Why Crossroads?

One of Cape Town’s oldest informal settlements, Crossroads has suffered from a lack of resources and development since its inception in the early 1970s. In the 1980s, it was a hot-bed of political activism during the struggle for democracy in South Africa. The local police force at the time was rumoured to have introduced drugs into the community as a means of destruction and control, contributing to Crossroads’ crippling gang problem.

Crossroads is still suffering from the legacies of its past. A lack of development, widespread drug usage and violent gang activity continue to define the area and it is largely left out of the social and economic progress seen in neighbouring communities. ILB is working to change this narrative and transform a community from within.

‘Mams’ is a famous figure in the Crossroads community. She has beautified her RDP home with the proceeds of her recycling.

A short history of Crossroads

Despite the poor conditions of informal settlements in South Africa, there was a significant advantage of staying in Crossroads, such as work and access to health services, to be gained from living near large towns and cities.

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 hope 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 people were 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.

Crossroads march 1985. Supporters of Old Crossroads headman Mr Geoffrey Nongwe march to Nyanga police station. Copyright held by Independent Newspapers.

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.

Despite all of the difficulties and the hard times they faced, the people of Crossroads still remain strong and  hope for a brighter future.