THOUSANDS of households, including plush homes in Umhlanga and Durban North, have been caught illegally siphoning off millions of litres of water. In some instances homeowners have been found permanently attaching a hose to their roof to “cool down” their house (as if it were an air-conditioner) or illegally tapping into fire hydrants for irrigation purposes. And since the introduction of a water amnesty programme and the use of the municipal court system to prosecute illegal connectors, nearly R7 million has been recovered since 2012 from 2 674 households. In 2014 alone a resident in KwaMashu’s Vilikazi Road was forced to repay R633 000 and a Pinetown resident living in an R850 000 home paid back R108 000. City water head Neil Macleod said that unsurprisingly when residents are found to have illegal connections they deny knowing it was illegal. “Water theft is everywhere and through any number of methods. Some people bypass the water meter, others connect into fire hydrants. There is no one group responsible for water theft.” Through a water amnesty programme now in its third year, 189 residents have confessed their illegal connections to the city, thereby sidestepping penalties, court action and water disconnection. But water authorities who have found illegal connections in areas as diverse as Kloof and Inanda to Tongaat and business areas throughout the metro agree that water theft is not limited to certain economic groups. In one instance a man in Inanda who was accused of illegally connecting a tuck shop, fast food outlet and tyre repair store was also being sought for a double murder. Another case saw a man in Umhlanga repay his debt in excess of R150 000 in one lump sum once threatened with penalties and court action. He said residents with illegal connections had two options — come forward and have the connection “regularised” paying only R250 and become a law abiding ratepayer; or be caught and back-pay for three years, pay a reconnection fee and face prosecution in the city court. In the recently published 17th report compiled by the city on water amnesty and illegal connections, by May there were already 29 court cases in progress and another 40 households to be summoned. “The penalties seem to be adequate as we have very few repeat offenders. We would like to see more people come forward to legitimise their connections.” Prior to 2012 the city was expected to criminally charge transgressors. Now in order to speed up the process residents are charged in the municipal court while the water amnesty programme is offered simultaneously for a “no questions asked” admittance to being illegally connected. In the last three years 2500 households have been caught with illegal connections or sought amnesty. According to the city’s Integrated Development Plan (IDP), the estimated water losses for the period 2012/13 amounted to R513 million (2011/2012: R411 million) or 119 966 557 kilolitres.