KZN south coast tourism threatened by water failures

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  • Many residents and business owners in KwaZulu-Natal South Coast region say they have been struggling with water issues for nearly a decade.
  • Some are now planning legal action against the Ugu District Municipality for loss of revenue and pain and suffering.
  • The municipality says it has a plan but budget restrictions are the problem.
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How badly people are suffering because of water supply problems under the Ugu District Municipality was aired at last week’s South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) hearings into water in KwaZulu-Natal.

The Ugu Ratepayers Association testified that the region has not had an acceptable water supply for nine years. David Watson, its representative, said he was speaking on behalf of a community of approximately 80,000 people stretching from Hibberdene to Port Edward, but that all occupants of the district – some 380 000 people – were impacted by water shortages. He said the region does not record "anything less than three days without water" at a time.

Watson said evidence was already provided at the 2017 SAHRC hearings into the same issue.

Residents and business owners on the south coast say they are now planning to take legal action against the district municipality.

The South Coast thrives on seasonal tourism and agriculture. It includes popular tourist destinations such as Margate, Uvongo, Port Shepstone, Shelly Beach and Port Edward. On the farming side, bananas, macadamia nuts, tea tree, sugarcane, timber and coffee are grown for local consumption and export.

But businesses say they have lost millions in revenue because of ongoing water problems. Many have given up hope or don’t see themselves lasting much longer, according to Memory-Grace Pieterse, director of Independence Commission Africa. This non-profit organisation is considering a class action law suit that will seek damages for loss of income and pain and suffering, alleging "maladministration, corruption and incompetence" in the municipality.

Pieterse received over 600 responses to a recent petition and questionnaire that aimed to gauge the personal and professional losses caused by water problems on the South Coast.

The most recent bulletin from the municipality said areas of Marburg, Manaba, Protea Park, Newtown NPS, Port Shepstone and Ramsgate South continue to experience weak water pressure or interrupted water supply because of low storage levels in the Bhobhoyi system due to breaks in the pipes. The municipality said water tankers were dispatched to fill the communal water tanks located at strategic points in the affected areas.

Professor Anthony Turton, from the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State, and a South Coast resident, said that the water situation is unstable and erratic. Affected areas stretch from Hibberdene through to Ramsgate.

"Once one system gets switched on, another one breaks. At no point is there a hundred percent water in Ugu," he said.

He said that astonishingly there are no comprehensive schematic maps of water pipelines in the district. "Nobody in the municipality actually knows where the pipes run. Nobody knows where they are, how many, how deep they are," he said.

Meanwhile, the water tankering business is booming. "There can be up to ten tankers at a time waiting at a refilling station located near Port Shepstone," he said.

Vicky Wentzel, director of Southern Explorer, the official tourism publication and marketing body of the South Coast, said tourism operators (such as guest houses, hotels and restaurants and their related businesses) have had to get off the municipal water grid if they wanted to survive. This means either sinking a borehole at their own cost or they plumb in water from other businesses who have sunk boreholes. Businesses cannot rely on the municipality.

Lawyer and community activist Bongumusa Makhathini told GroundUp that several civic groups in the South Coast are pooling their resources and building a legal case against the municipality.

Besides the class action suit headed by Pieterse, another route is to gain judicial oversight into the municipality on the grounds of maladministration. Yet another legal course involves litigation on the municipality contravening the constitutional right of residents to access water and for breaching the Water Services Act.

We sent detailed questions to the municipality last week but have not received answers.

But Ugu Municipality says on its website: "Our municipality continues to face serious backlog in the infrastructure maintenance and rehabilitation necessary for providing potable water and sanitation services, as a result of severe financial and capacity constraints."

"Over the past two years, we have been experiencing supply interruption challenges within the district due to water infrastructure breakdown at major infrastructure points. We recognise the need to immediately respond to the water interruptions in the District to stabilise water supply which has impact on communities, businesses, and tourism. Efforts have been delayed by inadequate funding for Repairs and Maintenance of Critical Water Infrastructures."

It then lists short, medium and long term "interventions" to solve the problems.

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