Experts discuss the City’s water woes

Residents in and around the Verulam area within eThekwini Municipality district recently blocked roads by burning branches, buckets and a bath tub after weeks without water. File Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/Independent Newspapers

Residents in and around the Verulam area within eThekwini Municipality district recently blocked roads by burning branches, buckets and a bath tub after weeks without water. File Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 7, 2024


Residents affected by water outages in Verulam and oThongathi say the affected communities are desperate for water and the situation is now reaching a boiling point.

This comes as the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) met with experts at UKZN’s Howard College campus late on Wednesday afternoon to address the ongoing water supply challenges in eThekwini.

There have been ongoing community protests in recent months by residents demanding water in their taps especially in Verulam, oThongathi, Phoenix and surrounding areas.

Speaking at the SAHRC meeting, Rob Dyer, former civil engineer and ex eThekwini Water and Sanitation employee, spoke about his experiences within the city.

Dyer said the amount of technical expertise was not measured by the number of qualified people but by the combined experience and knowledge of all the people who work together in the organisation.

“I retired from eThekwini almost eight years ago and I could see even at that time the technical experience in eThekwini was being hollowed out.

There was less and less high level technical ability,” he said.

“The employment practices of eThekwini have gone against the promotion of technical organisational experience and ability,” he said, adding that having a self profile that mirrored the population at large was the only criteria for employment.

Dyer said this has led to a severe problem with expertise.

“In my view the technical level within the City is at such a point where it needs outside expertise,” he said.

These experts must be committed to the city and take time to train existing staff and also to attract more staff, he said.

“The city would have to modify employment practices and make it an attractive place for engineers and technicians of all races,” he said.

Verulam Water Crisis Committee spokesperson Roshan Lil-Ruthan, said the situation has worsened.

Lil-Ruthan said they had a lot of challenges this week with bursts at Hazelmere, and eThekwini municipal workers on strike resulting in no repair work being carried out.

He said everyone who receives water from the Hazelmere to Grange system and the Mount View to Trenance Park system did not have water for eight days.

However, he said the situation in Trenance Park among other areas was still the same.

In January, “The Mercury” reported that some Verulam residents in the Trenance Park area had at the time of the report been without water for almost 100 days.

Lil-Ruthan said the SAHRC meeting with experts on Wednesday was a step in the right direction. “However, if eThekwini Municipality does not attend, as the water services authority, it will be an exercise in futility.”

He said he had also written to the United Nations about the situation and was hoping to receive a response soon.

“I am also liaising with the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution at the moment because they are well positioned to deal with these violations of the Constitution in our communities,” said LilRuthan.

Lil-Ruthan said people were beyond breaking point.

“People are getting up at 4am each day, waiting on a road for a tanker and carrying four 25-litre drums home.”

Chairperson of the Tongaat Civic Association, Don Perumal, said the municipality was not taking the SAHRC seriously.

“Promises are made but nothing happens,”he said.

With the water issues going on, he stressed that rights were being violated and there should be legal implications.

“Our health and environment are compromised and now the people are impatient because it has been going on for too long.”

He added that on Tuesday, protesters marched to the Tongaat Water Treatment Works and disrupted the operations there.

“The workers who were intimidated are traumatised by this experience. The water works is currently closed and the metro police are monitoring the area.”

The municipality has said that repair work to deal with the water outages in the northern areas had been impacted by the ongoing municipal workers’ strike.

However, it said staff were being deployed to deal with outages and were being escorted by private security.

Speaking at the SAHRC meeting, Chris Fennemore, from WaterZone Consulting who worked for the municipality for 13 years, said he left the municipality after he was assaulted by another employee for getting someone fired for stealing and he also received death threats for exposing problems with the wastewater treatment works.

Fennemore said eThekwini does have a significant number of skills, some of the best in the country but they are constrained in what they do because of structural issues.

He said there are also external consultants and contractors who work for the city.

“Many of them won’t work with the city anymore because there is no point going through the supply chain management because there is a lot of crime and corruption associated with that.”

The SAHRC said the experts should form part of a database to assist the City.

The Mercury