Crossroads Township

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Crossroads Township is situated in Cape Town in the Wynberg district, some 12 km east of Athlone in the Western Cape Province.

Crossroads emerged as a shanty town close to the airport. It began when workers were forcibly removed from Brown’s Farm and sent to Crossroads. On their arrival they found only a bush and had to erect shacks for shelter. There were only a few houses. A larger proportion of the residents had previously been lodgers in overcrowded locations, like Nyanga. Male migrants who lived in Nyanga hostels left in order to live with their ‘illegal’ wives, as perceived by the authorities (who had prohibited women to visit men in the hostel). Police raids were prevalent here; demanding passes or permits from the women who came all the way from the homelands (predominantly Ciskei and Transkei) to visit their husbands in Cape Town.

The removals

In 1975, officials issued eviction orders to relocate the informal population to Khayelitsha. However, these were not enforced because a Men's Committee and a Women's Committee had been established in order to fight this decision. The two committees were particularly successful at gaining support from within and outside the community and managed to get the government to postpone the execution of the decision. 

The Black Sash organisation also contested the removals and participated in a campaign called 'Save Crossroads' in 1978. The removals were accelerated by the application of the Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act of 1952. Following a series of court appearances, the residents ultimately received a reprieve from the Cape Supreme Court. Crossroads was declared an 'emergency camp'. Despite attempts to close down Crossroads, the Divisional Council, a local authority, was forced to install rudimentary water supplies and refuse collection for a nominal fee.

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Attempts to save Crossroads from destruction became a major battle between the government and opposition movements during the late 1970s and 1980s. Tension mounted within the shanty town between supporters of Johnson Ngxobongwana, the head of the residents committee and other members of the community. The committee consisted exclusively of males. It was discovered that Ngxobongwana rewarded them with salaries and community cars. Others contested his favouritism and rewards to his male enforcers. 
A power struggle developed between Ngxobongwana and some of his former supporters, notably his former vice-chairman, Oliver Memani, in the early 1980s. This began, in 1983, as a series of bloody fights in Crossroads that spread into the nearby areas of KTC and Nyanga.  Ngxobongwana’s supporters distinguished themselves by wearing bits of white cloths or ‘witdoeke’, as the group was called. Some residents fled to Khayelitsha in an attempt to escape the violence.
The 'witdoeke' were armed with weapons, and launched attacks on neighbouring townships as well as setting fire to shanty settlements in old Crossroads. They left 60,000 people homeless between the 25 May and 12 June 1986.

In 1987, Old Crossroads officially acquired the status as a Black local authority. Ngxobongwana became its first mayor and was ousted in 1990 by a former ‘witdoeke’ member and new convert to the African National Congress (ANC), Jeffrey Nongwe. In 1993 the burnt area in Crossroads was rebuilt. Today, the township of Crossroads includes Old Crossroads, New Crossroads, Lower Crossroads and Boystown.


References:
• Cape Town site, Crossroads, [online], Available at www.capetown.at [Accessed: 25 October 2013]
• Affordable Land & Housing Data Centre, Crossroads, [online], Available at www.alhdc.org.za [Accessed: 28 0ctober 2013]
• Fergus Murray Sculpture site, Crossroads (1970s) , [online], Available at www.fergusmurraysculpture.com [Accessed: 28 October 2013]
•  Smith V.B., van Heyningen E., Worden N. (1999), Cape Town in the twentieth century, (David Philip), pp.185 & 215 Raper E.P (2004), New Dictionary of South African Place Names, (Jonathan Ball), p.62

Last updated : 03-Oct-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 08-Nov-2013