‘This is sabotage!’

2014-06-11 00:00

A WATER crisis that could affect every single suburb north of the uMgeni River has brought to light that the city’s water department spends at least half its time replacing stolen infrastructure as a result of theft costing millions of rands a year.

And this week’s disaster, which felt like an “earthquake” and saw 30 million litres of water lost in just over 60 minutes, is a direct result of a “endemic theft crisis”, said the city’s water chief Neil Macleod, costing hundreds and thousands of rands each month.

Municipal staff at the site confirmed spending “50% of their time” dealing with theft-related issues.

And the scrap dealers are being blamed. Even Mayor James Nxumalo said in a statement that “Metro Police and the SAPS must raid scrap metal yards throughout the municipality and shut them down if any stolen cables are found on the premises”.

Just last week over 47 tons of city-owned road guard railings were found at a Chatsworth scrap dealer.

The 200 metre-plus long suspension bridge across the uMgeni River holding a main water pipe servicing Durban’s northern areas came crashing down after nine suspension cables supporting the structure were stolen.

The damage is so substantial that the city has decided to scrap the estimated R30 million repair of the bridge.

While the political leadership of the city has called the theft “sabotage”, the actual theft of the 20 mm x 4 m suspension cables happened three weeks ago.

“We are in a crisis. There is a huge amount of theft daily on the city’s water infrastructure. Just last week somebody tried to steal an air-valve which is under enormous pressure.

“As a result of theft we had a sewer line crossing a river collapse when the brackets holding the pipe to a concrete structure was stolen near Amanzimtoti. Manholes are stolen, sewer infrastructure is being damaged. People are mining sewers for jewellery or any other valuables. Recently emergency services were called when a man got stuck in the sewer system. This theft is endemic,” said Macleod.

The damage to the 750 mm pipe that pushed 300 million litres per day and served 61 reservoirs, has reduced north Durban’s access to water by up to 40%.

An adjacent 1 100 mm pipeline running along a concrete bridge is still operational and provides the remaining 60% of water. Security guards told officials that when it “crashed down” they ran for higher ground fearing an earthquake.

But Macleod said while there were adequate reserves, usage was difficult to predict and restrictions could be put in place. Running along the current 1 100 mm pipe is a second auxiliary pipe of equal diameter that is used for servicing or maintenance purposes.

“We have a solution to fix the line within the next three to four days by connecting the second line on the bridge so we don’t have to limp along. However, in order to connect it to the mains we must cross over a live pipe. This is not an easy job. If we damage the live pipe it could have serious consequences,” said Macleod.

Nxumalo likened the bridge collapse to “sabotage”, asking for an immediate investigation.

“This will cost millions of rands to repair. Over one million people will be affected,” the mayor said.

Icon Construction was appointed to undertake the repairs with the city’s engineering and water departments.

Icon’s Sakkie Venter said they will need to remove the collapsed bridge fairly soon due to safety concerns. “We will work as quickly as we can,” he said.

• jonathan.erasmus@witness.co.za

How will this affect you?

Water restrictions will depend on the usage of an area according to the city’s water head for the northern sections.

Steven Buthelezi said over the next four days users could expect disruptions from 10 pm-4 am.

“The damaged pipeline helped service 61 reservoirs. While water can be diverted from other areas reservoirs may not have adequate capacity to fill up.

“Northern areas that will be affected are Newlands, Parlock, Inanda, Ntuzuma, kwaMashu, Mzinyathi, Amaoti, Phoenix, Umhlanga, Durban North, Virginia, La Lucia, Sea Cow Lake, Verulam, Mt View and Trenance Park,” he said.

Residents are urged not to wash cars, water their gardens, fill swimming pools or waste water in any way.

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