UGU DISTRICT CALAMITY
Municipality to blame for endless water crisis on the KZN South Coast — residents
The South African Human Rights Commission says it is extremely concerned about how the Ugu District Municipality and the utility Ugu Water are handling the ongoing water crisis on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.
Last month, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) held public hearings in Umhlanga, Durban, into the water shortage crisis in various district municipalities across KwaZulu-Natal.
The SAHRC is now waiting for more information from municipalities, government departments and other stakeholders before drafting a report with recommendations. This is expected to be completed in the next two months.
Pavershree Padayachee, KZN SAHRC acting head, told Daily Maverick that Ugu District Municipality and several areas on the South Coast featured prominently during the hearings.
“We have had hundreds of complaints from the residents of the South Coast in the past two years. As a result of these complaints, we have engaged several times with the (Ugu District) municipality.
“The Ugu matter has been going on for a very long time. The community there has been pleading for water for years now… obviously, that speaks for itself on what ought to have been done to remedy this situation.
“There is no way that the commission will be happy with the responses to the steps that have been taken. Given that these communities have been struggling for years for water, there is no way we can say that the steps taken have been adequate,” Padayachee said.
She said the public hearings were told the main cause of the water crisis on the South Coast was ageing infrastructure, corruption and lack of maintenance.
More than a decade
During a recent visit, just before the SAHRC hearings, many South Coast residents and business owners were up in arms, complaining that the water crisis had been with them for more than 10 years and nothing was being done about it.
They say businesses are closing and residents and schoolchildren are forced to collect water from rivers and streams.
One Ramsgate resident, who asked not to be named, said she had been tallying up the numbers and that “between 10 December 2021 and 22 August 2022 — a total of 255 days — we have had water for 107 days.
“So this means that during this period, we have had no water for 58% of the time. This is happening when we have no drought! Can you imagine how this is affecting our lives?”
She said her June water bill was R1,600, July was R2,100 and the August bill was R1,700 “despite the fact that we have had no water for most of this time”.
Ntombi Gumede, a 64-year-old resident of Gamalakhe township, said that as a senior citizen, life was very difficult when water “disappeared” from her tap.
“I cannot go to the river to fetch water… my legs won’t allow it.”
She uses her government grant to buy 5l of water at R25 a time, and this has become her daily routine.
“I don’t even want to mention the difficulties when someone needs to do laundry… in winter it’s worse. At least in the rainy season we can collect water for cleaning and washing, but in winter we suffer a lot,” said Gumede.
Aphendule Sgwebeza, a 27-year-old Gamalakhe resident with a five-month-old child, said they relied on water tankers. However, the tankers visited the area infrequently.
“They (tankers) make our lives worse. There is no time or day schedule for tankers… as a result, sometimes they only come after two weeks or so. And there is nowhere we can complain,” he said.
Tourism hit hard
Over the years, the South Coast has relied heavily on local and international tourism.
Judy Keuning is the owner of Emerald Cove, a self-catering establishment in Shelly Beach that has been running for 22 years. She said tourist numbers were significantly down as a result of the water crisis.
She said many tourist establishments on the South Coast have spent thousands of rands buying JoJo tanks and installing pumps, none of which helped much when there was no water for days, weeks and even months on end.
“When tourists phone to book, the first question they ask is, ‘Do you have water?’ And if you say there is no water, they don’t come. We have had many occasions where tourists have decided to cancel or leave in the middle of their holiday if they cannot shower or flush the toilets.
“Our water problems started about 10 or 15 years ago, but in the last few years it has been getting progressively worse,” Keuning said.
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Petra Rickson, owner of the Pinnacle Seaside Unit in Umtentweni, is also part of a lobby group called the Small Accommodation Network.
“I would say accommodation is down about 70%. Even if you drive down the road, you can see that there are no tourists around compared to what we were used to in the past.
“Our Easter season was very bad. The tourism sector has been severely affected by Covid, the July 2021 riots, the recent floods. But the main cause of the decline has to do with the water crisis,” Rickson said.
A few months ago she attended a meeting with the national Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu, then KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala, officials from the Ugu District Municipality and other stakeholders where the water crisis was on the agenda.
She said the resolution taken during that meeting was that a war room committee would be formed. It would meet every two weeks, and also consult Umgeni Water to seek advice.
“We were told that it would cost a lot of money — at least R2-billion — to fix the ageing infrastructure, but currently there is no money for that. It looks like this issue will be with us for many more years.”
‘Plenty of water’
Farmers on the South Coast said the crisis was not caused by a lack of water in the area.
One farmer, who asked not to be named, said: “This area has one of the highest rainfalls in the whole country. Also, rivers flowing from the highest areas come down here and we have plenty of water. The problem is how to clean the water and pipe it to residents and businesses. The infrastructure that we have here is very old.”
John Loubser is a plumber whose company has been doing a roaring trade installing JoJos and water pumps on the South Coast. He said he charges between R10,000 and R15,000 to install the system in homes and businesses.
He said the collapsing infrastructure resulted in millions of litres of water being wasted through broken pipes.
“When it rains the rivers are full here. What we need is a big dam to catch all that water coming from high-lying areas.
“People have no option but to buy JoJos to sustain themselves and their businesses. Those people who don’t have money stay without water. That is why there have been so many (service delivery) protests around here,” Loubser said.
Ugu District Municipality
Ugu District Municipality said it was aware of widespread unhappiness over the water situation.
Municipal spokesperson France Zama said: “The municipality understands the frustration from the tourism sector and possible impact that may have been caused during the time when there were intermittent water supply challenges.
“It must be clearly stated that one of our entities is responsible for tourism in the district and the municipality takes priority in ensuring Ugu remains a tourism hub.
“While we cannot shy away from the fact that in the past we have had intermittent water supply challenges, we can assure your publication that stringent measures were employed to rectify these. Please be reminded that as a result of the recent floods that took place in the entire province of KZN, Ugu was also hard hit.
“Our infrastructure was badly affected, causing many residents to be affected by water supply shortages. As of June, we can confirm that our people have been enjoying clean water, except for a few isolated places which are attended to on a daily basis,” he said.
Zama said the municipality has short, medium and long-term solutions for mitigating water supply shortages.
“Some of the interventions include interministerial visits by the minister of water and sanitation Senzo Mchunu, as well as former KwaZulu-Natal Premier Shile Zikalala, who both met all stakeholders in the district, as well as communities, to outline these plans.
These plans include the setting up of a “water crisis war room”, which comprises members of the public, Umgeni Water Board members, government ministers, engineers and mayors of local municipalities within Ugu district.
“The war room is set up to find quick solutions to water supply challenges and reports to the office of the minister. They meet on a weekly basis to discuss execution of these short, medium and long-term solutions,” Zama said. DM/OBP