Hacking while KwaZulu-Natal burns

Thursday.

It’s a blissful Durban morning, all soft light and summery temperatures, a superb end to what turned out to be a rough first week back at work.

The two-edition lay-off was a thing of great beauty, which ended far too quickly; the rhythm of doing as little as possible broken, just as it was getting comfortable, by the dreaded and inevitable return to work.

Part of the holiday was spent in Port Edward where, thankfully, the freshly reinstated water supply appears to be holding out, despite the increased demand created by the school holidays.

A week before schools closed, the Port Edward area had been dry as a bone, the desperation apparent on the faces of the local people, 175 000 of whom had been forced to share borehole water with livestock or wait for it to be trucked in for three months.

Last week, the roads around the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast town were no longer punctuated with water containers left out by residents hoping to catch the “waterkan” on its rounds.

The taps were no longer dry — or spewing brown water drawn directly from the Umtamvuna River in the case of the Banners Rest area — after pumps that had broken down were eventually repaired by the Ugu district municipality. Life had returned to normal. For now.

Back in Durban, I was floored by a nasty bout of flu, which I had managed to avoid until now. In a matter of hours I was reduced to a sweating, hacking mess, a two-legged pile of misery, unfit for human interaction.

Plans to scour the province for a good news story — no mean feat in itself, given the state of KwaZulu-Natal and the collapse of so many of its municipalities — died swiftly, with the rest of the week spent operating by telephone from behind the mucus curtain.

Not a particularly auspicious return to duty, or a satisfying way to go about things, but then again, at least I didn’t get the flu while I was on holiday.

Not much has changed since I’ve been away.

KwaZulu-Natal’s new premier, Sihle Zikalala, has delivered his state of the province address, promising rapid action against corruption, increased investment and efficient governance under his watch.

I wish him good luck with that. His predecessor, Willies Mchunu, presided over what was arguably the worst period of governance since the ANC took power in the province, earmarked by a wave of political killings in the party, the collapse of key municipalities and the near failure of the eThekwini metro.

Zikalala has his work cut out if he hopes to halt the decline and undo the damage done since 2016, when the ANC slate he headed took over and recalled the then premier Senzo Mchunu, replacing him with Willies.

The killings haven’t stopped either.

Another former ANC mayor has been gunned down, this time at Mandeni, where warring taxi groups linked to factions in the governing party’s regional leadership fought a 45-minute gun battle this week.

One of the factions wants the ANC KwaDukuza region to reappoint its secretary, Musa Zondi, who was jailed last year over a taxi killing but is out on bail pending an appeal. Zondi’s supporters want him back in office and are gearing up for a street campaign to force the hand of their political bosses.

The ANC’s provincial leadership still hasn’t fired Durban mayor Zandile Gumede, whom they placed on 30 days leave last month, after she was arrested in connection with an allegedly dodgy R208-million refuse-removal tender.

Gumede’s supporters in the eThekwini region have taken to the streets, threatening more mayhem if she isn’t returned to her office immediately, with councillors close to her taking sick leave to avoid attending council meetings and halting the functioning of the city in protest.

Gumede’s stand-in, deputy mayor Fawzia Peer, has allegedly been the target of a poisoning attempt, with paraffin placed in her water bottle at a council meeting. Peer was rushed to hospital and is now back at work.

Scary stuff, but a reality of political life in KwaZulu-Natal.

I hit the TV remote, keen to catch up on the overnight news.

It’s bad.

Again.

The KwaZulu-Natal department of education district office in Pietermaritzburg, which houses its records and its human resources division, has gone up in flames. The entire top floor of the building has been destroyed, along with all the computer equipment and paper files on it, a couple of weeks after Zikalala and the new education MEC, Kwazi Mshengu, announced plans for a skills audit to root out corruptly appointed teachers and other state employees.

Mshengu goes live to contradict an earlier statement by departmental staff that they suspected the fire to be the result of arson, saying a staff member may have left an electric heater on overnight.

Perhaps.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.
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