FACT CHECK | Water plants, comms infrastructure not directly targeted in violent unrest

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  • Widespread reports giving the impression that water and communications infrastructure was intentionally targeted during the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng have been proven false.
  • The municipalities in Durban and Pietermaritzburg, along with a water board, said no water treatment facility was attacked and set ablaze.
  • Communications infrastructure was affected because maintenance workers could not access sites.

Critical water infrastructure and communication networks faced no direct assault during the wave of violent unrest which swept across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng last week.

Following the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma on 8 July, strategic road closures choked KwaZulu-Natal – a precursor to a wave of looting which quickly spread.

READ | #UnrestSA: KwaZulu-Natal police roll out vaccination drive after delays caused by unrest

At the peak of what President Cyril Ramaphosa has called a failed insurrection, the State Security Agency and police identified alleged instigators of the unrest, insisting that it was driven by experienced agent provocateurs.

A man fires a hand gun in the air to disperse a mo
A man fires a hand gun in the air to disperse a mob of alleged looters outside of the Chris Hani Mall in Vosloorus.

Lending credence to this were reports that a water treatment facility in KwaZulu-Natal was attacked and set ablaze – a sign that those masterminding the unrest were specifically targeting infrastructure.

Water

Newzroom Afrika first reported that a water treatment plant in Pietermaritzburg was targeted and set alight on 13 July.

News24 has confirmed that no such attack took place, according to the eThekwini (Durban) and Msunduzi (Pietermaritzburg) municipalities, as well as the provincial Umgeni Water board.

eThekwini spokesperson Mandla Nsele said water infrastructure, including plants and pipelines, were not attacked within the city limits. Msunduzi Deputy Mayor Manilal Inderjit said there was no record of a water treatment facility being hit.

"There is no such thing," Inderjit said.

This was echoed by Umgeni Water's Shami Harichunder, who said there were no reports of attacks on their network, and that assets were closely guarded.

Telecommunications

On 13 July, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa released a statement, imploring people to protect communications infrastructure from vandalism.

"The authority has further received reports of vandalism of communications infrastructure, including 113 network towers in some parts of the country. Such wanton destruction of the broadcasting infrastructure and facilities represents a direct attack on the constitutional right of individuals and communities to access news and information that is accurate, unbiased, and up to date about the current crisis. The authority accordingly condemns such criminal behaviour in the strongest of terms," the statement read.

News24 has established that the majority of these stations were not vandalised or destroyed but had rather been pushed out of service because they could not be maintained – with technicians unable to travel through flashpoints of violence.

A suspected looter pulls a few items along the gro
A suspected looter pulls a few items along the ground outside a vandalised mall in Vosloorus.

MTN spokesperson Jacqui O'Sullivan said none of MTN's network infrastructure was directly damaged in the unrest and riots in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

"During the course of the week, over 100 base stations were down and our technicians could not safely reach the sites for repairs, due to the unrest. The unavailable sites were due to day-to-day issues such as generators running out of fuel, general maintenance not being possible or sites having developed technical issues during the unrest and our technicians being unable to safely access those sites," she said.

Cell C COO Andre Ittmann said while stores were looted, only one tower in Durban was vandalised. "There are no reports of consumers being adversely impacted as there are six other sites available within a 2km radius of the damaged site," he said. 

In a statement issued by Telkom last week, the network provider did not report any direct damage to cell towers but said the unrest had caused delays in attending to faults.

"This has resulted in an increase in the number of incidents and length of time that we are attending to incidents and the total number of incidents to be attended," the statement read.

Telkom and Vodacom had not responded to direct questions from News24 at the time of publishing. Their responses will be published once received.

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