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Port Alfred a small light in the dark

Everywhere we go, we hear the name Port Alfred — Port Alfred here, Port Alfred there. “What is so exciting about Port Alfred?” we asked ourselves.

The people at Learn and Teach don’t like to miss news. So when we heard that the chairman of the Port Alfred Residents’ Civic Organisation (PARCO), Gugile Nkwinti, was coming to Jo’burg, we rushed to meet him. And Gugile told us the story of Port Alfred.


Gugile first moved to Inkwenkwezi, the township outside Port Alfred, in 1976. He was very shocked. The houses were falling down. And the people were very poor. But people only came together for church and rugby.

Gugile helped where he could. He started a soccer club and a drama club for young people. They kept all the money from the drama club. They used it to help students with school fees.


At the beginning of 1984 the students at Nonzamo High School in Inkwenkwezi started to boycott classes. The parents started the Nonzamo Students Guardians’ Association. They tried to solve the problems at Nonzamo. But the police came. Children were beaten and then a young boy was killed. People were very angry. They wanted the boy’s funeral to be on Saturday.

Everyone wanted to go to the funeral — but the funeral was banned. The police said the funeral must be on Friday.


No one went to work that day. Many people were fired. People needed their jobs back. So they came together to fight for their jobs. That was the beginning of the Port Alfred Workers Union. No one in Inkwenkwezi was forgotten when people started to organise. Many pensioners were having big problems with their pensions. Some people went to a meeting about pensions in Grahamstown.

At that meeting people learnt that they were not getting the right money. So, when they came back to Port Alfred, the pensioners started their own organisation — the Port Alfred Pensioners Association. And soon all the old people got the money that was owed to them.


People also spoke to the Community Council in Inkwenkwezi. They told the councillors that they were working for the government — and not the community. They said that no-one liked the Community Councils because they were part of Apartheid.

When the councillors resigned, people were very happy. They asked them to join the new organisations. Today one of the councillors is the general secretary of the Port Alfred Workers Union.


When the youth congress, PAYCO, started in Port Alfred, they asked people to boycott the beer-hall. They said it was the smartest building in a township where all the houses were falling down. And the beer-hall owner made lots of money but he did not help people in Inkwenkwezi.

In May the police arrested Gugile and two other men. The police said they were frightening the beer-hall owner — they were trying to make him close his business.


Gugile and his friends did not spend long in jail. But on 1 June, Gugile was back in jail again. This time he was detained under the emergency laws. Gugile says, “It was a bad time in Port Alfred. People went mad. Someone was necklaced. People cut the telephone lines. They dug trenches in the streets to keep out the hippo’s and the casspirs.”

People also started to boycott white shops. Their demand was simple — they wanted their leaders out of jail. In jail, a warrant officer told Gugile to stop the trouble. Guguile told him, ‘Get the hippo’s out of the township.’ “And” says Gugile, “We have not seen a hippo since then.”

Gugile was also set free. Three hours after he went home, a white businessman, Mr Sparg, came to his house. He asked Gugile to call off the boycott. Gugile tried to tell him that he could not call off the boycott — he only came out of jail that day.

Later Gugile went to a funeral. People at the funeral wanted to talk about the boycott. They were suffering because the shops in the township were so expensive. People agreed to stop boycotting — but only Mr Sparg’s shop.


A few days later, the police came to Guguile’s house while he was out. When Gugile and his wife heard about their visit, they were worried — was Gugile going to jail again? But Gugile got a big surprise. The police brought a message for him. The magistrate wanted to see Gugile the next day at nine o’clock. The magistrate told Gugile that the businessmen of Port Alfred wanted to have a meeting. They wanted to talk about the boycott.


Gugile went home with the news. Quickly a mass meeting was organised. More than six thousand people came. They drew up a list of what they wanted. This is what the list said.

  • The Administration Board must get out of Inkwenkwezi

  • The Development Board must buy the beerhall and give it to the community to use

  • They wanted a new school

  • No more separate doors for blacks and whites at the shops

  • Unpaid rent must be forgotten

  • Troops must get out of the township

  • There must be one town council chosen by the people of Inkwenkwezi and Port Alfred.


People were chosen to meet the businessmen. They gave the businessmen the list. The businessmen studied the list for half an hour. Then they came back. The businessmen said they would help where they could. They said the signs on the shop doors would go. They would get the beer-hall for the Inkwenkwezi people to use. They said they would try to make more jobs for people and they would try to change the way whites treated blacks in Port Alfred.

The businessmen said they would speak to the government about a new school and the unpaid rent. But most important, they agreed that Port Alfred need one town council for everyone. And until then there was one town council, the town council of Port Alfred was going to help run the township. They want to build more houses and some factories there. And so the boycott was lifted.


In Inkwenkwezi people got ready to run the township themselves. Today there is a street committee in every street. Five streets make up an area and every area has an area committee. People in the street choose the street committee but the area committees are chosen by the central committee. If there is a problem, people go to their street committee. The chairperson of the street committee calls a meeting for everyone in the street. The street meeting decides who must settle the problem.

If it is a family problem, the area committee tries to settle it. Gugile says, “Family problems often need understanding that young people do not have. There are only older people on the area committees.”


The beer-hall is now the centre of the community. The owner now rents the beer-hall to the community for R40 per month. Everyone pays 20c a month for the rent and electricity.

The Port Alfred Residents Civic Organisation use the beer-hall for a creche and a pre-primary school there. “This is real people’s education,” says Gugile. “You must catch children when they are young. But we also want to use the beer-hall for an advice and resource centre.”


But it is not only the people in the township who are busy. The businessmen of Port Alfred sent people to speak to the Administration Board. They want to buy some land near Inkwenkwezi. They want to build more houses and some factories there. The businessmen went to the Small Business Development Corporation to get money for these factories. They sent people to the DET and now a new school is being built. They asked the Group Areas Board to make the shopping area of Port Alfred a place where anyone can have a shop — no matter what colour they are.

Both the people of Inkwenkwezi and the businessmen of Port Alfred know that they have put one foot on a new road. But they do not know where that road will take them. They hope it will be to something new, something good for everyone. Gugile said one thing he wants everyone to hear.

He said, “South Africa is a very dangerous place. To live in South Africa today, it does not help to be brave. People must learn to be wise —as wise as snakes. When we march to freedom, we want to march with as many people as we can.”


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