Threats to city water workers

2016-07-13 14:11

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Pietermaritzburg - As precious water pours out of burst pipes and sloshes around the streets of Copesville, Msunduzi plumbers who are trying to fix the leaks are being threatened by thugs.

Now the municipality says that a security escort may be needed to get Msunduzi workers back into the parched suburb after plumbers’ lives were threatened by water meter thieves.

In the interim, the municipality has had to cut off the main feed of water into the suburb, where the theft and vandalism of water infrastructure has been described as “out of control”.

Irate residents yesterday described their community as a “water theft haven”, saying the theft of meters from just outside their properties was destroying their lives.

Some residents have reportedly been left without water since Saturday, as municipal officials scurry to stop the widespread leaks.

According to municipal spokesperson Nqobile Madonda, the council is currently deliberating on whether to provide plumbers with a special security contingent when attending to complaints in the area after plumbers came face to face with thieves on Monday night.

“We know of more than 20 water meters that have been stolen in Copesville, resulting in a huge loss of water that is left gushing out. When we sent plumbers to attend to these, their work was interfered with by thieves and their safety compromised,” she said.

Madonda said the municipality had been forced to shut down the water supply to the area as a result, to curb the loss of water until plumbers could fix the meters.

The plumbers are mostly council-employed staff, but private contractors have also been called upon to assist in maintaining service delivery to Copesville and other areas.

Msunduzi water and sanitation manager Brenden Sivparsad made a plea to residents, saying even though it may seem that the municipality is not helping them, they had to also factor in the safety of their plumbers.

“The thieves were in the process of stealing the meters when our team of plumbers arrived there late on Monday night. Because we could not do our job, the water was left spraying out of the broken meters and we have no choice but to shut it down until we have the means, in terms of security, to fix everything,” he said.

Sivparsad would not comment on the exact nature of the threats, but emphasised that his staff had not felt safe. He said the matter had been reported to the police.

It is believed that more than 120 brass water meters have been stolen from the area in the past two months, with thieves sometimes stealing more than 20 in a night.

The Witness yesterday reported that after repairing the communal stand-pipes in Copesville more than 15 times since the beginning of the year, the municipality had opted to install plastic push-taps in the hope that the cheaper material would survive the current plague of theft.

Copesville resident Deez Pillay said his water meter was stolen during the early hours of Monday morning.

“We are in a drought and these thieves are causing trouble for the entire city, destroying all our lives. It is not easy to live without water and it becomes costly too.

“We should be more proactive and have police undercover in our area so these people can be arrested in the act. This is a serious issue.”

A resident of Barite Place, who would not be named, said she has had to resort to fetching water from her brother’s house after her taps ran dry on Saturday.

“Water tankers have been coming, but this is not enough to service the entire community. My water meter was stolen at 3.15 am [yesterday morning] and the water is gushing out,” the woman said.

“It is disheartening seeing water being wasted outside when there is nothing coming from your own taps.”

It is unclear when the security contingent will be established or when the meters will be repaired.

• For more on the city’s water woes, turn to page 2 for the State of South African Cities report for 2016.

• amil.umraw@witness.co.za

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  msunduzi municipality

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