1957 Alexandra bus boycott

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The 1957 Alexandra bus boycott was a protest undertaken against the Public Utility Transport Corporation (PUTCO) by the people of Alexandra in Johannesburg, South Africa.

It is generally recognised as being one of the few successful political campaigns of the Apartheid era, by noted writers and activists including Anthony Sampson and Chief Albert Luthuli.[1][2]

Ruth First, former wife of South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo, said of the Boycott, "not since the days of the Defiance Campaign had Africans held so strategic a position."[3]

'We Will Not Ride'[edit]

The bus boycott of Alexandra was launched on 7 January 1957; but it was later joined by boycotters in from Sophiatown and Newclare in Western Areas of Johannesburg. In Pretoria (Tshwane) it covered the Lady Selborne district, as well as other areas, including Atteridgeville, Mamelodi and Ga-Rankuwa. After two weeks the boycott was joined by the commuters of Moroka-Jabavu in the South Western Areas who came out in sympathy. Many of the latter had moved from Moroka-Jabavu to Alexandra and had had the experiences of its earlier bus boycotts and other struggles.

The bus boycott lasted from January 1957 to June 1957. At its height, 70,000 township residents refused to ride the local buses to and from work. For many people this daily journey to downtown Johannesburg was a 20 mi (32 km) round trip.[4]

The boycott was named Azikwelwa (We will not ride).[5] Alexandra Township had seen two previous bus boycotts. In August 1943 a nine-day boycott succeeded in reducing the fare from 5d to 4d. A second strike began in November 1944 after prices were again raised.

The 1957 protest was mobilised after PUTCO again proposed raising its fares from 4d to 5d. With the government refusing to increase its public subsidy to the company, PUTCO argued that a price hike was inevitable. On 7 January 1957, it was resolved by the people of Alexandra to launch the boycott and on the same day the Alexandra People's Transport Action Committee (APTAC) was formed. The boycott would continue until the four penny fare was restored.


APTAC was made up of several local groups: the Standholders Association, the Standholders and Tenants Association, the Vigilants Association, the Tenants Association, the Freedom Charterists (members of the ANC), the Women's League (also members of the ANC), the African Nationalists and the Movement For a Democracy of Content. Throughout the boycott, the latter two groups maintained the most uncompromising stand, while the former groups showed themselves to be most willing to negotiate for a compromise.

Although each group committed three members to APTAC, as the boycott went on it was the radical groups who gained the upper hand. Dan Mokonyane of the Movement For a Democracy of Content, in particular, rose from initially acting as Publicity Secretary to the role of Secretary of APTAC.


The boycott attracted daily attention from the South African press. The Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce, worried about the economic implications of a large part of its workforce walking twenty miles a day, attempted to settle the matter using various intermediaries.

Although several provisional settlements were discussed, including a complicated system that would reimburse bus passengers their extra penny every day, the boycotters stood firm. With the radical groups implicitly threatening to mobilise a strike (a rainy Monday[6]) the Chamber of Commerce finally agreed to a public subsidy that would return the old fare on a long term basis.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Luthuli, Albert (1962). Let my people go: an autobiography. Collins. ISBN 0-00-620857-6.
  2. ^ Sampson, Anthony (1958). Treason Cage: The Opposition on Trial in South Africa. Heinemann.
  3. ^ Ruth First, 'Africa South', July–Sept 1957
  4. ^ Mangena, Isaac (2 November 2007). "Bus boycott which forced apartheid u-turn". iafrica.com, a division of Primedia Online. Retrieved 28 November 2008.
  5. ^ South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU)
  6. ^ Mokonyane, Dan (1994) [1979]. Lessons of Azikwelwa: The Bus Boycott in South Africa. London: Nakong Ya Rena. ISBN 0-614-09359-7.