Dark and dirty days in Durbs


My mind should be occupied with matters of national import — the charges of theft and kidnapping opened against the president by former spy boss Arthur Fraser and the fallout for Cyril Ramaphosa from mining house Glencore’s US$1.1-billion admission of guilt fine paid to a United States court.

Neither the charges nor their timing are a surprise — the ANC presidency is up for grabs in December and Ramaphosa’s enemies in the party want him jammed up — like them — by the step-aside rule, so they had to make their move sometime soon.

Instead, I’m wondering whether to drain my bathtub, which has remained full since the water supply was restored to ward 33 on Monday night, or to leave it as is, given the likelihood of another few dry days before the Umgeni Heights and Wiggins reservoirs are back on full production at the end of next week.

It’s a hard call.

By Monday morning, the cold shower after Friday’s six-hour drive from Port St Johns — the power had been out since Thursday — seemed like a luxury, a bourgeois indulgence, courtesy of a long weekend of no water or electricity.

The city’s fault reporting system was on the blink — complaints logged in Glenwood were allocated to Briardene and other parts of the city — and nobody bothered to check whether or not the technician who was eventually given the job actually went to work on Saturday: resulting in a near-perfect storm of failed municipal services, Durban style.

At some point on Saturday evening, I tried to call Durban mayor Mxolisi Kaunda to tell him the Harpers were coming over for a shower, a hot meal and the Champion’s League final — maybe even a sleepover — but my phone battery died before the call could connect with the city’s number one citizen.

The urge had left me by the time I got the phone charged the next morning, so I restricted myself to asking the mayoral spokesperson for electricity — or for a comment — or both, shortly before sun-up.

I got neither.

Instead, a little later in the day, the city cut our water too, just to put the boot in, crank the misery level up a little further, increase the suffering.

Batho Pele, and all that.

Luckily, the water shop down the road opened up — the power cut hadn’t affected them — and they kept the H2O flowing — until their tanks ran dry.

I wonder if the city doing a double was personal — a response to my trying to be clever — or actually a catastrophic simultaneous failure of the municipality’s water and electricity system, as it claims?

City Hall wasn’t too impressed when I accused the mayor of ghosting us during the floods during April, so it could be payback — for that, and the stalking — that I experienced over the weekend, with my neighbours as collateral damage.

Perhaps the city has just lost its capacity to keep the water running and the lights on — simultaneously or otherwise — for any significant length of time and this is what is to be expected, the eThekwini standard, from here on in.

Perhaps I simply brought it on myself, trying to spoil his worship’s Saturday night and taking the mickey with the city spin team before they’d had their Sunday morning coffee, and was punished by the universe for my mouth and my wicked ways.

Perhaps I should have just sat in the dark — quietly — and taken my lumps, conserved what battery life I had on my phone and gone to bed, gotten up and had a cold shower, shut my mouth and enjoyed the privilege of still being able to flush the toilet; brush my teeth.


A dry, dark, dirty Sunday meant I was actually grateful to join the queue on the side of the road with my 25-litre barrels by the time the waterkan arrived; I was smiling when the lights came back on; ecstatic when the rumbling in the walls announced the return of the water supply — at least for now.

There’s no guarantee that it will stay that way, so the bathtub will have to remain full for the foreseeable future.

So, it appears, will the hands of the president’s new spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, who got Fraser charging his boss with corruption and defeating the ends of justice and a new drama around Ramaphosa’s relationship with disgraced Swiss mining giant Glencore as an office-warming present.

It was not the welcoming chocolate gateau one would anticipate receiving, but one works with what one gets.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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