A leader of the people
Schreiner Baduza is 73 years old. He lives in Soweto. Schreiner Baduza was a leader of the people of Alexandra Township in the 1940’s. At that time the people of Alexandra were very poor. Many people did not have houses to live in. Rents were very high.
Thousands of people decided to live in the open veld. They built huts out of wood, tin and old sacks. These people were called squatters.
Schreiner Baduza was a leader of the squatters in Alexandra Township. Now read the story of Schreiner Baduza.
Schreiner Baduza was born in the Transkei on 18th July 1909. His family lived in a small village called Bikana. This village was near the Drakensberg mountains. Schreiner’s family was very poor.
Schreiner went to a small church school. He finished standard four. Then he went to find work in the mines. Most young men went to work in the mines in those days.
In Egoli, Schreiner lived in a compound for mine workers. He went home to Bikana often. He was a migrant worker.
Schreiner wanted to marry a girl from his home village. He saved his wages to pay lobola for her. She came to Egoli and they got married in Fordsburg.
Then Schreiner left the mines. He got a new job. He worked for builders. He made cement, carried bricks and helped the wood-workers.
Schreiner and his wife moved to Sophiatown. But the rents in Sophiatown were very high. So they moved to Alexandra township. The houses in Alexandra were not very strong. The houses were made of mud, raw bricks and iron. But rents were cheaper in Alexandra. So, thousands of workers went to live there.
The people liked Alexandra. They did not like to live in locations like Orlando. The locations had many rules and regulations. The police were very strict in the locations. But the police were not very strict in Alexandra.
In Alexandra and Sophiatown, black people owned land. They built their own houses. These people were called “stand-holders”. The stand-holders rented rooms to workers who had no houses. These workers were called tenants.
But the stand-holders often treated the tenants in Alexandra badly. Some stand holders charged high rents. The backyards of houses were full of people. Sometimes 30 people lived in the backyard of one house. They all used one lavatory. The backyards were not healthy places. Many people got sick in the backyards.
Schreiner wanted all the tenants to stand together. They needed to speak with one voice. Schreiner wanted the tenants to fight against high rents, overcrowding and unhealthy places. In 1935 Schreiner and his friends started an organization to help tenants. The organization was called the Bantu Tenants Association.
The Second World War started in 1939. Life was hard in those years. People did not have enough food. And wages were very low.
The war ended in 1945. After the war things got worse. Thousands of black and white soldiers came home. Now people had less food. And more people needed places to live. Stand-holders began to charge people very high rents.
Schreiner decided that these things must stop. In 1947 The Bantu Tenants Association asked the tenants to leave their rooms. They went in lorries to Orlando.
They moved into the open veld near the Orlando Community Hall. They built huts out of wood and old sacks. These people were called squatters.
The squatters said: “We won’t move until the government listens to us”. The squatters also had a slogan. The slogan said: “We want land and the right to build our own houses”.
Then early in 1948 the police moved the squatters back to Alexandra. They came early in the morning. They broke down the shacks. They put everybody into lorries and took them back to Alexandra.
In Alexandra the people went to live in the veld again. They made 2 camps near Alexandra. Many more families came to join them. The people lived in the camps for one year.
In the camps, the people chose their own leaders. The leaders were members of a committee. The committee was in charge of the camp. Schreiner was the chairman of the committee in his camp.
The police did not go to the camps. The people in the camps made beer freely. And they drank freely. The people in the camps chose their own policemen. The camps also had their own courts and schools.
The people lived peacefully together in the camps for a year. People did not steal from each other. And nobody killed anybody else. The people in the camps respected each other. They were fighting together for the same thing.
In those years there were many squatter camps in Egoli. There was a large shanty town in Orlando. James “Sofasonke” Mpanza was the leader of this camp. Another shanty town was called Tobruk. Black soldiers mostly lived in Tobruk.
The town council of Johannesburg did not like these camps. They decided to break them all down. The town council built one big camp. They moved all the squatters there. This place was called Moroka.
But Schreiner and his family did not go to Moroka. They were sent to Hammanskraal. The police knew that Schreiner was a leader. They wanted to take him away from his people – the squatters.
Schreiner decided to go back to the Transkei. He went with his family. He stayed there for some time.
Then the government decided to find out why black people were unhappy in Egoli. The government told some people to make a report. These people were called the Fagan Commission.
Schreiner left the Transkei. He came back to Egoli. He wanted to tell the Fagan Commission about the suffering of his people.
When Schreiner came back, he got a house in Soweto. He left building work. He got a job in a lawyer’s office. But Schreiner did not go to any meetings. He was not allowed to go to meetings. Schreiner had nothing to do. So he studied to become a church minister.
Today Schreiner is still a church minister. He works in the same lawyer’s office. He has worked there for 26 years. He lives with his family in a small house in Senaoane, Soweto.
Schreiner Baduza remembers those years of the squatters very well. He will not forget how the people lived and struggled together.