Alexandra Township

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A township 13 kilometeres from North-East Johannesburg. The development of Alexandra Township dates back to 1912. Sometimes thought to be named in honour of Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII of Great Britian; also said to be named after Alexandra, the daughter of EH Papenfus, township secratery and owner of the ground it was laid out on.

It was the only place where black people could buy free-hold land until J.B. Hertzog became Prime Minister in the 1930s and abolished it. Black people in Alexandra became the victims of unscrupulous whites landlords who exploited them for exorbitant rentals. An ineffectual Health committee administered Alexandra until 1960 when it was brought under direct government control.

In 1940 residents of Alexandra embark on a boycott of public transport to protest fare increases and Government neglect of black townships. The success of this strategy was to be repeated. In 1955 another boycott against the Public Utility Transport Company (PUTCO) lasted for three months and forced PUTCO and the Johannesburg City Council to introduce a voucher system subsidised by the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce. The bus strike had been organised by the Alexandra People's Transport Committee under the ANC leader Alfred Nzo.

In 1985 the government introduced Black local Authorities and Township councils as an extension of the apartheid administration. Alexandra residents responded by establishing their own alternative to this. This counter-council was called the Alexandra Action Committee. The committee organised Alexandra into yard, block, and street committees to take over the day to day running of Alexandra Township.

For a social history of Labour and some Johannesburg townships, including Alexandra, go to 2 sections of Luli Callinicos' book A Working Life: Factories, Townships and Popular Culture, 1886 - 1940 on the SAHO site:


References:
• Musiker, N. & Musiker, R. (2000). A Concise Historical Dictionary of Greater Johannesburg. Cape Town: Francolin, pp. 46-7.
• http://www.joburg.org.za/regions/region7_about.stm
• http://www.alexandra.co.za/about/history.htm - a good, brief history using a chronological approach to the township.   New Dictionary of South African Place Names by Peter E. Raper
Google map: 

Last updated : 24-Nov-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011