2022 Winner: Apartheid and the Bloody Origins of Khayelitsha

Project Information
Apartheid and the Bloody Origins of Khayelitsha
History 194N, Urbanities in the Global South, 18th Century to Present
My paper traces the bloody origins of one of the world’s largest slums, Khayelitsha, South Africa. It explores Khayelitsha’s forced settlement from the apartheid government labeled “black on black violence” that erupted in the summer of 1986 at the Cape Town Crossroads squatter encampment. Khayelitsha was the state’s solution to the eyesore that Crossroads had become and was intended to transfer this population to a segregated black township over twenty five miles from white Cape Town. Faced with unexpected resistance from the newly empowered Crossroads squatters, the government resorted to its tried and true strategy of “divide and rule” by colluding with black Crossroads “mayor” and Witdoeke leader, Johnson Ngxobongwana. This scheme had Ngxobongwana attack his own squatter camps to violently purge Crossroads, leaving no other option for displaced residents but to move to Khayelitsha, while the state conveniently denied involvement. My paper illuminates a triad of mechanisms which led to the Crossroads massacre and culminated in this violent mass displacement of Black South Africans. Much of the historiography used to explain the bloodshed at Crossroads focuses on the government’s role in aiding the Witdoeke, but neglects to substantiate two other factors that I find crucial. While the collusion between the police and the Witdoeke cannot be ignored, the national politics of the pass system and its divisionary principles between groups of Black South Africans must also be acknowledged in concert with resistance movements. By analyzing key apartheid legislation, particularly the notorious pass system which not only separated races from each other, but further divided blacks along tribal lines and pitted migratory black laborers against urban blacks, I expose the impact apartheid urbanity had upon Khayelitsha. Black resistance movements as well are considered as they not only empowered Crossroads squatters to stand up to the apartheid government, but were used by the state to divide “privileged” blacks from those denied any rights. It was in this context that “black on black violence” erupted that fateful summer in Crossroads founding Khayelitsha in unprecedented carnage.
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  • Rane Giovanni Vigil (Kresge)