A faulty pump station in Chatsworth has left thousands of people without water for a week. Picture: Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA).
A faulty pump station in Chatsworth has left thousands of people without water for a week. Picture: Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA).

Chatsworth residents threaten rates boycott after water outages

By Mervyn Naidoo, Nathan Craig Time of article published Jan 17, 2021

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Durban - Some community activists and residents have accused the ethekwini municipality of having “blood on their hands” because they subjected approximately 300 000 residents in the southern and western parts of Durban to water outages for a week.

They took aim at the municipality’s alleged failure to adequately maintain three pumps at the Northdene pump station, which broke down and ultimately led to taps running dry in the affected areas.

With the country in the midst of the coronavirus’s second wave, and Durban labelled a hotspot, they claimed the municipality’s relief efforts via water tankers was “erratic” and regarded as “super spreader” events.

That’s because some residents queued without masks and generally ignored Covid-19 protocols in their bid to draw water from tankers.

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) was also displeased with the water debacle. They have registered a complaint and are currently conducting their own investigation.

From Thursday, the outage began to lift.

By then a loaned pump from Umgeni Water and the two Northdene pumps, which were repaired in Joburg, were back on site.

Omi Nair, a veteran community activist who lives in an affected part of Chatsworth said the municipality had “failed miserably” in their allround duty to provide water, a basic necessity, to its residents, and failed to adequately maintain its infrastructure, which resulted in the broken pumps.

It was “not on top of things” with the number of water tankers dispatched, and in ensuring that there was a fair distribution of relief to affected residents from both the formal and informal areas, Nair said.

Nair was also instrumental in arranging privately hired water tankers to service areas that missed out on the municipality’s relief measure. Nair said: “The situation was dire. “If some of us hadn’t got involved, people would have died from dehydration because of the high temperatures Durban had been experiencing this week.”

Nair said there were people who had been without water for days because they lived in areas not serviced by municipal tankers.

In some instances, tankers were “locked in” by residents in some areas and only left after they had been emptied.

Nair said there were videos circulating on social media showing residents ignoring Covid-19 protocols while thronging around water tankers.

“Collecting water from tankers was turned into potential super-spreader events because of the municipality. If the number of Covid-19 infections have risen because of this, then they will have blood on their hands.”

Nair asked why the municipality had not used metro police, ward committees, Safer Cities, community liaison members and others to ensure Covid-19 protocols were adhered to.

She said the pumps should have been fixed long ago because the municipality invited contractors to tender for repair and replacement work at the Northdene facility in September.

“The haste in which the municipality made its call for bids, set a site meeting and set a short time frame to receive quotes indicates they were in a great hurry to get it fixed.

“But we are yet to hear whether the contract (WO 65/11262) was awarded or not, who got the job, whether the work was completed, the cost and other details.

“As ratepayers we expect service delivery and not to be lied to about what went wrong,” she said.

The DA’S Tony Govender, the ward 70 councillor, said 12 wards were affected during the crisis and tankers were being hijacked, but Good Samaritans ensured many without water were assisted.

He said he also helped in other wards where his colleagues were not available because of illness.

Govender said he spent many hours each day escorting tankers and ensured unserviced areas also received water.

Previn Vedan, the ANC’S ward 71 councillor said because of his level of visibility, when things went wrong, especially in predominantly “Indian” wards, people blamed him for the situation.

He said when informal areas received water tankers ahead of others, fingers were pointed at him.

Vedan said he understood the frustration of people because his own home was also without water.

“I have to just keep doing my best.”

Vedan said “hijacked tankers” showed people’s “level of desperation”.

He believes there should have been better oversight at Northdene and people need to be held accountable for their actions.

Advocate Lloyd Lotz, the SAHRC’S KZN manager, confirmed they had registered a complaint in respect of the water challenges.

“The matter is currently under investigation. On receipt and assessment of the municipality’s response, the commission will determine the way forward, said Lotz.

Residents call for rates boycott

Residents have called for a probe into the water outages that struck areas of Chatsworth since Thursday last week, leaving the elderly, disabled and Covid-19-positive families suffering.

Covid-19-positive residents, who asked not to be named fearing stigmatisation, said they struggled as they could not bath, clean and disinfect their homes or go out on to the street to collect water from tankers.

One resident said: “It almost feels like every street has a family affected by Covid-19, and you are always hearing about someone new who has died in the community.

“I don’t know the total death count, but I would not be surprised if it increased with the lack of water, just like infections will increase as some people had no choice but to go out and search for water.”

But the community has rallied together in response to what residents have called a crisis, with many local businesses, organisations and Good Samaritans coming to each other’s aid.

Poobalen Govender became chairperson of the Water Crisis Committee which is made up of residents from the community and was formed on Sunday.

“In the beginning, we wrote to the premier, the mayor, councillors and parliamentarians begging for help. We requested that they declare affected areas as Disaster Areas to immediately implement the Disaster Management Act – redeploy municipal officials and politicians to the affected areas to co-ordinate the distribution of water and ensure Covid protocols were observed. We got no response,” he said.

He said they would now embark on protest action and demand that those responsible for the crisis be suspended or removed from office pending an independent probe.

“Submissions will be made to the ethekwini Municipality’s integrity committee, as well as to the Human Rights Commission to pursue a civil suit with costs. If the City refuses to address us, then we will have no other recourse but to stage a rates boycott. We have given the City 14 days from Friday.”

Mohan and Sheila Singh, 70-year-old pensioners, had to leave their home to live with their youngest son in Hillcrest at the start of the crisis but had to return after his family became ill.

Their daughter Sherina Singh, who lives in Johannesburg, said the water crisis was a nightmare for her parents as they were elderly and her father used a wheelchair.

“My mother cannot go and collect litres of water. I have felt so helpless being so far away from them but I have spoken to neighbours to see how they could assist them. The problem was that no water tankers visited the area. They are also at high risk of contracting Covid-19 and we couldn’t risk them getting ill, but thankfully, water was restored this week.”

Seelan Pather, a Good Samaritan and engineer, in his personal capacity delivered water to homes in a tanker which he acquired through a private company.

“The best of the community has been revealed, and the true colours of the municipality. I am proud of how the community has shown such solidarity; it shows the best of Chatsworth. But the City has let us down; the crisis could have been avoided, but it was the result of incompetence and negligence. The situation should never have deteriorated to this extent. Many of those hurt by the crisis were the elderly, disabled or families affected Covid-19.”

Julian Moodley, chairperson of the Crossmoor Civic Association, said 4243 homes were affected by the lack of water but there was only one tanker, which would arrive after 6pm.

“We pleaded for more help but nothing came. We are ratepayers and this is what happens to us – but the nearby informal settlements received between two to three tankers. “We feel we are the victims of bias and racially-motivated tactics to secure votes for the upcoming elections.”

Municipality apologises

Ethekwini Municipality’s spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela responded as follows:

“The welfare of all our residents will always be the priority and where mistakes have happened, the city will always look its residents in the eye and concede that a mistake has happened and apologise. We would like to, therefore, again sincerely apologise to the parts of the city that were on the receiving end of the water shortages.

To-date, in all our reservoirs, capacity has been built with the exception of the one that supplies areas such as Luganda, Nagina and nearby areas. We expect that it will reach its full capacity by midnight. In those areas we continue to supply water with water tankers.

Regarding the opinions of activists, they are entitled to their freedom of speech rights but the allegations they make needs to be backed with evidence.

We appeal to them to guard against making such reckless statements. However, we appreciate the contributions and endeavour to advance the agenda of development.

With regards to physical distancing, we have on numerous occasions implored our residents to maintain physical distancing and our drivers were instructed to ensure that physical distancing was adhered to.

Ethekwini, like any other organisation, will not always be infallible and we are on record saying that we do make mistakes, but the most important thing is our response in correcting such mistakes. This incident is a case in point where we have come up with interventions with speed. As a result, in as much as there was no running water, no home went without water because of our water tankers.

The city will continue to subscribe to the idea of ensuring that pumps have back-ups and maintenance is crucial to prevent a situation whereby some residents end up without water.

The recent incident was not deliberate.

We would like to appeal to opposition political parties not to use the plight of residents to score political points. We do appreciate them being a part of municipal structures and for playing their opposition role, but we have serious concerns of this growing tendency of using the poor to achieve political goals. The ethekwini Municipality will continue to work harder to achieve a goal of providing basic services unceasingly.”

Sunday Tribune

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