It was a sunny Monday morning when Learn and Teach took a drive to Carletonville. The first thing we saw before we entered the town were the big, yellow gold mines. They looked so calm from the outside — telling nothing of the thousands of of toiling mine workers hard at work, hundreds of feet below.
In the car, there was a lot of talking and laughing. But as soon we drove into town, we felt a strange silence. We knew there was a boycott on and that people were not buying from the shops — but we were still surprised to see the streets so empty of people. The centre of town is full of shops — but all we saw were sad-faced shopkeepers standing in the doorways. There were no smiling faces anywhere. No children playing. Nothing much happening. It felt like a ghost town.
The town was dead but apartheid felt very much alive. Where were the people?
We knew that the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was one of the forces behind the call for the boycott. So we decided that our first stop would be a visit to the NUM office. We found the office in a small house in the centre of town. It was very busy, with union officials hard at work with NUM members.
The consumer boycott began when the Conservative Party (CP) took control of Carletonville last year. Like their friends in Boksburg, the CP started putting up ‘Whites Only’ signs everywhere. And it didn’t stop there. Gangs of white youths, with nothing better to do, started going around assaulting black people at night.
NUM official, Hlubi Biyane, told us that the black people of Carletonville were hurt and insulted — and very angry. They decided that they would not just sit back and turn the other cheek. It was time for action.
“In February, over 27 community organisations and trade unions from COSATU met in Khutsong, the township outside Carletonville. We agreed that black people would stop buying from shops in Carletonville. We elected an Action Committee to help with the boycott,” said Hlubi.
The Action Committee’s job was to find other towns nearby where people could go and shop — and to speak to shopkeepers and the Taxi Association and ask them not to overcharge people.
“Word spread like wildfire in the township that the boycott would start on 27 February. People saw the boycott as the only way to hit back. There was a 100 per cent boycott on the first day. And the boycott is still biting very hard.”
‘THE YOUNG LIONS’
In Khutsong we met three young men wearing T-shirts with ‘Release the detainees’ on the front. They seemed like people who could tell us more about what is happening in Carletonville.
The three ‘Young Lions’ quickly filled us in. “People were being beaten at night and we were trying to find a solution. We consulted the Student Congress and met with NUM and COSATU. We all decided the only way forward was to start a consumer boycott.
“Pamphlets were distributed in the community and the boycott started. People have stopped going to town now.”
The young comrades said the most important aim of the boycott was to see white businesses close. But the boycott has hurt some black workers too.
“It is true that some of our people have lost their jobs. But we will always be on their side. But we should also know that there is no struggle without casualties. We knew that our struggle was going to be bitter — there is no easy walk to freedom.”
THE POLICE ‘HELP’
Vincent Senne is a teacher at Badirile High School. He says he was assaulted by whites in Carletonville one night when he was driving home. We visited him at his home in Khutsong.
Senne, a quietly spoken man, told us his story: “I was on my way home from Johannesburg. As I entered Carletonville, I saw a van behind me with its bright ‘sports’ lights on. The lights were shining into my eyes, making it difficult for me to see. I slowed down so that this car could pass me. But instead, the two white men in the van tried to force me off the road by driving very close to the side of my car.
“I realised that they meant business, so I drove straight to the police station for help. When I got there, the two white men jumped out of their vehicle and began to attack me. Before I knew it, some policemen had joined in. They took me into a toilet and I was attacked by five men while a black policeman held the door closed.
“I fought my way out of the toilet and a policeman called me into the charge office. I heard one man say: ‘Give me only five minutes — I want that kaffir’. I ran to my car and drove home as fast as I could go. I have laid charges and the matter is with the Attorney-General.”
Dr Tshupe, a member of NAMDA, has helped many of the people who have been beaten up in Khutsong. “When I examine my patients I always think about the causes of their problems. This is because I believe that you cannot have a healthy body if the mind is disturbed. And apartheid disturbs all minds. The boycott has unified people more and I fully support it.”
A LAWFUL PROTEST
Father Mgqumetja of the Anglican Church in Khutsong says that many of his church members have lost their jobs because there are no customers buying goods. “And the people who do not have cars suffer when they have to go shopping in other towns. This is because of transport costs.”
The people of Khutsong are paying a heavy price, but Father Mgqumetja is still behind the boycott. “The consumer boycott was the only way that people could show their anger. It is a lawful protest because you cannot force people to buy from shops.”
Businessmen in Carletonville are also feeling the boycott badly. One of these businessmen is the owner of Carletonville Fresh Produce, Mr Faria. “My sales have dropped by more than half. The ‘Whites Only’ signs should be taken down because they are causing a lot of problems. The only sales that have not dropped have been newspaper sales.”
Since the boycott began, businessmen say that they have lost over R12 million. Some shops have closed already, and many are about to close.
UNITED IN ACTION
The boycott in Carletonville has the full support of the black people in the community — but there have been problems with report backs from the Action Committee. Outdoor meetings are banned — and they are refused the right to use a hall.
“The Chamber of Commerce wrote to us asking for a meeting,” says Hlubi. “They said they wanted to discuss the situation with us. We told them that the Action Committee could not meet them without consulting the black community in the area.
“We are elected by the people so we cannot make decisions on our own. We wanted time so we could meet with our people. The Khutsong Town Council refused to allow us to hold a meeting in the community hall. So we told the Chamber of Commerce that it was up to them to see that the Town Council allows us to meet.”
But he says these problems have not divided the people in any way. Instead, the boycott has brought the community together. “Who can believe that after six weeks, there is still 80 per cent support for the boycott!”
The sun was setting and we were tired. We were happy to leave Carletonville. It was sad to say goodbye to all the friendly people of Khutsong. Their spirit touched us. They are a community united in action. They know the struggle will not be without heavy sacrifices. But they also know that they will win the battle against the racists and their disgusting laws in the end.
NEW WORDS assault— to assault somebody means to beat them up to fill someone in — to tell someone the latest information lay charges — when you lay charges, you tell the police in writing that someone has committed a crime casualties — victims or people who are injured Chamber of Commerce — this is a group of businesses who come together to promote the businesses in their area or town