Crossroads Squatter Camp

Crossroads was a large squatter camp (shanty town) in the Cape Flats area on the outskirts of Cape Town. Many moved to camps like Crossroads to get closer to work opportunities, health care, and education services that were unavailable in rural areas.

Settlements like Crossroads consisted of thousands of shacks made of wood, cardboard, tin, and other scrap material. Entire families lived in one tiny structure. Open fires used for cooking and candles for lighting resulted in burns, accidents, and frequent fires.

In 1975, four years after it was established, the South African government classified Crossroads an “emergency camp”. After the June 16, 1976 Soweto uprising, that classification made it immune to the demolition that occurred in similar shanty towns across South Africa.

“By the mid 1980s Crossroad’s population was over 100,000 and highly visible in the world press and the flight paths in and out of Cape Town International Airport. When Cape Town authorities attempted to move Crossroads residents to a new township – Khayelitsha or new home in Xhosa – located further away from the city, the squatters refused to move. There was rioting among rival gangs and fighting in the streets. The fighting was largely thought to be the result of the South African government’s political control methods and an example of the Apartheid policy of “contra-mobilization“.

“In the South African context, contra-mobilisation was used to organise and support ‘moderate blacks’ to oppose revolutionary movements. Of necessity, it was a covert strategy – concealing the hand of the state as provider of logistical, political, and financial support – that made use of ‘surrogate’ forces. Hence, the state was not seen to be as involved in the conflict and violence between rival groups and the resistance organisations.” (para. 555, Vol 2 Chap 3, TRC Report.)


“Rioting in May and June of 1986 resulted in burned houses and 60 deaths. Almost 60,000 residents of Crossroads became homeless.”


Johnson Ngxobongwana was a local warlord with a strong political voice at Crossroads. He represented the moderate Africans. Over the years Ngxobongwana built up a popular following, including local thugs who wore white headbands for identification. Ngxobongwana had “unofficial” support from South Africa’s Apartheid government and its security forces. it is said that Ngxobongwana used those resources to eliminate his rivals and degrade women and youth groups.

Rioting in May and June of 1986 resulted in burned houses and the deaths of 60 people. Almost 60,000 residents of Crossroads became homeless. On June 12th, President PW Botha declared a ‘State Emergency’ to halt the violence across South Africa by what he characterized as “revolutionaries supported by the African National Congress (ANC).” Although the South African media reported the violence as “black-on-black” the government’s involvement was clear. The government attributed the conflict to “historical rivalries and political differences between different groups and an increasing tendency to resolve differences by violent means”.

Crossroads Squatter Camp

Crossroads Squatter Camp

In today’s post-apartheid South Africa governed by the ANC, there are a growing number of squatter camps populated mostly by Afrikaners – white South Africans. “Despite impoverished blacks in the region far outnumbering whites, poverty is a human issue, not necessarily racial.”


“Settlements like Crossroads consisted of thousands of shacks made of wood, cardboard, tin, and other scrap material.”


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