/ 19 November 2021

Politicians can’t smell the stink

File: Untreated human waste has previously poured into Durban harbour via the inappropriately named Lavender Creek. Broken pumps are to blame. Photo by Rogan Ward


It’s not yet 7am, but I’m already sweating like an ANC mayoral candidate in a hung municipality who is waiting to hear about the outcome of the national coalition negotiations from the comrades at Luthuli House.

It can’t be much fun — all that stress as to whether or not they will be getting the keys to city hall, or whether Jesus has, actually, come back, as predicted by a former president of the governing party.

Granted, the haggling is still on.

On Sunday, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) ruled out coalitions with the ANC because the governing party had reneged on earlier agreements between the two.

On Wednesday, IFP president, Velenkosini Hlabisa, announced that it had secured a “governance agreement” with the ANC.

The deal, which would see them backing each other in municipalities where one of the parties led, without forming a formal government in any of the hung councils — a coalition, but by another name — and would stop Jesus from coming back, partially at least.

A week really is a long time in politics.

I wonder how long it will be before Jacob Zuma’s supporters start quoting uBaba’s braggadocio ahead of the 2009 elections as another example of his close-to-supernatural powers: a prediction on Nxamalala’s part that firing him — and not theft, arrogance and ineptitude — would, in fact, bring Jesus back?

My money is on it happening before 23 November, the deadline for the new municipal councils to be inaugurated.

And again ahead of the ANC’s national conference next year.

I’m on Margaret Mncadi Avenue, the esplanade that runs alongside the Durban harbour, a block from City Hall and the buildings where eThekwini’s newly-elected councillors have their offices.

Eskom boss Andre De Generuyter hit the off switch on our power supply early this morning, so I’ve made a quick run to the harbour to see if the carpet of faeces that has covered it for the past three weeks has sunk.

The pumps at the Mahatma Gandhi Road sewage station — right next to the National Sea Rescue Institute base — have broken down, again, a repeat of the disaster of May 2019.

Thousands of litres of human waste have been pouring into the bay since just after voting day; piling up, minute by minute, a city block away from where the people who have the power to do something about it are sitting haggling over who gets to be driven around in NDM1 after 23 November.

Fishing and diving have been banned, and human filth is being carried out of the harbour mouth and into the ocean — and the city’s southern and central beaches. The restaurants and the leisure and fishing boat operators at Wilson’s Wharf and elsewhere in the bay can’t work because the smell has driven patrons away.

The city has blamed De Generuyter for the latest breakdown — there’s a surprise — and has promised to fix the pumps quickly, just like it did the last time the city turned the harbour into a massive septic tank in May 2019.

The one good thing about De Generuyter being appointed as Eskom chief executive officer is that it shuts the “put a white man in charge” brigade up — at least for a while. 

The downside is that every new wave of power cuts sparks a new flurry of pictures of Brian Molefe in his Field Marshal’s uniform on social media and fresh outbursts from Engineer Matshela Loco.

Back in 2019, the technicians who were called in to repair the sewage pumps predicted another massive breakdown in the near future as the pumps being used at Mahatma Gandhi were designed to move water, and not the long-term distribution of human faeces.

It appears they were right.

There’s no need to go past the boom gates to find out if the city has delivered on its promise to fix the pumps: I’m gagging from the stench of raw sewage that’s still pouring into the harbour via the inappropriately named Lavender Creek, mask or no mask, by the time I reach the railway line running between the harbour and the esplanade.

I head up Samora Machel Street towards Dr Pixley ka Seme Street to see if the smell of human waste reaches the councillors’ offices and City Hall, where haggling over who gets the mayoral seat resumes at around 8am.

It doesn’t.