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.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

Related stories

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

‘Stand aside’ rule fails the Ace test

The ANC has stalled on setting ground rules for cleanout of comrades accused of corruption

ANC move to ‘stand aside’ is falling flat

Corruption-accused cadres are staying put as provincial rulings contradict NEC’s resolution to clean up the party.

President Cyril Ramaphosa to address the nation next week

The national coronavirus command council will meet next week to discuss ways it can clamp down on the increasing Covid-19 infections. This is after the cabinet met this week to express its concerns

eThekwini municipal manager out on bail, but signing off tenders

The NPA is investigating eThekwini municipal manager Sipho Nzuza to determine whether he broke his bail conditions while back at work.

‘Battle-tested’ vs ‘kind and fair’ — DA candidates’ last push

John Steenhuisen and Mbali Ntuli both acknowledged the problems faced by the party over the past year, with each of them offering their own leadership vision.
Advertising

Subscribers only

FNB dragged into bribery claims

Allegations of bribery against the bank’s chief executive, Jacques Celliers, thrown up in a separate court case

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

More top stories

Blast rocks Durban’s Engen refinery

Residents are being evacuated as firefighters battle to control the blaze

ConCourt asked to rule that Zuma must testify for 10...

It is Zondo's legal end game and will leave the former president, his supporters and those implicated in state capture to increasingly play fast and loose at imputing political motive to the commission

Carlos on Oozymandias’ goodbye grift

"Look on my works ye Mighty, and gimme 50 bucks!"

This is how the SIU catches crooks

Athandiwe Saba talked to the Special Investigating Unit’s Andy Mothibi about its caseload, including 1 000 Covid contracts
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…