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ROAD TO 2021 LOCAL ELECTIONS

Ground Level Report: It’s miserable ‘Carols by candlelight every night’ for some residents of neglected Vrygrond in Cape Town

A desperate mother in the impoverished community of Vrygrond in Lavender Hill searches through rubble for something she can clean and resell to buy food. (Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)

The township is in a shabby state. Situated in Ward 67, it lies between Seawinds and Capricorn near the False Bay coastline east of Cape Town. Maverick Citizen visited the area and discovered mounting poverty and desperation.

Poor service delivery, a housing backlog, refuse not collected for months — these are the daily challenges for many Vrygrond residents, especially for those living in the informal settlements of Overcome and Xakabantu.

On Tuesday, 12 October, Maverick Citizen walked the streets in Vrygrond and witnessed some Overcome section residents, who have access to taps, sharing water with other community members. Residents are also using outside mobile toilets. In the Xakabantu settlement residents have no access to water and also use outside mobile toilets.

Xakabantu, established in 2016, consists of about 1,000 shacks, while Overcome, settled in 2004, has more than 1,600 informal structures. Both informal settlements are expanding rapidly and have played host to numerous violent service delivery protests. Disgruntled residents tell Maverick Citizen that the situation is tense and protest action could erupt at any moment — even before the 1 November local elections.

There is no sign on the turnoff in Prince George Drive, near Capricorn, Cape Town, to show the name of Vrygrond, which is just behind Capricorn (Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)

Vrygrond borders Capricorn shopping mall off Prince George Drive en route to Muizenberg, yet there is no road signage displayed denoting the Vrygrond turn-off. 

This seemingly forgotten part of the world sits adjacent to the broader Lavender Hill area — a district created in the early 1970s to serve as a  dumping ground for coloured Capetonians, who were forcefully relocated from District Six, Lower Claremont, Newlands and Plumstead under the Group Areas Act.

Less than 100 metres into Vrygrond, the extent of the poverty in the township becomes clear. In Drury Road, a small unprotected wetland was being used as a dumping site. The stench emanating from the murky water was unbearable. Rubbish dumps were also seen littering street corners and piling up between shacks and in front of homes, posing health risks to the entire community and especially children.

The ward was won – again – by the DA in the 2016 local municipal elections, a decisive victory with 73% of the votes.

Yet residents who spoke to Maverick Citizen said the DA, through councillor Gerry Gordon, has failed in its task and promise to improve conditions. 

ANC activist Tony Constants, 62, who was shot with buckshot during the 1976 anti-apartheid students uprising, has been living in Xakabantu for over 20 years.

Sitting atop a rubbish dump and scratching through the rubble for copper pieces, Constants said, “If I look back at what we fought for and what we have then I regret risking my life in 1976. Parliament has forgotten about Vrygrond. The life of this country is such a big lie.”

Unemployed ANC activist Tony Constants is trying to make a living by selling copper pieces he finds in the rubble in the Xakabantu informal settlement in Vrygrond, Lavenderhill in Cape Town. (Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)

Disabled 66-year-old Maggie Solomons is among the residents who cannot afford to buy electricity in this impoverished community. For R10, residents receive six units of electricity. Their previously subsidised allocation of 50 free units has been halved. As such, she often lives in darkness. When Maverick Citizen paid her a visit at home, neighbour Elizabeth Lewack brought Solomons some food and bought her electricity.

“It’s Carols by candlelight every night in certain parts of Vrygrond,” Solomons said.

Elsewhere, Overcome residents have become accustomed to using outside toilets and accessing a limited number of taps. Residents who have taps on their premises, most of which they installed themselves, share them with neighbours.

Oslin Lindoor is one of many residents who depend on their neighbours for water. For 16-years he has been walking the same path to neighbour Felicia Faroa who shares her tap with several households.

(In front) Sikho Gawe and Lwando Nhendi, from Xakabantu in Vrygrond in Cape Town ,walk long distances every day to collect water. (Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)

“It is not nice to go and walk to get water. The government has promised that we get water but 16-years later I’m still without water. From 2016 up until September 2021, nothing was done to improve our lives,” he said.

Come 1 November, Lindoor will be carefully choosing who to vote for. He hopes that this time around his vote will secure him a house with a tap and a toilet.

ANC ward councillors Nonkosi Fodo and Lorraine Moko put the blame for the lack of service delivery, housing and water at the door of the DA. They say that the ANC is determined to snatch Ward 67 from the DA at the 1 November elections.

“Should the ANC win, we intend forming a partnership with all the parties to ensure that Vrygrond gets the facelift it richly deserves. Politics must be put aside for the interest and development of communities,” Fodo reiterated.

ANC ward councillors Lorraine Moko, left, and Nonkosi Fodo want to unseat the DA councillor in Vrygrond Ward 67, Cape Town, during the upcoming local election.
(Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)

Whoever takes over the ward faces a mammoth task, said Fodo, adding that 3,000 households are in desperate need of housing which needs to be dealt with expeditiously.

Current DA councillor Gerry Gordon’s tenure ends on 31 October. Responding to questions from Maverick Citizen on 12 October, Gordon said, “The City has been doing constant service delivery. Vrygrond has had constant clearing of blocked drains as well as removal of foreign objects out of drains. Since 2017 the planning for the Vrygrond housing project is in the planning stages,” she said.

Gordon added that all the street lights had been replaced in 2017 and 2018 and training had been afforded to residents on how to save electricity. More than 25 Wonderbags had also been supplied to residents for use when cooking and as means to save electricity. Gordon did not elaborate specifically on the harsh living conditions Maverick Citizen witnessed firsthand.

Oslin Lindoor hasn’t had access to water for the past 10-years and is forced to get water from a neighbour in Overcome, Vrygrond. (Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)

But DA Ward candidate Mandy Marr said Ward 67 will change to Ward 45 following the election. She said population expansion had resulted in the need for this new ward to be created, encompassing Seawinds, Hillview, Overcome, Vrygrond, Costa da Gama and Capricorn.

Noting the failures of the DA in delivering on its promises and the challenges Vrygrond faced, Marr said, “My only promise is that I want to serve this community with open communication, honesty and respect.

“I’ve worked with the various community leaders, including the ANC, FF+ candidates and the independent candidate, so my plan is to continue to work together no matter who wins. I acknowledge that there are many challenges and I’m confident that if we work together we can overcome them.”

Regarding the housing backlog, Marr explained that the City of Cape Town has approved a housing development with 650 units — construction of which is scheduled to commence in early 2022.

Outgoing Mayor Dan Plato, acutely aware of the housing crisis, confirmed the 650 units earmarked for Vrygrondwill commence early next year. He added that housing projects have been hampered by Covid-19 regulations. DM/MC

Residents have made a road themselves so that they can drive into the Xakabantu informal settlement in Vrygrond. Lavender Hill in Cape Town. (Photo: Vincent Cruywagen)
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  • “THE DA GETS THINGS DONE”. This is splashed on a million election posters in Gauteng. Hang your heads in shame DA Councillors that have been responsible for looking after these wards. Gerry Gordon how do you sleep at night?

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