Children play in rain water in Ugu in KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: PHILLIP LENNON
Children play in rain water in Ugu in KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: PHILLIP LENNON

Distraught residents and businesses on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast say they are still without water, despite a "truce" between Ugu district municipality and its workers who had gone on a wildcat strike.

According to residents, there has been no respite and the taps have been dry for between nine and 27 days due to the strike.

The provincial government declared the region a disaster zone on Thursday and sent technicians and support staff to help restore water supplies.

All areas supplied by the Ugu district municipality water management system were affected, including Port Shepstone, KwaNzimakwe, Izingolweni, Ramsgate, Hibberdene, Oribi area and many others up to Harding inland.

The municipality said workers aligned to the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) had gone on an illegal strike and sabotaged the provision of water by tampering with its systems. But Samwu denied these allegations.

Although a deal was agreed to on Friday last week that effectively ended the strike, workers only started returning to work on Saturday. On Wednesday some residents said they still did not have water.

Adrian Wilhem, a production manager living in Ramsgate, said he had been without water for the past 19 days and relied on water stored in his two Jojo tanks, which he extended to help some of his neighbours.

"We had to buy drinking and cooking water from the shops … this is madness. We were hoping that after the strike ended we will have water, but our hopes have been dashed because we still don’t have water. It looks like nobody knows how, or has a will to fix or find solution."

He said some of the south coast residents were so fed up that they had threatened to take the law into their own hands.

Sbusiso Memela, from Nzimakwe, said: "Why must we suffer every time that the municipality and its workers have a dispute? Why can’t they resolve their issues without us suffering without water?"

Wesley Barnard, who is a booking agent for many tourism establishments in KwaZulu-Natal, said many tourists who had booked for the south coast were cancelling their planned holidays.

"Some are opting for the north coast. This has something to do with the water problems in the areas of the south coast," he said.

Ugu municipality spokesperson France Zama was said to be on leave and Dhanpalan Naidoo, the municipal manager, could not be contacted as his phone rang to voicemail.

But on Tuesday, Naidoo told journalists that the municipality was doing all it could to restore water to all affected areas. A team from the municipality was working with personnel seconded by KwaZulu-Natal premier Willies Mchunu to iron out differences between the municipality and the workers who had been on strike.

The workers were demanding that the municipality stop docking salaries for last year’s illegal strike. They were also demanding to be paid for overtime during the Easter weekend, among other grievances.