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26 Dead From Fighting In Crossroads Squatter Camp

May 23, 1986

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Vast tracts of the Crossroads squatter camp lay in ruins Thursday after four days of raging battles between rival black groups. Estimates of the homeless ranged from 15,000 to 50,000 people, with 26 confirmed dead.

Residents told reporters they feared many more were dead.

U.S. Ambassador Herman Nickel called the scene 12 miles east of Cape Town ″a human disaster of major proportions.″

Foreign governments, national companies and Cape Town residents mounted a relief operation to feed and clothe those whose shanties were destroyed by roving bands of fighters.

The settlement of about 100,000 people was largely quiet Thursday apart from sporadic clashes, journalists said.

The battles began Sunday between conservative black vigilantes and militant youths, apparently involving personal power struggles more than politics.

Thousands of residents milled around the edge of the settlement Thursday, many afraid to return to their wrecked homes to salvage belongings because of wandering bands of men carrying axes, spears and sharpened sticks.

Police repeatedly denied allegations that they aided, or at least failed to control the vigilantes, who residents said systematically destroyed row after row of shacks.

Officials erected barbed wire Thursday to fence off the worst-hit section.

Cabinet minister Chris Heunis said 3,000 tents would be erected for victims at a new black township as temporary housing.

The United States, which at first donated $10,000 for victims, increased the gift to $35,000.

Other embassies said they were approaching their governments for donations, and the Urban Foundation, which assists with black housing problems, gave $44,000.

Jan Steyn, chairman of the South African foundation, said the fighting had ″rendered an estimated 50,000 people homeless.″

Timo Bezuidenhoud, the Cape province’s senior government official for black affairs, put the figure at 15,000 to 20,000.

″The area has now been leveled,″ Colin Appleton, of the Urban Foundation, said after visiting the scene. ″You see pieces of personal belongings lying on the sand, pieces of timber sticking up in the air, charred pieces of corrugated iron lying bent on the ground.″

Most Crossroads squatters had come from tribal homelands since the mid- 1970s and settled in the shanty city because they could not find official housing in nearby black townships.

Many residents did not have stamps in their passes allowing them to live legally in Cape Town. The government this month abolished the pass laws, which restricted movement of blacks, but said uncontrolled squatting would not be allowed.

For years, the government had been trying to persuade Crossroads residents to move to a new black township, Khayelitsha, about seven miles farther from Cape Town.

But many residents said they feared they would be denied authorized housing if they left the squalid huts of Crossroads.

Sue Joynt, of the Black Sash anti-apartheid group, said there were suspicions that authorities had not done all they could to halt the fighting, in order to speed the demise of Crossroads.

In other developments:

-Argentina broke diplomatic relations Thursday with South Africa, which President Raul Alfonsin said threatens international peace. The decision to break relations came in response to Monday’s attacks by South African forces on rebel camps in the black-ruled countries of Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

-Rioting was reported Thursday in 15 black townships, and police said three black men were found burned to death and one shot by police in a range of incidents.

Nearly 1,600 people have died in 20 months of violence against apartheid, South Africa’s system of segregation under which 5 million whites dominate 24 million voteless blacks.

-In Soweto, near Johannesburg, riot police clashed repeatedly with youths who set up burning barricades and stoned armored vehicles after police dispersed a crowd of about 8,000 who had gathered for a funeral that was banned.

-The government said a new national council intended to be ″the beginning of a government of national unity″ will include at least 16 blacks. The council would help the government plan a new constitution giving a share of power to all races, said Heunis. Most black anti-apartheid activists scoffed at the proposed council when President P.W. Botha suggested the idea in January.

-A far-right white group, the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, broke up a rally Thursday night by the ruling National Party in rural Pietersburg, and police fired tear gas to quell fistfights. The movement opposes granting concessions to blacks.

-South African-led troops shot and killed 56 insurgents in South-West Africa after an ambush by guerrillas fighting for the South Africa-ruled territory’s independence, the military there said. The fighting occurred Wednesday.