The road to 'Egoli': Urbanization histories from a Johannesburg squatter settlement

O. Crankshaw, G. Heron, Tim Hart

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


The popular interpretation of the growth of squatter camps on the Witwatersrand is that it is the direct result of recent immigration from the rural
areas of South Africa's 'homelands'. Evidence from surveys conducted in
1990 (Crankshaw 1990) does suggest that this road to 'Egoli' (the place of
gold) is becoming an increasingly significant cause of squatting. However,
up until very recently, squatting on the 'Witwatersrand has generally been
the result of natural urban population growth in the face of a chronic housing
shortage, low wages and high unemployment. This is true for most of the
free-standing squatter camps that have become established on vacant land
adjacent to formal townships. For example, surveys conducted in 1988 and
1989 amongst squatter communities adjacent to Alexandra and Soweto
and in white urban areas reveal that the vast majority of squatters were
either born on the Witwatersrand, or had lived there for at least a decade
(Crankshaw 1990).

This study examines a rather different sort of squatter settlement. In contrast
to many that are located near existing African townships, Vlakfontein is
in peri-urban farmland some 35 km to the south of Johannesburg. As such,
it is a catchment area for peri-urban farmworkers as well as for township
dwellers. If we examine the birthplaces of our sample of 95 household heads,
we find that these people originate from the townships and farms of the Witwatersrand itself, non-metropolitan towns, white farming areas, and rural
areas in the homelands and neighbouring states. Despite this diversity of
birthplaces, however, most (54 per cent) of the sample of squatters were born
on white-owned farms. About half (51 per cent) of these ex-farmworkers
in the sample were in fact born on farms in the southern Witwatersrand,
between Johannesburg and Vereeniging. The other half were born on farms
in the northern Orange Free State and south-eastern Transvaal (30 per cent),
and in the eastern and western Transvaal (12 per cent). In comparison
with other squatter settlements that are found adjacent to formal African
and white townships, Vlakfontein has ten times as many ex-farmworkers
amongst its residents (Crankshaw 1990). So, the high proportion of ex-farmworkers in Vlakfontein makes this squatter settlement unique.
As our research amongst the community progressed, it also became
clear that the forces behind squatting at Vlakfontein were unique to the
peri-urban character of the area, and to the social relationships on the
smallholdings. The story of Vlakfontein is, for the most part, the story of
ex-farmworkers and their urbanization. For this reason, we have chosen to
focus on the ex-farmworkers in the sample; to tell their story of urbanization
and homelessness.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Apartheid City and Beyond
Subtitle of host publication Urbanization and social change in South Africa
EditorsDavid Simon
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages11
ISBN (Print)0-415-07602-1
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • migration
  • urbanisation
  • Informal settlements
  • Johannesburg


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