Water offenders beware

Nigel Adams and his Blue Scorpions team of four have been ruffling feathers since they started work in June this year. Not that Adams apologises. He has no mercy for water abusers — unless they repent and face up to their sins.

The Scorpions’ wrath is coming down on 67 unsuspecting members of the Impala Water User Association in Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal. The farmers owe the local water board R59-million for water supply.

Adams and his squad are serving them notices of demand that their debts should be cleared within five days, or their water supply will be restricted to domestic use. “It’s not that the farmers didn’t know what was coming; it’s time to stop pleading and start acting,” Adams explains.

The crackdown relates to a debt incurred in the constuction of the Bivane Dam on the Pongola River. Farmers argue that a R560 per hectare annual repayment levy is unfair because it flows from a R28-million escalation in the contract price caused by construction delays. They also argue that they should not have to pay water management fees because they have had to build water conduits from the dam.

The unit, accompanied by the Mail & Guardian, flew into the green lushness of Pongola the night before. The Scorpions were grimly determined to accomplish the huge task awaiting them. Because of the vastness of the area, delivering notices to 67 different farms requires air and ground forces.

A towering man, Adams inspires awe. He growls that the unit should be on its best behaviour, as a wrong move could jeopardise the operation. Dragging on a cigarette, he replays the team’s previous encounters.

“You need to be very careful and mindful where you are all the time,” he says. “But I’ve been granted full jurisdiction and can arrest people, as per the minister’s instructions, should there be any hassles.”

The operation is divided into two phases on the wall-size map in the “ops room”. The farms around Pongola are the first to be targeted, using only ground forces.

At 7am Adams calls a final briefing with the local police, who are observing. Then it’s up and at ’em.

The farmers know what the notices say, but Adams still has to read them out for legal reasons. The first farmer proves to be among the most difficult. Glancing repeatedly at the photographer, he tells Adams our presence is not welcome.

The suspects’ faces reflect astonishment and anger as they shout questions on their cellphones to their lawyers. Their biggest complaint is the elaborate style of the operation for what they consider a private dispute.

“They’re using police and helicopters to deliver a simple document. They’ve got an entourage to intimidate us,” farmer Flip Lourens furiously tells his legal adviser in Pretoria.

Initially welcoming, Lourens avoids Adams, who is coloured, addressing himself to the latter’s white female assistant investigator, Narina Schoeman. Adams says nothing, even appearing slightly amused, but takes ­copious notes.

As the day winds down the members of the unit, exhausted but jubilant, gather to compare notes. Fifty-nine notices have been served without incident. Just after dawn tomorrow, the operation will begin again.

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Vuyo Sokupa
Guest Author

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