Truck torched and roads blocked as KZN protests over water intensify

06 July 2020 - 10:54 By Orrin Singh
A truck was torched and roads blocked in KwaZulu-Natal during protests about water supplies.
A truck was torched and roads blocked in KwaZulu-Natal during protests about water supplies.
Image: Supplied

Reports surfaced on Monday about a truck being torched and a number of roads in northern KwaZulu-Natal being blockaded as communities took to the streets over demands for water.

Protests on the R102, R66, R34 and P230 roars erupted on Monday morning, affecting motorists travelling between Empangeni, Eshowe, Mthonjaneni, Nkwaleni, Gingindlovu and Nkandla.

According to a source in the area, a truck was torched on the R102 in the early hours of the morning as protests intensified.

In a statement, the King Cetshwayo district municipality (KCDM) said the violence and incidents of vandalism stemmed from the community's dissatisfaction over the supply of water.

It said the protest had been ongoing for the past three days, and alleged that vandalism and sabotage by employees of a previous contractor had exacerbated the challenge of service delivery.

"The municipality had for 17 years (from 2003) outsourced water services for the rural areas and some small towns of the Umfolozi municipality, Umlalazi municipality, Mthonjaneni municipality and Nkandla municipality, to WSSA. The contract was deemed to be unlawful and was criticised by the auditor-general. As an act of good governance, it was necessary to seek a new service agent."

The municipality said it undertook a phased-out approach for 12 months, ending June 30 2020, to minimise service delivery disruptions.

"Umgeni Water Board, a state entity, was engaged from July 1 2020 to provide the water support services while the municipality looks forward to building internal capacity. This was done within the ambit of government legislation as the water board is an organ of state."

KCDM said it was now experiencing serious challenges from employees of the previous service provider, who are denying access to the municipal and Umgeni Water Board employees to the water infrastructure to provide the service to people.

"Access to water plants and treatment works are being blocked, and we are being prevented from supplying water to our communities. We are experiencing acts of intimidation and threats to employees from former WSSA employees, who are alleging  this arrangement between the organs of state has kept them out of employment."

The municipality said it was greatly concerned that there has been serious vandalism to the property of the municipality, thus cutting off water supplies to communities.

"These instances have affected the operations of the big plants including Nkandla bulk, Middledrift, Phobane/Goedetrouw purification works, Kwahlokohloko, Mzimele pump station and other small purification plants like Obanjeni, Pikiliyeza and Ekuphumuleni. This effectively means the entire district is now experiencing serious acts of uncontrollable sabotage, and unfortunately this has the effect of depriving water for the entire district."

The municipality said it understood the plight of the affected communities.

"Communities are rightfully demanding water, and their demonstrations of unhappiness are unfortunately being directed to the municipality as the only place they can turn to. Lockdown is making the situation even harder, with increased demand from the communities and  schools that are reopening."

KCDM urged the public to call 0800 11258 to report water issues as it attempted to resolve the situation.

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesman Col Thembeka Mbele confirmed the protests.

"Four suspects were arrested yesterday [Sunday] at Melmoth for public violence and are set to appear today [Monday] in the Melmoth magistrate’s court. The situation is still tense and members are at the scene to monitor the situation."

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) has called on premier Sihle Zikalala to investigate the protests arising out of the water tender. 

IFP safety and security spokesman Blessed Gwala said: "The IFP calls for the urgent investigation of the furore surrounding the procurement process for the water supply tender allocation between WSSA and uMngeni Water in KCDM. This saw the water supply abruptly cut, prompting a community protest on Monday in key areas of this municipality." 

Gwala said the protest coincided with high court action involving the new service provider, which threatened water supplies to homes and schools. 


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