Bulldozers today cleared debris from a 62-acre wasteland where three sections of this sprawling squatter complex outside Cape Town have been demolished in bitter fighting between black conservative and radical factions during the past 10 days.
In what local analysts are describing as the bloodiest chapter in nearly two years of racial violence in South Africa's black ghettos, 48 persons have been killed, at least 120 have been injured seriously and about 35,000 have been left homeless.
The Red Cross and other welfare organizations have set up refugee centers in church halls and tent camps around the devastated shantytown to accommodate the thousands of homeless families.
Many have lost everything. In the smouldering ruins of the squatter camps, some refugees spent today scratching at the ground with sticks looking for meager savings that had been buried in tins beneath their shanties.
Civil rights organizations are accusing President Pieter W. Botha's administration of taking sides in the fighting and have compiled a file of 49 sworn affidavits by Crossroads residents accusing the police of arming and assisting the conservative faction.
Using these affidavits, they won a court action against the police Monday, when a provincial Supreme Court judge issued a largely symbolic order that the police should not "permit unlawful attacks" on a fourth section of the Crossroads complex, whose residents say they feel threatened.
The affidavits allege that the authorities have used a band of vigilantes to uproot thousands of squatters from the Crossroads complex. Removal of the squatters has been sought for years but without success because of stubborn resistance and political protests at home and abroad.
"This is a forced removal of the worst kind," said the Rev. Allan Boesak, a leader of the activist United Democratic Front, as he toured the devastated areas of Crossroads today. "Even for the South African police, this must set a record in brutality."
Leaders of the United Democratic Front, the main activist organization, sought to drive home the point when they produced two "captured" vigilantes at a press conference in Johannesburg today, one of whom said he had been paid by the police to participate in attacks on activists.
A statement issued by police headquarters in Pretoria tonight denied the vigilante's allegation. "The police don't kill people, nor do they pay people to do this. They try to restore law and order," the statement said.
The charge of official connivance with the Crossroads vigilantes comes at a time when such accusations are being made against the Botha administration in many parts of South Africa.
A book published last month by a leading civil rights lawyer, Nicholas Haysom, which was based on information gathered by field workers of four civil rights organizations, said there was "overwhelming evidence" that the administration was recruiting a private army of conservative vigilantes in the black townships to fight the activists.
The battle of Crossroads began on the night of May 18 when an army of about 1,000 vigilantes calling themselves witdoeke (white rags), identifiable by strips of white cloth tied around their necks or pinned to their clothing, began a series of running battles with young activists known nationally as "the comrades."
For five days the battle raged through the shantytown's alleyways. By Friday, the vigilantes had won. They had driven all known radicals out of the main section of the squatter complex, called Old Crossroads, and set fire to three satellite camps regarded as radical strongholds.
All that was left of the three camps was a charred expanse of twisted debris, with an occasional burnt-out automobile indicating where a more affluent family had lived.
The 35,000 inhabitants of the satellite camps fled into the surrounding bush. During the past few days they have emerged as a bedraggled multitude to seek food and shelter at the refugee centers.
Hundreds were packed into the Zolani Community Center in nearby Nyanga township today, with what household goods they had managed to salvage heaped around them in a chaotic jumble of beds, chairs, tables, cupboards, pots and pans.
Welfare agencies are distributing food and blankets. Volunteer doctors are staffing emergency medical stations. One run by the small local Islamic community has a roster of nine doctors who have attended more than 2,000 sick refugees.
The U.S. Embassy has given $35,000 to aid the refugees. "The situation has clearly reached the proportions of a major human disaster," said Ambassador Herman W. Nickel.
At first, white South Africans had little idea of what was happening in the sprawling shanty complex beyond Cape Town's city limits, but gradually some newspapers began publishing reports that suggested this was not just another instance of black-against-black violence, which has been a feature of the unrest in the segregated townships.
Reporters gave accounts of how they had watched the police stand aside while the witdoeke launched attacks on the "comrades" but moved in and opened fire whenever the "comrades" gained the upper hand.
Jan van Eck, head of a monitoring team run by the liberal Progressive Federal Party, issued a statement saying his investigations had convinced him the police were aiding the witdoeke. Helen Suzman, the party's veteran antiapartheid campaigner, agreed after making a tour of Crossroads.
In their affidavits presented to the court last week, residents said police had provided the vigilantes with arms and ammunition, including grenade launchers, and had joined in the burning of activists' shanties.
Offering a glimpse of the kind of tangled interplay of political forces sometimes found in the black townships, the affidavits suggested that an influential Crossroads leader, Johnson Ngxobongwana, who has a long record of resisting the authorities, finally had agreed to the removal of part of the squatter complex so that the rest could be upgraded.
According to these sources, this brought Ngxobongwana into conflict with the leaders of three satellite camps adjoining Old Crossroads, which is his sector.
It is suggested that, with police support, his followers attacked and razed these adjoining squatter camps in order to crush the radicals, which is what the authorities wanted, while creating space for Old Crossroads to be upgraded, which is what Ngxobongwana wanted.
Both Ngxobongwana and the police have denied that they made a deal, saying it was the "comrades" who attacked first. But they have not explained how it is that the three satellite townships were destroyed and are now being bulldozed, while Old Crossroads, which is separated from them by a dirt track, was untouched.
The two vigilantes introduced by the United Democratic Front leaders at the press conference in Johannesburg today were said to have been captured after allegedly working with police to firebomb the homes of black activists. A woman, Margaret Kamani, was burned to death in one of the attacks.
Abraham Mziwane, 19, said he had worked as a paid informer for the police after being jailed for smoking marijuana.
About three months ago, he had helped the police in a series of attacks on activists' homes in which a 3-year-old child had been burnt to death, Mziwane said. He added that he was paid the equivalent of about $50 for these attacks but had been promised more.
The other captured vigilante, William Maguga, 20, denied that he had joined in the attacks despite urging by Mziwane that he should "tell the truth."