Shanty Towns in Cape Town
|During the fifties, the
government replaced 2,000 African employees in the Western Cape with coloured
and white workers, and pass laws were enforced by police trying to catch
'illegal' immigrant workers. However, the fast growing shanty towns on the edge
of Cape Town were evidence that influx control was not really working.
In the early fifties, the necessity to supply alternative
accommodation stopped the local authorities from destroying shacks. Central
government's reaction was to impose 'The Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act'
in 1952 which forced local authorities to set up 'emergency camps' where shanty
dwellers could be 'concentrated and controlled', and permitted authorities to
destroy 'illegal' shacks.
In the late 1950s the destruction of shack settlements increased in areas as
diverse as Hout Bay and Elsies River. Over 5000 so-called 'bachelors' were
forced to move into hostels, and thousands of 'illegals' - most of whom were
women - were 'endorsed out' of the city.
In 1959, despite vocal protest from many employers, the Native
Affairs Department decreed that no more Africans could be employed for work in
Cape Town. At the same time, the conditions in the Eastern Cape reserves were
deteriorating and therefore migrant labour became a more significant lifeline
for many families.
The clearance of squatter camps continued throughout the sixties and seventies.
The Modderdam squatter camp was destroyed by two bulldozers during one week in
August 1977, and as residents watched their homes being razed they chanted
freedom songs and hymns, charged policemen and threw furniture onto the road.
Some even set fire to their own shacks before the authorities could reach
| In the 1970s a shanty town
developed at 'Crossroads', near the airport. It began when workers were told to
leave a white farm and move to 'the crossroads'. Finding only bush, they built
shacks and established a community that afforded families more scope for
creating individual, respectable homes than the hostels of Guguletu.
As Crossroads was considered a temporary camp by the
authorities, eviction orders were made in 1975. However, these were not
enforced because a Men's Committee and a Women's Committee had formed in order
to fight this decision, the latter of the two being particularly successful at
gaining support from within and outside the community.
In 1977 a survey showed a total of 18,000 living at
The Black Sash began to support the 'Save Crossroads' campaign,
and in 1978 it was declared an 'emergency camp' thereby obliging the Council to
supply water taps and remove refuse for a small fee.
The battle to save Crossroads from destruction became a major
battle of will between the government and the opposition movements during the
late 1970s and 1980s.
However, tensions rose within the shanty town and violence
erupted around the schism between supporters of Johnson Ngxobongwana as head of
the residents committee, and those who contested his behaviour of favouritism
and reward to his henchmen.
In 1983 there were bloody fights in Crossroads that spread into
the nearby areas of KTC and Nyanga. A group of older Crossroads residents
resented the rising influence of UDF supporters or 'comrades'. A group of these
men, the 'witdoeke', wore white armbands and formed an alliance with the police
to fight against these young 'comrades'.
The 'witdoeke' were sanctioned to use weapons, and in the
attacks on neighbouring townships and the setting fire to all the shanty
settlements in old Crossroads, they caused an enormous amount of violence and
rendered 60,000 people homeless. Some residents moved 'voluntarily' to a tented
town near Site C in Khayelitsha to avoid the violence
| Meaning 'new home',
Khayelitsha was intended by the government to provide housing to all 'legal'
residents of the Cape Peninsula, whether they were in squatter camps or in
existing townships, in one purpose built and easily controlled township.
The plan was to create 4 towns, each with 30,000 residents in
brick houses, a proportion of which were to be privately owned. Settlement
began with a tented town - rows and rows of tents, to which Crossroads
By 1986 over 8,000 people lived in 4,150 'site and service'
plots at Site C (site and service means demarcated plots, each with a tap and
toilet), and a further 13,000 rented core houses in Town 1 (a core house is a
small cement-brick structure that can be extended into a larger
Yet, by 1990 the population of Khayelitsha was 450,000 and
unemployment stood at 80%. Only 14% lived in core housing, with 54% in serviced
shacks and 32% in unserviced areas. A handful of residents had electricity and
most families had to fetch water from public taps.
In conditions of overcrowding and lawlessness, unofficial
councils elected by community members maintained social control in the
neighbourhood, and enforced physical punishment upon adults and children who
broke the local codes of behaviour.
Khayelitsha grew rapidly during the 1990s as migrants from the
Eastern Cape, previously deterred by influx control, arrived to look for work.
By 1995 there were over half a million people living in Khayelitsha. Many
brought their cattle and were able to earn an income by selling milk to
The sight of cows crossing bridges over the N2 freeway reminds
Capetonians of the strong rural connection of many of the city's residents.
Fire was a constant hazard until electricity was made
accessible as residents used paraffin and candles for cooking and light. Winds
blowing across the flats spread fires quickly, destroying many crowded homes.
Rates of domestic violence, rape, child abuse and murder
increased dramatically during the 1990s on the Cape Flats. Police presence was
minimal and in this climate, vigilante activities grew.
Taxi wars were another feature of the early-mid 1990s as
associations of drivers fought to control the lucrative routes between the Cape
Flats and the centre and suburbs. Passengers were not only at risk of being
caught up in violent clashes and the work of 'hit squads', but were also
frequently endangered by dangerous driving as drivers tried to make more money
by rushing along their routes.
Slowly, however, developments began to transform the shanty
towns into suburbs, although progress was slow (see the New
South Africa). The open areas toward the False Bay coast were developed as
'site and service' plots in the mid-90s, such as Harare and Makhasa. Later a
vast area beyond Harare was developed consisting of of tiny homes in long rows.
The railway line was only extended to these areas in 2008. By this time the
population of Khayelitsha was said to be over one million, although accurate
data was lacking. There was still no hospital in teh entire area and other
services, including policing, were - at best - controversial.
Steven Otter wrote a very readable book about his stay in
Khayelitsha in the early 2000s called 'Umlungu in Khayelitsha'.
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