Crossroads Township 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 unavailable in rural areas.
Settlements like Crossroads consisted of thousands of shacks made of wood, cardboard, tin, and other scrap material. Living conditions were poor with entire families living in one tiny makeshift structure.
“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.”
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 as well as the flight paths of Cape Town International Airport. When authorities attempted to move Crossroads residents to a new township – Khayelitsha meaning “new home” in Xhosa – further away from the city, they refused. There was rioting among rival gangs and fighting in the streets.”
“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 involved in the conflict and violence between rival groups and the resistance organisations” – para. 555, Vol 2, Chap 3, Truth and Reconciliation (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’s said that Ngxobongwana used those resources to eliminate his rivals and degrade women and youth groups.
Open fires used for cooking and candles for lighting resulted in burns, accidents, and frequent fires.
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”.
In today’s post-apartheid South Africa governed by the African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s National Liberation Movement, there are a growing number of squatter camps populated by Afrikaners – white South Africans. “Despite impoverished blacks in the region far outnumbering whites, poverty is a human issue, not necessarily racial.”