Worried sick over water bills

2012-02-28 00:00

JABU Danisa has not had water at her house for the past year and, according to municipal records, she owes well over R127 000.

Her account started spiralling in 2009 and when she queried it she was told that her water account amounted to R12 000 a month.

When she tried to ask the municipality how was this possible for someone living in an ordinary township house with three children, Danisa said officials refused to explain and that they insisted she pay the money.

Lindiwe Nani, Zakhele Hlatshwayo, Nhlanhla Shange and many other residents who live in Unit J and CC of Ward 16 in Imbali tell a similar story. They have been waging a four-year battle to get their exorbitant utility bills from the Msunduzi Municipality sorted out.

But their latest hopes have been dashed.

In December they were told that the council had passed a resolution to do a massive debt write-off. The reason given at the time was that a review of the total increasing debtors showed that a large portion of the debt was irrecoverable and that this was attributable to inaccurate data based on estimations, faulty meters and old debt and indigent debt.

The residents accused ward councillor Bhekabantu Zuma of being selective in whom he accompanied to the municipality to have their water bills sorted out and that they were being left out.

Recently Thembi Mbanjwa collapsed when faced with a bill of R500 000 for rates and water.

She has a letter from her doctor that reads: “Mrs S.T. Mbanjwa — This is to certify the above consulted me this morning. She was found to be severely depressed. According to her, her mental state is a result of ongoing problems she has had with the municipality.

“It will be in the interest of her mental wellbeing that this issue is resolved as soon as possible.”

Mbanjwa is still waiting for her matter to be resolved.

The residents formed a task team in early 2009 when they started getting excessively high water bills. Their own investigation showed that their bills were being estimated and that most of their houses had water meters that were broken, unconnected or faulty.

Some homes had no meters at all, but were still being billed.

Many of the houses in the area were getting estimated accounts from as far back as 2004.

When the municipality ignored the task team, the residents started their own branch of the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco).

Zakhele Hlatshwayo, the chairperson of the branch, said they had tried unsuccessfully over the years to sort out their billing problems.

They wrote a letter in March 2009 to then municipal manager Rob Haswell, which was dropped off at his office in city hall.

Hlatshwayo said they heard nothing until they managed to get a meeting with him in December 2009.

“During our conversation we showed more evidence and correspondence with highly recognised municipal officials, 10 in all … We even visited previous mayor, Zanele Hlatshwayo,” he said.

The Sanco chairperson said that when Mike Tarr became mayor they read that there would be a write-off of outstanding arrears for water.

They contacted Tarr. He visited the area towards the end of 2010 and “he discovered that what we were telling him was true”.

The local government elections put paid to any efforts to resolve the problem and this year the committee contacted administrator Sibusiso Sithole.

When contacted just before he left to head the eThekwini Municipality, Sithole confirmed that the Unit J and CC residents would benefit from the arrears write-offs.

He said at the time that it was largely through their representations that the council had decided to carry out the write-offs.

Councillor Zuma said he was not involved in the write-offs. All he did was to take residents who had problems with the municipality to see the relevant officials.

He said members of Sanco who had problems could see him and he would try to help by referring them to the relevant officials.

Municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi said last week that the debt write-off process had not yet started as the logistics had still to be worked out.

Hlatshwayo said the municipality needed to sort out the problem because some people were worried sick.

• nalini@witness.co.za

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