Don’t eat potatoes!

From the book: My Spirit Is Not Banned by Frances Baard and Barbie Schreiner

I have already spoken about the boys on the potato farms at Bethel, how they used to take the boys for the pass offences and so on. If a boy did not have his pass the police would arrest him and take him to a farm and make him work there. At the farm they take his clothes away and they give him a sack to wear. At night he must sleep with only that sack on the concrete floor, even if it is winter. During the day those boys had to dig potatoes. They had to use their hands because there were not enough implements to go round, and they used to come back from Bethel with their fingers bleeding and so forth. And on those farms there could be a man with a big sjambok to hit them if they weren't working properly. Sometimes the boys even died on those farms and some they even buried there, but they never used to tell the relatives, you had to find out somehow for yourself that your son is dead. So after a time we thought no, if they are going to do this to our children then we must not eat potatoes; we must stop eating the potatoes that are hurting our children so much.

And so our leaders decided that if we felt that way then we must all start boycotting potatoes and get everyone to boycott them so that the farmers can't sell their potatoes. Then they will suffer for what they are doing to our children. So again we went from door to door in the location talking to the people about how we feel about this thing, and organizing them. And the people decided not to buy any potatoes and not to eat any potatoes.

We used to condemn a potato when we see one that had a hole or a black mark. We used to tell the people in the public meetings, 'you see this mark here? It's where your child's blood went in. You see this mark "here? It's the blood of our children, that's why the potato is so.'

The people started hating potatoes like anything. And even the whites when they heard that we are boycotting the potatoes and that we say that these potatoes are full of the blood of the African people, then they also began boycotting them. That boycott was very effective you know. The farmers couldn't sell their potatoes anywhere, and at the market the workers wouldn't even carry the potatoes.

One day I was sitting in the location and I saw the farmers coming in there. It must have been about 11 o'clock in the morning or so, and these white farmers come into the location. Most of the people were not at home then; they were all at work, but the farmer comes to one person, 'Where are the people? Who can I talk to?'

'But I am not a leader. The people are all at work; you can't talk to me.'

And then the farmer says again: 'But who can I see, who can I talk to? I want to see the leaders who are boycotting the potatoes.'

But they couldn't find anyone to talk to because all the leaders were at work. So they had to go all the way back home again, and come back in the evening when the leaders were home from work.

The farmers finally had a meeting with the leaders and they told them that they are not going to take anyone to do this sort of work on their farms because of the pass business. They said they are going to stop using our boys on these prison farms, so the leaders must tell everyone to eat potatoes again. So the farmers gave up this business of making the boys work on the farms, and we could eat potatoes again without worrying because the boycott was successful.

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