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“Azikhwelwa” – yesterday and today

The word “boycott” is very old. The word began in a country called Ireland over 100 years ago.

A man called Captain Charles Boycott worked for a rich land­ owner called Lord Erne. Many people lived on the Lord’s land. Captain Boycott collected rent from these people for Lord Erne. He was a cruel man and the people hated him.

One year the rain did not come. The people’s crops did not grow. They were very poor. So they asked Captain Boycott to make the rents lower. Captain Boycott said, “No! Pay the rent or leave”

The people were angry. But they did not want to fight. So they decided to stop talking to Captain Boycott. They stopped working in his fields. They made life hard for Captain Boycott and his family.

After a few weeks Captain Boycott left Ireland. He took his family and went to live in England. The people won their struggle without fighting.

After this people used the word “boycott”. Today we use the word “boycott” when people fight against something in a peaceful way. People boycott when they decide not to buy things from a company. Or when they decide not to go to a place they don’t like. They hope that the boycott will make the company or a person change. Boycott is a peaceful way to make things change.

Most people don’t know how the word “boycott” began. But many people know what a boycott is. In South Africa people have used boycotts for a long time. And some of the biggest boycotts were against high bus fares.

The most famous boycott in our history happened In Alexandra township. In 1957 Putco put up the bus fare from Alexandra to town by one penny. They said people must pay five pennies for the ride.

The people of Alexandra stood together and said, “Azikhwelwa ­ we will not ride until the bus fare goes down.”

The boycott started on 7 January 1957. For three months 15 thousand people walked or cycled to work and back. Alexandra township is nine miles from town.

Some people walked 15 hundred miles altogether in the boycott. The boycott was hard but in the end the people won. The bus fares went down to four pennies.

Learn and Teach spoke to an old man from Alexandra. He has lived in Alexandra for more than 30 years. In 1957 he boycotted the Putco buses. And today he is boycotting the buses again. He told us about the boycotts of yesterday and today.

“I remember the bus boycott in 1957 well. I was a young man then. The boycott started because Putco said bus fares were going up by one penny.

“Our leaders called a big meeting at number 2 Square. At the meeting people decided to boycott the buses. But the leaders didn’t need to call a meeting.

“The people were so angry. They spoke about the buses at work and at shebeens. They spoke about the boycott at home, at weddings and at funerals. The people were organizing themselves. They were very strong.

“l can laugh about it now. We were fighting for one penny. But one penny a day was four shillings a month. People were very poor and a shilling was a lot of money then.

“The people were not only angry about the extra one penny. They also complained that the buses were dirty and overcrowded. They said the drivers were rude and that the bus stops had no shelter from the rain.

. “We walked because of these things. People walked together in groups. We sang songs of freedom and shouted “Azikhwelwa” with our fists in the air. The peoples spirit was high.

“Many men bought bicycles and rode to work. Some men gave their wives and girlfriends a lift on their bicycles. The women wore dresses ­ so they sat sideways on the back of the bicycle.

“Some people were lucky. They did not walk. Rich people went to work in taxis. Some white people came in cars and gave people lifts. A few people even went to work by horse cart.

“I walked to work for the whole time. I got up at 5 o’clock in the morning. I left home at half past five. I walked to work in Eloff Street. After work I. walked home again. I got home at 8 o’clock. At first I was tired. But soon I got stronger. I did not get tired from walking.

“The police were angry with the people from Alexandra. They stopped cars. They checked for passes. Sometimes they gave the driver a ticket for small things. The newspapers even said the police were letting down the tyres of bicycles.

“But these things did not stop the people. The boycott worked. The bus fares did not go up. The boycott ended in ApriI.

“Now we are boycotting again. Putco put the fares up again. But rents are also going up. Food is more expensive. People spent a lot of money at Christmas. And now schools are opening. We cannot pay all these things.

“The buses are still crowded. The bus stops are still dirty. They have no toilets. The roads in Alexandra don’t have tar and people are choked by the dust from the buses. They have choked on the dust for years. The drivers are still rude and they drive badly. Even a short ride can make you feel sick. Last year two children were run down by a bus and killed.

“We are boycotting for all these things to be changed. We hope to win again – like in 1957:

“But this time the boycott is weaker than before. Before the people of Alexandra were more united. Alexandra was like home then. People owned property in Alexandra and the municipality did not run the township.

“But today the government runs Alexandra. People must get permits to rent a house. So people are scared to boycott. They don’t want to lose their permits.

“Alexandra also has hostels today. Migrant workers from the country live in the hostels. Their homes are not in Alexandra. They worry about their families at home. So the hostel people don’t feel so strongly about the boycott.

“The government has divided us. This makes our struggle more difficult. But we will still boycott the buses. We hope all the people of Alexandra will join us. We must win again.”.


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