IN DEEP WATER (PART ONE)
Residents on KZN’s South Coast increasingly desperate while taps stay dry
The seemingly endless water crisis on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast affects rich and poor residents alike. Whether you live in suburbs, townships or informal settlements, there is no respite from regular water cuts. Pleas and protests continue falling on deaf municipal ears.
For years, residents along the KZN South Coast have been calling on the local municipality to deal with intermittent and persistent water cuts in the area. But these pleas have been ignored, with residents increasingly resorting to violent protests.
The most affected areas are those supplied by the Ugu District Municipality – from Scottburgh to Port Edward and inland to Harding.
Pleas and violent protests by residents in some of these towns, as well as threats of legal action against the municipality, have failed to galvanise the authorities to resolve the crisis.
Angry residents of Umzinto recently blockaded the road leading to this small South Coast town. They said they are sick and tired of spending days and sometimes even weeks without water.
One person was injured when a vigilante group — purporting to protect local businesses from potential rioting — fired on protesters with live ammunition. Resident Shaun McEntee was hit in the leg and seriously wounded.
McEntee was born in Umzinto 43 years ago and has lived in the town his entire life. He works as an electrical contractor and supports a family of six who live with him in a small council flat in the Riverside section.
He, like thousands of other residents in Umzinto and surrounding areas, had never seen the likes of the water cuts they have been experiencing since October last year.
“Water gets cut off for days and even weeks and the Ugu District Municipality does not inform the residents why. We can’t take a bath before going to school or work… we don’t have water to drink or use the toilet… it is chaos,” he said.
Another South Coast resident, Rosa Webster, wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa in January this year, expressing the community’s desperation and begging him to intervene.
“The (Ugu District) municipality keeps making promises but (it seems things have not improved… (in fact, things have gotten) worse. They keep making excuses. (It is either) Eskom, high water demand, sabotage, pump failures… nothing changes.
“There was an inspection recently of a pump station which showed how badly it had been maintained, that water was pumping faster back into the river than to where it was supposed to be going. So the reasoning behind high water demand is illogical,” wrote Webster, pleading with the president to take action.
Tessa Green has been living in Margate Extension 3 for the past nine years. She says her area is consistently affected by the cuts, and when the supply does get turned back on, the water is brown or salty.
“Many residents around the South Coast have had to invest in water tanks, but are still forced to pay exorbitant rates for water by the Ugu District Municipality. Some years ago, when this problem started, the municipality used to bring water tanks to ensure that residents got their fill. But now there are no tanks coming and nobody cares how or whether we get water,” she said.
Other residents said the Ray Nkonyeni Local Municipality and Ugu District Municipality often have to send staff home early because there is no water for sanitation or flushing of toilets.
In Bhethani, a semi-informal area near Marburg, we met a group of women who were doing their laundry near the sports field. They were using water from a nearby stream.
Khethiwe Shongwe (32) said there are times when they have to drink from the stream. “Some people throw diapers in the upper stream and we have to drink that water downstream. If we are lucky, our local pastor organises a water tank to come down and we will have water to drink and bath for a few days.
“If we use the water from the stream to wash, we develop a skin rash and when we go to the clinic they say they can’t help us because they don’t have water themselves.
“We have been pleading with the municipality to sort this out but the authorities are ignoring us. We don’t know what to do any more,” she said.
Many schools in the area are forced to send children home when there is no water. Princess Memela, a local teacher, said students were losing a lot of hours. The situation had been worsened when the children were forced by Covid-19 protocols to attend school on alternate days.
In Umzinto, some businesses and a Muslim charity are pooling their resources to deliver containers of water to stricken residents.
When Daily Maverick visited the area, Faizal Mohamed and his wife were using his bakkie to deliver water to residents in the Gandhinagar area. He said they distribute about four loads a day to about 675 houses, with each home getting a 5-litre container of water.
“Sometimes people don’t have a drop of water to drink. The municipality has been promising water, but residents have been waiting without any help. That is why people welcome us with open arms,” he said.
The Democratic Alliance has also become involved. George Henderson is the DA councillor for Uvongo, Manaba and St Michaels On Sea in the Ray Nkonyeni Local Municipality.
“We as the DA have been asking both the national Department of Water and Sanitation and KZN Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to get Umgeni Water to supply bulk water to the areas under Ugu District Municipality, but they have ignored us,” said Henderson, who is also the caucus leader of the DA in the Ugu District Municipality, where he serves as an executive committee member.
“Ugu District Municipality is not pumping enough water to supply all its areas. They don’t have any money at the moment. It is insolvent. Ugu is owed more than R800-million by debtors who don’t want to pay. On the other hand, it is owing creditors, service providers and contractors. The council is in a complete mess.
“The problem started about five years ago when they changed the billing system. They then started to do estimates on what people are supposed to pay and people are disputing these exorbitant fees,” Henderson said.
He said some residential associations were banding together to take Ugu District Municipality to court for failing to deliver services while continuing to charge ratepayers for these services.
This, they hope, will help put the municipality under administration.
KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala recently visited the area to investigate the situation, but nothing has happened since.
Municipality claims to be doing its best
The Ugu District Municipality has denied that incompetence, fraud and corruption are responsible for the water crisis on the South Coast.
It admitted that it experiences challenges during peak season, such as the December holidays, but maintained that residents on the South Coast more often have water in their taps than not.
Municipal spokesperson France Zama claimed they are doing everything in their power to ensure that the water shortage is sorted out once and for all.
“During peak season, where large volumes of people flock to the district, our systems are likely to experience strain due to the high demand of supply. Our water systems are also highly reliant on Eskom power supply to function adequately… When there are power blackouts, the risk of intermittent supply also increases.
“Abstraction, purification and distribution rely on power in order to provide adequate pressure to high-lying areas, which also has an impact on filling of reservoirs adequately,” he said.
Zama acknowledged receiving R19-million from the KZN Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs department to sort out the water crisis.
“In terms of the R19-million from Cogta, R15-million will be used for the overhauling of mechanical and electrical infrastructure at our plant, while R4-million is set aside for boreholes and springs.
“We have developed a water master plan which entails replacement of ageing infrastructure and well as integrating the 16 individual water schemes into sustainable systems, ie Harding Weza water, Umtamvuna, uMzimkhulu, Umtwalume, Vulamehlo, KwaLembe and Mhlabatshane water schemes.
“We also have a rudimentary water supply programme incorporating the use of boreholes and spring water. A spring protection and borehole maintenance programme to support supply to communities is also in place,” he said.
The Ugu District Municipality denied allegations that some contractors were working in concert with unscrupulous officials to sabotage its water supply infrastructure to continue getting contracts to supply water to desperate communities.
“During the recent peak season… there have been no incidents of sabotage reported in the municipality. The municipality has, however, in the past suffered water supply challenges due to vandalism and sabotage.
“Residents with such information (of intentional vandalism and or sabotage) are encouraged to report such information to the municipality or local law enforcement authorities. We also have an anti-fraud and corruption hotline 0801111660 or SMS 44751,” Zama said. DM
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