"We have determined not to use these buses until the fare is brought back again to fourpence"
Alexandra in the 1940s, when the first bus boycotts took place
Public DomainAlexandra in the 1940s, when the first bus boycotts took place - Credit: Johannesburg One Hundred - a pictorial history by Ellen Palestrant

Most of Johannesburg’s black population lived in townships, situated on the edges of the city and far from their places of work.  They relied on public buses, which were often over-crowded, ran late, and were prone to changing routes with little warning.  Travellers would have to wait in long queues, and would often spend up to four hours each day commuting. Buses often stopped at a single point, from where commuters had to walk long distances.  Despite these discomforts, transport was often the second biggest expense in the family budget, after food.

The first Alexandra Bus Boycott took place in 1940.  When the bus company tried to raise fares by a penny, commuters exercised their power in the only way they could – by refusing to use the buses.  By 1945, three more bus boycotts had taken place.    

The 1957 Bus Boycott
Public DomainThe 1957 Bus Boycott - Credit: The Star, 7 January 1957
Alexandra’s biggest bus boycott took place in 1957, ten years after Paton’s novel was published.  The three-month boycott saw thousands of people walking about 30 kilometres each day to and from work.  As many as 60 000 commuters joined the boycott – people from Sophiatown and Pretoria joined in solidarity. As they walked, commuters sang and chanted slogans.  The boycott committee held frequent public meetings, where people were informed of the negotiations between the bus company and the municipality, and were able to put forward their views and vote on proposals.