Better working relationships and communication could resolve eThekwini’s water woes

Clean water is a luxury for Ndwedwe residents, a village just outside Verulam on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast, who are forced to share storm water with livestock. Picture: Zanele Zulu / Independent Newspapers

Clean water is a luxury for Ndwedwe residents, a village just outside Verulam on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast, who are forced to share storm water with livestock. Picture: Zanele Zulu / Independent Newspapers

Published Jan 24, 2024


The challenges eThekwini Municipality residents face with regards to water service delivery seem to pop up regularly like a new pothole, as the recent outage in northern parts of the city sparked protests in areas like Verulam, Tongaat and Phoenix.

But while customers of the eThekwini Municipality grow frustrated over not receiving a service they pay for, the challenges that come with supplying water to such a large metro are complex and require time to resolve, former city manager Michael Sutcliffe explained.

The problem is in the level of communication between the municipality, which is also the water service authority in this case, and the residents it serves, Sutcliffe believes.

Sutcliffe said if the City was more open about its issues and discussed them in a platform to keep people properly informed, instead of in the dark, frustration levels would not be through the roof as they have been since the start of the year.

The Verulam Water Crisis Committee emailed a letter to the Ministry of Water and Sanitation, calling for urgent intervention into the supply of water to the northern suburbs of Durban. Picture: Supplied / Verulam community

This week, Verulam residents burnt tyres and other debris, blocking off roads in and out of the area over the lack of water supply to the area, which they say has been going on for months, IOL reported.

Residents told IOL in an earlier report that they have seen numerous officials visit the area to no end, as their thirst remains unquenched.

Sutcliffe said the City had more than enough technical staff and “highly competent engineers” to resolve the problems with the water system.

“The water situation in eThekwini is not a straightforward thing, there are numerous parts and each need to be dealt with separately, but each of these parts work in tandem with one another.

“Each part of the system relies on one another.

“I think more can be done to keep the people informed about what’s actually going on when it comes to water supply. Giving people a timeline is not the best thing to do, because such large projects are bound to encounter challenges.

“I think if the City had some form of weekly updates then there would not be so much frustration and anger. People would understand the size of the problem and that it needs time to be fixed,” Sutcliffe said.

uMngeni-uThukela Water spokesperson Siya Maphumulo told IOL that it will be meeting with residents of Verulam on Thursday to explain the situation and hopefully bring some understanding.

“We can understand what a stressful and frustrating period this is for the people of Verulam. I can only imagine.

“But this is something that involves a partnership. We are in a partnership with eThekwini, we are the bulk supplier and they distribute the water.

“I can confirm that on our side we are fulfilling our contractual agreement,” Maphumulo said.

It is understood that uMngeni-uThukela Water supplies between 540 and 560 megalitres of processed water per day to the Municipality.

The Municipality said the recent heavy rains damaged their infrastructure which hampered water service delivery, but added that work is under way to repair water assets.

The City is conducting repairs in oThongathi where the main bulk pumping pipeline has been washed away across the river (Plein Street river) which conveys water from oThongathi South Reservoir.

It said work being done to restore an emergency pipeline to supply oThongathi South Reservoir.

The Municipality and Sutcliffe said that static water tanks in Phoenix were causing the uneven supply of water in the area, as levels at Phoenix 2 Reservoir Zone struggle the most.

“In response to persistent water outages affecting Verulam and Phoenix, interventions are being implemented to increase water flow to affected reservoirs, however, this is dependent to available water supply. This is due to insufficient water resources to meet the current demands,” eThekwini said.

“In Verulam, necessary refurbishment of pumps at the Mountview and Grange Reservoirs will be undertaken.

“Furthermore, as a long-term solution, alternative sources of supply from boreholes and the Grange Reservoir have been identified and will be implemented. Regular meetings are held between EWS officials and affected ward councillors to ensure information is cascaded to affected communities,” the Municipality said.

IOL also tried getting in touch with Themba Mvubu, who heads up this critical committee of Human Settlements and Infrastructure, but could not get through to him.