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Historia

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Abstract

MULLER, Cornelis Hermanus. Dealing with a hot potato: the commemoration of the 1959 "Potato Boycott". Historia [online]. 2010, vol.55, n.2, pp. 76-98. ISSN 0018-229X.

The year 2009 marked the 50th commemoration of the so-called "Potato Boycott". This celebration, not unlike the boycott itself, was shrouded in convoluted controversy. While the Mpumalanga provincial government initiated premature celebrations, the event itself was beset by various misunderstandings and conflicting interpretations. This article analyses the complexity of the recent commemoration, but also considers the actual boycott, by tracing its history. The potato boycott took place in a period when blacks implemented various economic boycotts to voice their frustration with the discriminatory apartheid laws that affected their daily existence. In this case, the government tried to supply farmers in the then Eastern Transvaal with cheap "convict" labour. In June 1959 the ANC launched the "Potato Boycott" as a reaction to alleged farm labour abuse practised mainly on farms in the Transvaal highveld. By specifically boycotting potatoes, blacks sought to send farmers a direct message and to strike an economic blow to capitalist farming and its allegedly abusive nature. They also were intent on forcing the government to abandon the regulation of farm labour and admit to the illegality of the system. The protest action also elicited widespread (and contradictory) reaction among the press and non-governmental agencies.

Keywords : Potato Boycott; commemoration; African National Congress; Gert Sibande; Bethal; Mbongeni Ngema; farm labour; Michael Scott; Ruth First; Henry Nxumalo; pass laws; apartheid.

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