Our Burning Planet


Police to probe pipeline ‘sabotage’ after major Durban water outages

Police to probe pipeline ‘sabotage’ after major Durban water outages
Staff from the Ethekwini Water and Sanitation Department (EWS) inspect a water pipeline route north of Durban this week. (Supplied)

The Ethekwini municipality has confirmed that police and other law enforcement agencies have been asked to investigate the possibility that widespread water cut-offs in the northern parts of Durban over the last week were the result of “sabotage”.

Thousands of homes were left without water for at least five days this week after water pressure failures in several parts of the city stretching from Durban North to Umhlanga.

While water flow resumed in several areas late on Friday (September 22) numerous homes on higher ground were still dry last night (September 23).

Now it has emerged that a number of pipeline valves regulating water flow may have been damaged or tampered with deliberately.

In a statement, the city said law enforcement agencies were being engaged and that “the elements of sabotage are suspected after technical teams discovered an air valve in a water pipeline that was tampered with and another valve was vandalised“.

“This comes as our technical teams continue with an assessment on the Northern Aqueduct to ascertain the root cause of the reduced flow resulting in the interruption of water supply in Umhlanga, Durban North and surrounding areas. “

No “major” water leaks or burst pipes supplying these areas had been detected, the city noted.

Read more on Daily Maverick: Durban turns to satellites to plug sky-high water losses from ruptured pipelines

It is understood that the police were called in after Ward 35 Councillor Nicole Bollman and fellow Democratic Alliance councillors drew the city’s attention to at least one case of interference with a pipeline valve in a remote but publicly accessible location in the Parlock area.

Bollman told Daily Maverick she was accompanying Ethekwini Water and Sanitation (EWS) staff on a pipeline route inspection on September 21  when a former Ethekwini official noticed that a valve had been tampered with.

“That’s when we started saying ‘something funny is going on here’ and decided to march to City Hall to request senior officials to investigate,” said fellow DA official and former Ethekwini executive committee member Heinz de Boer.

A former engineer (face obscured to conceal his/her identity) inspects pipeline valves in the Parlock area that appeared to have been tampered with (Supplied)

Bollman said she had seen clear evidence during her inspection that water infrastructure had been tampered with, creating havoc for residents of large parts of the city. 

According to the City, the affected areas have included Durban North, Redhill, Beachway, Umgeni Park, Athlone, Japanese Gardens, Riverside, Beachway, Glen Anil, Glen Hill, Umhlanga Rocks Drive, parts of Umgeni Park, Blackburn Road, Parkhill, certain roads in Effingham, the Umhlanga CBD, La Lucia, Glenashley, Glen Anil and Somerset Park.

While homes in lower-lying parts of the affected area continued to receive water, residents living at higher elevations were left without any water in their taps. They had to resort to buying bottled drinking water, collections from municipal water tankers, boiling swimming pool water or collecting groundwater made available by the Musjidur Rahman mosque in Kenneth Kaunda Road in Durban North.

Bollman said an analysis of census data suggested that there are more than 100 000 people living in the suburbs affected by the cut-offs and low water pressure problems.

She was hesitant to speculate on who might be responsible for the apparent sabotage, while noting that: “We all know that there are two different (ANC factions) and that there are elections next year, but I don’t know and cannot say who might be behind this.”

Other sources, however, have pointed towards the possibility of vandalism or theft by scrap metal thieves, along with the long-standing neglect of municipal water structure that has led to a situation where 57% of water purchased by the city from the Umgeni Water utility group is now classified as non-revenue water because it is either leaking out of pipes or not paid for.

Read more on Daily Maverick: More than half of Durban’s water goes to waste, costing the city millions every day

A former engineer with long experience of the city’s water infrastructure suggested that – whatever the cause of the recent pressure and supply failures – it was vital for the city to establish a formal high-level inquiry.

“No matter how bad the truth might be, you have to find out the root cause and deal with it,” he said.

Other sources have suggested that whoever was responsible for the apparent tampering or sabotage appeared to have some knowledge of the geographic location and purpose of valves that were allegedly sabotaged, while certain municipal staff and other parties could potentially stand to benefit from overtime payments or water tanker contracts when there were supply problems.

On September 21, members of the SA Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) also staged a protest march to the Durban City Hall to present a memorandum of work grievances to city officials that included demands for performance bonus payments and access to proper tools of the trade to perform their work.

However, SAMWU’s Ethekwini regional secretary Xolani Dube has rejected speculation about any connection between the union’s recent protest march to the city hall and the recent water cut-offs.

“SAMWU has a legitimate grievance against the employer (Ethekwini municipality) and this was communicated through the proper structures, including the (KZN) Premier, the City Manager and the Mayor,” he told Daily Maverick when contacted for comment.

“Whatever the issues (with water infrastructure failures) SAMWU will not venture into commenting on this. This is our work. If infrastructure is damaged, this interferes with our livelihoods. We don’t conduct ourselves in that way. 

“So, we won’t be drawn into any speculation – and we condemn what (may have) happened.  Our infrastructure needs to be protected and maintained . . . and we would urge law enforcement to bring the culprits to book (if there has been deliberate sabotage).”

In the interim, the city said senior officials would also be meeting with Umgeni Water to implement alternative supply options.

“Reservoir outlets have been opened. However, the situation is still critical due to unstable outflows on the aqueduct feeding to the reservoirs . . . Residents are therefore requested to please use water sparingly to prevent reservoirs from running empty as this may prolong the recovery period.”

Water tankers would continue to supply residents until the system recovered fully – DM  

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Denise Smit says:

    An ANC/EFF municipality. Some cadres probably benefit from the contract to water tankers. This is where the municipal manager is now earning more than the president. Denise Smit

  • Edward Visser says:

    We are living in the land where “the De-nial STARTS. “

  • Bob Kuhn says:

    That photo illustrates the anc ‘s complete disinterest and incompetence in scheduled maintenance and asset management.

    • Mario de Abreu says:

      absolutely agree. Anyone can see just how old that equipment is. Instead of lavish self congratulatory parties and expensive cars they should spend money on infrastructure. Only way to do this is to boycott all payments to the municipality until they listen. Or, ratepayers use the confiscated money to upgrade the equipment themslves.

  • Matthew Quinton says:

    The headline photo says it all.

    2 Staff members are “inspecting”

    Hands behind backs… no equipment… no cameras other than 2 cellphones in the back pocket… no clipboards… no tools… and the guy’s “safety vest” is falling apart.

    That inspection cannot be more than “ok the pipeline that the Apartheid Regime installed A QUARTER OF A CENTURY AGO is still there, I guess everything must be fine then, let’s break for lunch now”

    Never mind the fact that there is literally grass growing out of the concrete on the structure, the pressure valves are stained red with rust, the paint on all the pipes is corroded and chipped and all the high-pressure couplings are oozing oil and rust.

    Now multiply this out across EVERY bit of water, sewerage, electrical and transport infrastructure in the country (Notwithstanding many exceptions in the Cape of course, thank you DA) and you begin to realise that the sabotage wont even be necessary soon.

    We are WAY past the point where there is even a remote possibility of dialling it back. The ANC has stolen us into bankruptcy and even the most basic of maintenance has gone undone for so long that it is truly miraculous that SA still has a semblance of functionality left.

    The sad reality is that as a functioning country, SA cannot be repaired any more… it has to literally be re-built from scratch… most of the existing infrastructure is basically demolition worthy and not much more.

  • Anil Maharaj says:

    So the source of the problem was found accidently by a non-employee of the DWS.
    This is typical of the incompetence and inefficiency that citizens are stuck with.

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