/ 6 March 2020

Dampener for the weekend

Water Collection 6656 Dv Easy Resize.com
Water woes: About 750000 in the Ugu district are affected by municipal water shortages. Infrastructure has been sabotaged and officials live in fear of being killed doing their jobs. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)


It’s the start of the working week, but I’m already exhausted, worn out.

I haven’t had much of a weekend, with jobs on Friday and Saturday, so there’s been no real opportunity to catch my breath after the previous week’s news cycle. It’s amazing how quickly I got used to having a weekend after the end of a series of Sunday newspapering gigs that amounted to working pretty much every Saturday for two decades.

Friday, usually a gentle day from a work perspective, was rough.

Instead of half a day’s planning before getting the weekend going, Friday was a good 10-hour hour grind, plus travelling, most of it spent trailing around the Ugu district municipality in the pouring rain, watching shooter Delwyn Verasamy display his PhD in photography in the middle of the deluge, much to the amusement of the local population.

Our man isn’t shy when it comes to getting dirty and climbing over and under immovable objects to get his shot, rain or no rain. To be honest, he seems at his happiest when he’s lying in a puddle of muddy water, contorting his body to get THAT one frame that he hasn’t shot yet.

The tanker crews who were hauling 18000-litre loads of water from the overhead pipe at the Ugu sport and leisure centre at Gamalakhe to the reservoir that feeds the Murchison hospital — the pumps are broken and there’s no budget to fix them — thought our man was a nutter. They played nice, though, and carried on with their business while Del went about his.

The sport and leisure centre is where the Ugu Jazz Festival is held every year. I’ve been a couple of times, once in 2010 with bras of mine from the Ingquza Hill municipality in the Eastern Cape. It’s a serious shindig, with lots of government funding and air-conditioned tents for the lahnees, but there wasn’t much in the way of jazz going on at any of the gigs I attended.

The lack of any actual jazz music — and the drama getting in and out of the place, year in, year out — put me off, so I stopped going about five or six years back.

Ugu is in deep shit and not just musically.

There’s been no water, on and off, in much of the district for the past year or so. About 750000 people are affected throughout the district, which runs along the coast from Umzinto to Port Edward and inland as far as Kokstad. The floods last year took out the pump station on the Umtamvuna River, leaving about 175000 people with no water for three months.

Then things got worse.

The factional battle within the ANC in the district — its regional executive was suspended back in 2017 over infighting — escalated. Reservoirs, pipelines and pump stations have been sabotaged, allegedly by council workers who are aligned to one of the ANC party factions. As a result, the water shortage has worsened, hitting communities all the way inland to Kokstad. The province has sent in turnaround specialist S’bu Sithole, but from where I sit, it may be too late.

Del and I head back to Murchison for a last round of pictures before hitting the road for Durban. I’m keen to get back to the city in time for drummer Ayanda Sikade’s gig. Sikade is bringing out Ilungelo, his debut album as a bandleader, in a couple of months, so he’s in Durban for two shows. Sikade’s a marvellous talent and a beautiful human being. He also turns out to be a superb songwriter. Ilungelo is a cracker of an album, so we need to get out of here in time for me to make the gig, the highlight of my truncated weekend.

At Murchison, most of the debris from community protests that blocked the road there and at Bhobhoyi on Tuesday has been cleared.

A two-man team from the Ugu water department has just finished working on the reservoir on the side of the road. They run for their van, parked next to a security car with three armed guards inside it. They’re tooled up themselves — both have 9mm pistols along with wrenches and spanners — and clearly keen to get out of Dodge before the inkabis, who are allegedly being deployed by the ANC factions, arrive.

I snatch an interview as they load the van. They’re terrified, but talk to me for a couple of minutes before closing me down and leaving. I’m not too keen to take a bullet meant for either of them myself, so I don’t push things.

Anything can go down here, so why hang about, asking for trouble?

We hit the road.

It’s a dog of a drive. As the weather conditions worsen, so does the driving. I count five serious accidents by the time we eventually get to Durban.

The opening bars of Sikade’s first song hit me as I land at the Alliance Francaise with literally seconds to spare.

Ugu, hitmen and tomorrow’s job are forgotten.


For now at least