Durban - eThekwini Municipality has cracked the whip on water thieves, recovering over R6 million from those who use illegal connections, its human settlements and infrastructure committee heard on Tuesday.

According to a report presented to the committee, the revenue collected, based on prosecutions alone, stood at R6.2m as of July 25. The overall recovery in meter connection fees, total fines and prosecutions stood at R7m.

Since the beginning of the year, 39 people have been convicted for water theft and been slapped with hefty penalties of up to R10 000.

The report revealed that 131 charges had been laid against errant consumers while 85 had been served with summonses.

The crackdown on water thieves is part of the city’s campaign, started in 2010, to curb spiralling water losses that cost the city R513m last year. The loss was flagged in the auditor-general’s report and contributed to the municipality’s failure to achieve a clean audit.

The city has employed 60 water inspectors to check some 40 000 households that have illegal water connections.

The report showed that, since July, 2 750 people had taken up the city’s water amnesty offer, choosing to pay the R250 connection fee to regularise their service. This resulted in the city recouping R687 000 in meter connection fees, which was used to offset the cost of regularising the water connection.

“The proliferation and profusion of illegal connections has engendered the city to intensify its efforts of identifying water leaks and illegal connections,” the report said.

“The customers are advised and encouraged to approach the eThekwini water and sanitation department before the water inspection teams reach them and find out that they have been connected illegally,” the report said.

Since 2012, 47 850 fines had been issued and 217 illegal connections regularised.

Lilian Develing, chairwoman of the Confederation of Mistbelt Ratepayers and Residents’ Association, said that while she welcomed the city’s initiative, more could be done.

“I don’t think the city has a true idea of exactly how many people have illegal connections,” she told the Daily News.

“Water is a human rights issue, but by the same token it is not for free. People have to pay, and that is reality.”

Develing said one of the problems the city had was that it could not keep up with the number of people coming into Durban, which was placing a strain on the city’s resources.

“All the people coming into the city need housing and are going to connect themselves to water supply. Our water losses will keep rising if this continues,” she said.

“There has to be the political will to solve the problem.”

Daily News