/ 24 June 2020

South Coast fight for water heads to court

 6466 Dv Ugudistrictmunicipality
A number of towns and rural areas in the district — which includes holiday towns like Port Edward, Port Shepstone and Margate — are without water in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Residents of the lower KwaZulu-Natal South Coast are preparing to take the Ugu district municipality to court for failing to provide them with water over the past decade.

A number of towns and rural areas in the district — which stretches from Kingsburgh to Port Edward and inland beyond Harding — are without water in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Port Edward resident Heidi Sampieri, one of the residents who is co-ordinating the initiative, confirmed that they are meeting lawyers on July 1 to bring a class action against the municipality, home to about 750 000 people. 

Another resident, Amanda Liebenberg, said: “We have organised to meet with the lawyers to go ahead with the court action. People are frustrated over the failure of the municipality to do its job and want us now to go the legal route for intervention.”

The Port Edward and Banners Rest Ratepayers’ Association has previously laid complaints with the office of the public protector over the failure of Ugu to supply water and other municipal services. The situation has been exacerbated by political infighting in the municipality and the collapse of infrastructure, including reservoirs and pump stations, in various parts of the district.

Earlier this year, pump stations were allegedly sabotaged during industrial action after about 70 municipal employees were fired for participating in an unprotected strike. This brought the water supply to towns throughout the district to a halt. On June 11, the municipality passed an 8% increase in water and sanitation charges, effective from July 1, in its annual budget.

Sampieri said she has been battling with an intermittent water supply since moving to the town seven years ago. She has not had water in her home for the past three weeks.

“We have had nothing but promises from Ugu for the whole time. I pay my bills on time every month, but they make no effort to sort out the situation because we have the same problem, year after year. They filled the water tank near the library last week for the first time since December,” Sampieri said. 

“The Covid-19 situation makes things worse. People are exposed to it because they have to walk for water. There’s no water to wash, so how can people protect themselves?’’

She said she was participating in the court action because “‘we don’t have any other choice. We are being fed lies by the municipality. We don’t have water, but they are increasing our water bills. This is a major humanitarian problem.”

Ugu municipality spokesperson Simon April had not responded by the time of publication.