Not the first time: People fetch water during a Samwu strike in Ugu municipality in November 2017. Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN
Not the first time: People fetch water during a Samwu strike in Ugu municipality in November 2017. Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN

Water is slowly being restored to communities and businesses under the Ugu district municipality on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.

A labour standoff of more than two weeks had led to taps running dry, causing anxiety, a health scare and business losses in the tourism-dependent region. Affected areas included Port Shepstone, KwaNzimakwe, Izingolweni, Ramsgate, Hibberdene, Oribi and Harding, which is located inland.

The municipality claimed that an illegal work stoppage by members of the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) led to the sabotage of water supplies. It accused the workers of tampering with infrastructure, an allegation denied by Samwu.

The impasse was broken on Friday when the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government facilitated negotiations between the municipality and Samwu.

Ugu district municipality manager Danphalan Naidoo said striking workers had begun returning to work on Saturday.

“We are doing all we can to ensure that all affected areas are sorted out. Some of the systems have collapsed, so it will take some time to restore them,” Naidoo said.

“All our tankers are on the road delivering water. We have also decided to bring back some of the contractors to assist with the bulk systems which they were working on.”

Vital services

On Thursday the provincial government declared the South Coast region a disaster zone.

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies Mchunu had said the provincial government could not allow the labour dispute to deprive thousands of people of vital water services.

Residents were relieved that the water supply had been restored. Thandeka Jula, who lives in a village near Margate, said the past two weeks had been very difficult.

“It was the toughest time. We had to send [our] children to school, to write examinations, without [taking] a bath.

“The water tanks came but if you missed them it was tough luck,” Jula said.

Members of the KwaZulu-Natal Bed and Breakfast Association were also elated.

Tracy Wilcott, who runs a B&B in Port Shepstone, said it was worrying that the latest water cuts had been the third in less than two years.

“Why do we have to endure this inhumane treatment whenever there is a dispute between workers and the municipality?

“We are running businesses here and people [tourists] need certainty. They don’t want to spend their holiday worrying about whether they will have water to bath. It is an absolute madness,” Wilcott said.

The Ugu district municipality, which encompasses some of SA's prime tourism areas, was without water for more than two weeks. Map: GOOGLE
The Ugu district municipality, which encompasses some of SA's prime tourism areas, was without water for more than two weeks. Map: GOOGLE

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