Crossroads Squatter Camp Cape Town South Africa

Cape Flats

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

South African Shantytown –


Crossroads was the only African squatter camp in Cape Town that successfully resisted apartheid bulldozers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It’s an iconic piece of anti-apartheid struggle history in South Africa.”  JUSTOR


Shanty Town Fire
Crossroads History

Settlements like Crossroads consisted of thousands of shacks made of cardboard, wood, and tin scrap material. Living conditions were substandard, with entire families living in one tiny makeshift structure, with no running water or sewerage system.

Crossroads Children


Fighting and rioting at Crossroads 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.”


Squatter Camp Graffiti

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

Crossroads with Table Mountain in Background


“In the South African context, contra-mobilisation was used to organise and support ‘moderate blacks’ to oppose revolutionary movements.”


Shanty Town Communal Water Pump

“By the mid 1980s, Crossroad’s population was over 100,000 and highly visible in the world press and below the flight paths of Cape Town International Airport. Authorities relocated residents further away from the city to a new township, Khayelitsha (meaning new home in Xhosa), but many refused to move. Rival gangs rioted and fought in the streets.”

Squatter Camp Houses
Fighting, Rioting, Violence

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

Crossroads Residents


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


Squatter Camp
Squatter Camp Scene

Johnson Ngxobongwana was a local warlord who had a strong political voice at Crossroads. He represented moderate Africans. Over the years Ngxobongwana developed a popular following, including local thugs wearing white headbands (Witdoeke) for identification. South Africa’s Apartheid government security forces provided Ngxobongwana with “unofficial support“. He was said to have used those resources to eliminate his rivals and degrade women and youth groups.

National State of Emergency 1986

On June 12th, 1986, President PW Botha declared a National State of Emergency to halt the violence across South Africa. Botha characterized the violence as perpetuated by “revolutionaries supported by the African National Congress (ANC),” a member of Socialist International.

Cape Flats –


Open cooking fires and candles for lighting resulted in burns, accidents, and frequent fires. This continues today.


Steve Bloom Photographer – Crossroads Aerial Photo
Government Pre- and Post-Apartheid

Although the South African media reported the violence as “black-on-black,” the South African 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”.

Squatter Camp Hones


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


Crossroads Squatter Camp
Artist Rendering Crossroads Squatter Camp

Today’s post-apartheid South Africa governed by South Africa’s National Liberation Movement, the African National Congress (ANC), has a growing number of squatter camps populated by Afrikaners – white South Africans.

White Squatter Camp


“Despite impoverished blacks in the region far outnumbering whites, poverty is a human issue, not necessarily racial.”


White Squatter Camp South Africa

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