What is the 'third force' behind South Coast's dry taps?
While a striking union is the most obvious culprit, a closer look reveals there might be more sinister elements at work
If union officials are to be believed, a group of unnamed opportunistic tenderpreneurs are to blame for the unfolding water crisis at the Ugu District Municipality on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.
They are said to operate under a cloak of darkness, smash water pipes, drain reservoirs and leave hospitals, clinics, schools and homes without water – and then get contracts to fix the very infrastructure they destroyed.
Talk of a third force spread from Hibberdene to Harding when the water supply was sabotaged almost two weeks ago, leaving thousands with dry taps for more than 10 days.
The region was declared a disaster area last week as hospitals, schools, clinics and homes had no access to water. Truck drivers carrying water to communities were intimidated and municipal JoJo tanks were stolen.
The municipality blamed striking workers for closing valves, draining reservoirs and physically destroying parts of the pipeline. This was the third time that the infrastructure had been sabotaged during an ongoing labour dispute.
But the South African Municipal Workers Union tells a different story.Samwu's Ugu regional chairperson, Mthandeni Ngcobo, claimed contractors were colluding with corrupt municipal officials to make money.
“They break it so they get to fix it, and they do it whenever there is a labour issue to make us look bad,” he said.
He said workers were unhappy about the municipal instituting the no-work, no-pay rule for a go-slow in March.
“There were several grievances. And we were willing to talk to municipality, but instead they are pointing fingers at us when they know the contractors are behind this sabotage,” he said.
The union's provincial secretary Jaycee Ncanana said the issue of corrupt contractors was mentioned in the agreement signed with the municipality to end the labour dispute.
“Firstly, the water system coming back on after the agreement with the municipality does not mean it is because the workers were behind the sabotage. It simply means that the people who are capable of maintaining the system will be back to do it.
“As for the contractors, there are many allegations. But if the contractors don’t disturb the service, how are they going to get money? But the thing is nobody can put their necks on the block and say: ‘Yes, I saw them doing it’,” he said.Political analyst Protus Madlala told Times Select that, on the surface, the water woes looked like a labour issue – but he questioned why workers would sabotage infrastructure that supplied water to their own homes instead of simply protesting.
“There is another dimension to it but this is general, of course. I have learned from other areas that behind those acts of sabotage are tenderpreneurs who want to be re-employed so that they can refix that infrastructure,” he said.
Madlala said he had it on authority from unions that several other municipalities' electricity service was disrupted by contractors who wanted to make money.
“It identifies with Ugu. I put my head on the block that there is a third force behind it, and it could be the tenderpreneurs,” he said.
On Friday, the Ugu Municipality released a statement to advise residents that after a nine-hour meeting with KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies Mchunu, its management and the union, an agreement had been reached to end the current labour impasse.
“According to the groundbreaking interim agreement which was signed at 2am this morning, workers will return to work with immediate effect and the water supply opened to the great relief of residents and businesses in the area.
“Furthermore, management of the municipality and the workers under Samwu agreed that the law may take its course in finding those responsible for vandalising and interfering with the water infrastructure,” the statement said.
Ramsgate Residents and Ratepayers Association vice-chairperson Ray Basson said the reservoir would first have to fill up before water could be distributed to all areas.
“It could take up to two days before water can reach the community. That is if there are no burst pipes due to air trapped or due to vandalism but we will only find out once the water starts to flow again,” he said.