The northern areas of KwaZulu-Natal are in the grip of a severe drought, with dams and rivers fast drying up.

The Jozini dam is so low that authorities fear that by the time winter is over, the dam will have run out of water. The drought has affected game reserves, lodges and other establishments frequented by foreign and local tourists that rely on a regular supply of water for sustainability.

Thapelo Msimang, events and conference centre manager at the Jozini Tiger Lodge, said that without adequate water his establishment would have to turn away tourists who have already booked at his establishment on the banks of Lake Jozini.

“We are praying that it doesn’t come to that because the livelihood of more than 28 permanent staff would be threatened. We just hope that we will have enough rains in the weeks and months ahead,” he said.

Thabani Shale, president of the Zululand Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber was worried about the effects of the drought, especially on tourism ventures in the affected areas.

Shale said although he did not have exact figures, tourism plays a critical role in the economy and employment in northern KZN.

“Some of the members of the chamber have been complaining about water supply challenges. Some have even gone as far as building their own boreholes to be self-sufficient. But at some point we must address this challenge once and for all,” he said.

Local resident Vusi Mathenjwa said there had been water shortages in the past but he feared the current drought would be the worst. 

“In the past we had to collect water from the rivers to augment that which has been brought by water tankers. Now that they tell us there is drought we don’t know how we will cope,” he said.

Local hospitals, clinics and schools are affected by the water shortages, and water tanks hired by the municipality to transport water do not reach everyone, he said.

The Umkhanyakude district municipality has also embarked on drilling boreholes as a temporary measure to alleviate the shortage. Spokesperson Mduduzi Dlamini told Business Day that the municipality has utilised the R18m allocated by the provincial government as part of the drought relief to pay five borehole contractors to drill in different areas to supply affected communities.

“If you look at Jozini Dam, its water level has decreased substantially over the years. Even though we get rains, it is not enough to ensure that everyone gets water,” said Dlamini.

“We have started with this process to get water from the ground through the drilling of boreholes. As the rural municipality we don’t have a revenue base like other municipalities in the country. We rely on government grants and funding.”

He insisted this was a temporary measure as in the longer term the municipality will work on sourcing water from other dams, some as far as Mozambique, to provide water to local communities.

“We are in the process of using R240m of our municipal infrastructure grant to build these projects. But these projects would not be ready in time as we are facing severe drought this winter, hence we need these boreholes to supply our people,” he said.

Dlamini said the borehole scheme would include testing the water to ensure it is safe for consumption.