State spooks called in to probe Durban water sabotage and vandalism fears
Durban municipal officials have called in the State Security Agency to investigate suspicions of sabotage and vandalism of water infrastructure in several parts of the city. In one case, this caused a week-long water supply failure for tens of thousands of residents in the Durban North and Umhlanga areas.
This was confirmed at a media briefing in Durban on 3 October held jointly by National Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu and eThekwini Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda.
Last month (18 to 26 September) taps ran dry in several suburbs north of the city due to low water pressure in a 27km section of pipeline.
Subsequent investigation revealed that at least one air valve had been “tampered with” and a second valve appeared to have been vandalised, the municipality said.
Both valves were repaired and city officials opened a case of “sabotage” at the Greenwood Park police station.
Asked on Tuesday whether he had been fully briefed about the matter and whether he was content for a sabotage investigation to be left in the hands of detectives at a busy suburban police station, Mchunu left it to Kaunda to respond.
The mayor said the investigation had since been elevated to the State Security Agency (SSA) as city officials suspected sabotage and vandalism, possibly linked to water tanker or pipeline repair “contractors”.
But until he received a final report from the SSA, Kaunda said he was not prepared to speculate on “what informed this vandalism”.
The recent low-pressure problem and a renewed spate of bursting water pipes in and around Durban come at a time when eThekwini is losing 58.2% of all the purified water it produces or purchases – either due to leaks, theft or free basic water for indigent families.
According to Mchunu, this non-revenue water now costs eThekwini roughly R2-billion annually.
Nevertheless, Mchunu said he was pleased to announce that due to growing water supply constraints in eThekwini and surrounding areas, the stalled R23-billion engineering project to build a major water scheme on the uMkhomazi River had been resuscitated.
The first phase of the project involves transferring water from the uMkhomazi River near Impendle to a new gravity-fed pipeline near Cato Ridge to feed Durban and Pietermaritzburg.
The scheme would be operated jointly by the uMngeni-uThukela Water Board and the Trans Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA), the state-owned entity charged with financing and implementing bulk raw water infrastructure projects.
The TCTA would be responsible for raising 50% of the costs of the project, while the remaining 50% would be met by the National Treasury in the form of a 25% loan and a 25% grant, with construction set to begin in the 2024/25 financial year.
In response to questions about the increasingly large volume of non-revenue water in Durban and other municipalities, Mchunu acknowledged that this was a serious issue that had to be addressed.
“It’s happening all over the country. There are a lot of old pipes. Let’s put money aside every financial year to fix or replace them. You can’t just repair and repair.”
He was also asked for his views on a recent recommendation by the SA Human Rights Commission that municipalities should revise their registers of indigent people to ensure payment from families who could afford to pay for water.
Mchunu said the government’s policy of free basic water for indigent people remained in place.
“But what we are now trying to do, with uMngeni-uThukela Water and Treasury, will be to look at each and everyone who receives water… We want them to have meters. Municipalities must know how much water is being supplied to indigent people.”
But as things stand now, “We don’t know (that) amount and cannot account for it. That’s no policy at all.”
This was why it was essential to ensure that all municipal billing systems were accurate and consistent. But if illegal connections persisted once efficient billing and metering systems were in place, that would be the time to mount a campaign to encourage people “to come forward and be responsible citizens”.
Mchunu said this approach should also apply to informal settlements, as many residents of these areas were able to pay for taxis, cellphones, satellite TV connections and other services.
“So, we are going to be encouraging municipalities to go all the way… Otherwise, the whole (water) service is going to collapse, because at some time the bill will be too much. So we are going the route to encourage everyone to pay.” DM