township
Thwart bus fare increase, demand government to make a study regarding the need for higher wages for Africans.

In 1957, the Public Utility Transport Corporation (PUTCO) in South Africa raised the bus fare from 4d to 5d for commuters in Johannesburg. This was equivalent to 2 pennies or 1 shilling (15c) more that the South Africans would need to pay a week.

However, 80 percent of Johannesburg Africans lived under the poverty line, and so the raise was far more than the Africans could afford. The black South Africans in Alexandra grew tired of the behavior and exploitation of the PUTCO and of their own meager wages.

On 7 January, 1957, these Africans in Alexandra launched a bus boycott exclaiming, "Azikhwelwa!" "We shall not ride!" was the rallying cry as they walked the 22 miles from Alexandra to Johannesburg rather than taking the bus.

The Alexandra People's Transport Action Committee (APTAC) formed on 7 January and encouraged organizations in the township to send representatives to join the committee. Many organizations took APTAC on this invite and sent representatives. These organizations included the African National Congress (which consisted of three factions: Africanists, Freedom Charterists, and the Women's League), the Standholders' Association, the Standholders' and Tenants' Association, the Vigilance Association, the Tenants' Association, and the Movement for a Democracy of Content.

The APTAC facilitated the campaign and by the second day of the boycott the sentiment had spread to Sophiatown, in Johannesburg, and Lady Selbourne, in Pretoria. South Africans in Atteridgeville, Mooiplaats, New Clare, Germiston, and Edinvale joined the boycott as well, but only participated for a week.

During the second week of the boycott, South Africans in Moroka and Javabu began to boycott in sympathy even though the bus fare had not been raised in these townships.

The reaction from the public was generally sympathetic toward the boycotters. White motorists helped the boycotters by providing them with daily "lifts" to destinations.

The police responded to the boycott and the white motorists with harassment. The police stopped cars to search them, demanded licenses, took down names, required "passes" from the riders, and measured the seats of cars to make sure that no boycotter sat on less than 15 inches of the seat.

Toward the boycotters themselves, the police constantly stopped them to check for "passes," arrested them on minor charges, such as crossing an intersection at a red light, and deflated the tires of bicycles or confiscated the valve to make the African workers late to work.

Oliver Tambo, the African National Congress leader, and Nelson Mandela, the ANC deputy leader, sent messages of encouragement to the boycotters. Although the boycott had initially started as a response to the raise in the bus fare, the campaign soon encompassed the issue of apartheid as the political feeling of the need to be liberated and regarded as equals spread.

Although the boycott initially began with singing and loud cries of "Azikhwelwa," the boycotters soon grew weary and continued their boycott silently. The boycotters grew tired from the long travels to and from their destinations, but still held strong to their demands. The result was that the boycott committee asserted that "When we are too tired, we will stay home and rest." The Movement for a Democracy of Content had even called for a stay-at-home since the first week of the boycott. Therefore, the boycott continued despite the exhaustion experienced by the boycotters, who were encouraged to remain at home if they grew too tired.

Employers, industry, and the Chamber of Commerce attempted to negotiate with the boycotters as they realized that their economic interests were being damaged with the bus boycott. Negotiation was futile within the first few months, but finally a compromise was reached on 1 April.

With this compromise the boycotters purchased bus tickets that were stamped as 5d even though the boycotters had only paid 4d. The Africans then took the buses again on the condition that a study was to be made of the need for higher wages and that a permanent solution for the bus fares be implemented by the end of June.

The solution was reached near the very end of June as the government capitulated with the introduction of a Bill in Parliament that doubled the levy on employers for subsidization of African transport. This Bill meant that the boycotters could ride the buses at the old fare of 4d instead of the raised fare.

This solution was met with great celebration, as it was not only an economic victory, but a political one as well. The boycott was an example to the country as it proved two things: that protests against the national government could be successful and that the black South African boycotters were much more powerful than had been previously perceived.

Research Notes

The bus boycott that started in Alexandra spread to other townships, such as Sophiatown, Germiston, Edenvale, and the Western Native Township. (2)

Veterans of the 1957 bus boycott believe that the success of boycott inspired the Soweto Uprising. (2)

Hooper, Mary-Louise. "The Johannesburg Bus Boycott." Africa Today 4.6 (1957): 13-16. JSTOR. Web. 29 Sept. 2012.

Louw, Dan. "Dan Mokonyane Obituary." The Guardian. N.p., 27 Nov. 2010. Web. 29 Sept. 2012. <>.

Mangena, Isaac. "Bus Boycott Which Forced Apartheid U-turn." IAfrica. N.p., 02 Nov. 2007. Web. 29 Sept. 2012. <>.

Mokonyane, Dan. Lessons of Azikwelwa. London: Nakong Ya Rena, 1994. Print.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Yein Pyo, 30/09/2012