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Apartheid Shanty Towns in Cape Town
Shanty Towns Crossroads Khayelitsha
Shanty Towns
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 them.
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 Crossroads.

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 residents fled.

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 house).

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 township residents.

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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