Thousands of South African blacks who have been living in squalid conditions at Crossroads -- a squatter camp near Cape Town -- have agreed to move to a government camp a few miles away. In return the government will grant them the right to work in the western Cape Province and live there with their families for at least 18 months.
This ``deal'' reflects part of a markedly more conciliatory approach not only toward blacks who have been squatting for years illegally in the camp but toward blacks generally in the western Cape.
Until the beginning of this year, the government seemed determined to use force if necessary to get people to move from the Crossroads camp to the new, large township known as Khayelitsha.
But after a bitter confrontation between Crossroads residents and police in February when 18 people were killed, Pretoria made some concessions.
South African authorities claim that about 40,000 Crossroads people out of a total population of about 100,000 have agreed so far to move to Khayelitsha. The government hopes others will follow once the advantages of moving become clear.
For the few blacks who have qualified to live in the western Cape the supply of government housing has been inadequate. Additional blacks needed as workers were allowed into the area only on a fixed ``contract'' basis and obliged to return home -- often a ``homeland'' many miles away -- at the end of each work period.
Though these contract laborers were not allowed to bring their families with them, many defied this ruling and had their wives and children join them. These families, along with blacks living legally in the western Cape but without official housing, erected shanty towns, like Crossroads, that in recent years have mushroomed into huge communities.
The government has pledged itself to upgrade Crossroads itself and to provide permanent housing, schools, roads, and water. Relocating the people is seen as a necessary first step in the process of rehabilitating the area. It would be impossible, authorities say, to provide suitable accommodation while at the same time engaging in major building activity.
Also, there have been important concessions for the approximately 200,000 blacks living in the three established black townships in the area of Langa, Nyanga, and Guguletu.
The government has reversed its earlier plan to move blacks from these townships to Khayelitsha as well. Instead, it has given residents the option for the first time of buying their houses on leasehold. In the past the government would only allow the houses to be rented. Plans for township improvements have also been announced.
Further, a longtime restriction giving Coloreds (persons of mixed race descent) first rights ahead of blacks to any vacant jobs has been withdrawn.