Capricorn, known by some residents as Vrygrond, is reputedly the oldest informal settlement in the Western Cape. Vrygrond simply means “Free Ground”, and comes from the legend that the land was given to the community by a wealthy Italian aristocrat who owned the area. Capricorn was originally created by Trek fishermen who erected informal houses near the beach to assist their work; the settlement is located near Muizenberg on the False Bay coast about 20 kilometres from Central Cape Town. Currently, the population is roughly half coloured, who mostly speak Afrikaans and English, and half black, who speak Xhosa. There has never been an accurate census, but the local Council assessed that there are around 8000 people, though it is likely that the figure is much higher.
The people of Capricorn have certainly had a difficult recent history; the land on which the settlement is built belonged to the Council, and so residents had no official right to live there. Under the apartheid government they were ejected, with many being forcibly sent back to other parts of South Africa. Others left because of the continual harassment, but a core managed to remain throughout this time. Shacks demolished by the authorities during the day were surreptitiously re-built at night, and the community managed to increase in number as the old governments gradually stopped implementing its policies. The community also had to deal with the effects of poverty, which is an issue still facing them today. For many years Capricorn had no electricity and no piped water. There were 21 public water taps which had to serve over 1000 homes, and toilet buckets were only emptied once a week by the Council.
Capricorn residents still struggle with the effects of poverty on a daily basis. The simple constructed shacks which many live in are constructed from any material that is available, usually tin and wooden boards. As a result, there is little protection from the elements, and winter is a challenge with lower temperatures (and no heating), wind and rain. There is a severe risk of flooding during the rainy seasons and fire during the hot, dry summers, so families are at risk of losing everything they own any time of year. The basic structures of shacks are also vulnerable to theft: there is very little one can do to secure a building which can be easily taken apart.
Crime is a rampant threat within the settlement; the crime and violence rate is extremely high, with many gangs active, and widespread drug issues affecting all parts of society. There is a big problem with alcohol too, which leads to other troubles such as domestic violence and abuse. Prostitution is also common, resulting in many street children. The main cause of these issues is a general lack of hope. Thousands of people live in poverty and don’t have the mindset to break free and improve their standard of lives. There is a lack of ambition and drive, with many content to live off crime and hand outs. Unemployment affects almost every family; around 83% are unemployed, and this acts as the catalyst for most other problems. Thousands are also ravaged by HIV, with near 20% infected with the disease. Facilities on the settlement are scarce; a primary school was opened in January 2008 for the first time, and there is no medical clinic in the immediate area.
The people of Capricorn are still a friendly township, even through their affliction; however, it is still very much in need of strong leaders who can bring this divided and troubled community together.