A legal battle is looming relating to a Constantia man who has been selling water - by the truckload - from a mountain stream.
Residents claim that, during the height of Cape Town’s drought, there were up to 20 trucks a day that came to fill up with water.
The water is alleged to have been sold mainly to fill up private swimming pools, at a time when Capetonians were restricted to living on 50 litres a day.
Angry residents say they have complained to various authorities for more than a year about Paul Baise selling mountain water from his Rhodes Drive home in Constantia, but have drawn a blank.
Baise had allegedly told a neighbour he was making R15 000 a day from the water. He denies this.
Kevin McGivern, one of Baise’s neighbours, said during the height of the drought, trucks had started arriving at 07:00, and continued coming throughout the day.
"Some trucks were petrol-tanker size. I don’t understand why law enforcement can’t do something. Guys washing their cars get a fine, but not this. I sent an email to the City of Cape Town, but got no reply. The cops said they couldn’t do anything. Everybody is just passing the buck," McGivern said.
Now, South African National Parks (SANParks) is taking action. SANParks applied to the Western Cape High Court for an interdict to stop Baise from using the mountain water "beyond a reasonable amount".
Paul Baise of Constantia, right, filling a water tank on a truck with mountain water. (Supplied)
SANParks attorney Mathew Coetzee said Baise had a right to a "reasonable amount" of the mountain water for personal consumption.
"My client’s view is that he has exceeded that," Coetzee said.
Baise, however, said SANParks had no jurisdiction over the matter, as surface water was managed by the national Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation.
"They (SANParks) can do nothing," Baise said.
Baise maintains he is doing nothing wrong by selling the water.
"I’m allowed to do so. No one looks at the Water Services Act. It doesn’t say you can’t sell water for pools and Jo-Jo tanks if it is under two million litres a year. But not for drinking purposes or industrial."
He said the amount he sold in a year was less than two million litres, but was not able to put a figure to it.
"It varies. The way they (neighbours) carry on you would think there were 20 000-litre trucks by the minute."
The story starts in the 1950s. Three properties abutting the mountain on Rhodes Drive in Constantia, including the property where Baise now lives, were granted permission by the then Department of Water Affairs and Forestry to use water from the mountain stream behind their properties for their household use.
"A putrid dish of what is wrong with our country..."
There was no municipal water available for these properties – and still is none - so all subsequent owners of the three properties have been using the mountain water since the 1950s, and have pipes running from the stream to their houses.
This is the water Baise has been selling. He has installed three 5.5 thousand-litre tanks next to his driveway, where the mountain water is collected and transferred to tanks on the trucks.
Asked how much he charged, Baise said 8c to 10c a litre.
News24 has seen an invoice where a Llandudno resident was charged R1 750 for the delivery of 5 000 litres of water to his house – 35c a litre.
The invoice, from WaterStar in Hout Bay, states: "Note: We do not charge for water. We only charge for delivery and transport."
WaterStar owner, Ito Chieppa, confirmed that he regularly got water from Baise.
"We transport the water for Paul to top up pools," Chieppa said.
Chieppa believes Baise "is doing a good service to the community" by selling the water, which would otherwise "just go to waste".
Saleh Abrahams, the partner of one of Baise’s neighbours, said the authorities needed to tell the public what the rules were.
"This makes me so angry. The story is so much bigger than just this neighbourhood. It is a putrid dish of what is wrong with our country.
"The authorities have known about this for two years and not done anything. Capetonians need to know about this. If Paul is allowed to sell mountain water for personal gain, how many other people around the mountain can sell it as well? It sets a huge precedent. South Africans need to know about this," Abrahams said.
The Constantia water issue had given rise to three court challenges. In addition to SANParks acting against Baise, Baise has charged SANParks with malicious damage to property, as SANParks officials allegedly cut his water pipes running from the stream.
SANParks maintains that his right to the water is for a point lower down, off SANParks’ land.
A third court case involves Baise and his neighbour McGivern. Baise has been charged with assault, after he allegedly tried to throttle McGivern during an argument about receivers that opened the gate shared by the three properties.
McGivern said in a police statement that Baise had become violent, "and threw me to the ground. He continued to throttle/strangle me, shouting that I had ‘caused all this shit with National Parks’ to prevent him selling water".
Kevin McGivern shows where he and two other properties in Rhodes Drive, Constantia are legally allowed to take water from a mountain stream. (Melanie Gosling)
The assault case began in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court last week and has been postponed.
Baise told News24 that he believed it was a "false charge".
Sputnik Ratau, spokesperson for the Department of Water and Sanitation, said anyone selling water needed a licence.
Ratau said he would forward the matter to the department’s Western Cape office for investigation.
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