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Water is poured from a water tanker into a bucket in this file photo. Picture: LEFTY SHIVAMBU/GALLO IMAGES
Water is poured from a water tanker into a bucket in this file photo. Picture: LEFTY SHIVAMBU/GALLO IMAGES

Drivers of water trucks owned by a private company that has a tender to deliver free water on behalf of eThekwini Municipality are selling water, a GroundUp investigation has shown.

At least two drivers employed by Multi Solutions Trading have sold water in the Adams Mission area. Multi Solutions successfully tendered in October 2023 to supply water trucks and drivers to deliver municipal water to eThekwini residents in areas with limited or no running water. The company is one of seven doing so.

In February 2024, a resident sent GroundUp photos of a driver selling water from an unmarked truck in Adams Mission. The resident, who is a community leader in the area, asked to remain anonymous due to concerns over his safety.

GroundUp reporters were alerted to a second truck by residents who said the driver had been selling them water. GroundUp followed the tanker around the Adams Mission area and watched the driver filling up water containers for residents. After the truck had left the area, residents we spoke to told us that they had paid for the water.

We obtained the driver’s number from one of the residents and phoned him. He confirmed that he was selling water and said he charged R500 for 5,000l.

Official vehicle registration documents show that Multi Solutions Trading owns both these vehicles.

When GroundUp sent proof of Multi Solutions Trading drivers selling water out of their water trucks to residents, eThekwini municipality spokesperson Gugu Sisilana responded: “Thank you for bringing the matter to the city’s attention. The matter has been reported to the relevant unit and will be investigated.”

There is no charge for water for the first 6,000l consumed by residents, according to the Ethekwini Municipality Tariff Tables 2023/2024. After this, the charge increases according to consumption.

But the municipality does not charge at all for water supplied to residents from tankers, according to Sisilana. “Water from water tankers is for emergency interventions in areas without water. It is not for sale. Residents can report such crimes to the City Integrity and Investigations Unit on 0800-20-20-20.”

The current sole director of Multi Solutions Trading is Thembelihle Mzimela, according to official company registration documents. She identifies herself as “Gogo Mzimela” — Granny Mzimela — on Truecaller, an app that helps identify the owner of a phone number.

However, Mzimela told GroundUp on the phone that she had nothing to do with running the business. The person running the company was her son, Simphiwe Mzimela, she said.

Simphiwe Mzimela was the company’s sole director at the time of the company’s inception in 2015, but he resigned in late 2019 and his mother was appointed as the sole director. Mzimela did not answer GroundUp’s questions. In a letter, he said: “For the record [your] motive and intention behind publishing confidential information, relating to trade secrets, clientele, manning and resources utilised for the day-to-day business operations is quite alarming and induces a sense of shock.”

He also demanded reasons he should answer the questions.

“The unfounded allegation that there are illegal practices without a case number and particularities is mischievous and if it has merit it must be under SAPS investigation, with the state machinery attending thereto,” he wrote.

He told GroundUp not to contact any Multi Solutions employees or agents and threatened to apply for a court interdict “with punitive costs” if we did continue to seek information about Multi Solutions Trading and the business ventures of the Mzimela family.

Many residents of Adams Mission confirmed that the sale of water is a regular occurrence. All residents that GroundUp  spoke to said they were afraid for their safety and would only comment anonymously.

The supply of water by private companies in eThekwini has been the subject of an extensive investigation by amaBhungane, which found that four of the other companies supplying water under contract were owned by the controversial Naicker family. The extended Naicker family has made billions leasing water tankers and heavy machinery to the government, despite two of its companies, X-Moor and Aqua, being accused of collusion by the Competition Commission over a R342m tender for Johannesburg’s waste management company, Pikitup, in 2016.

The matter is to be heard in court in November, according to Siyabulela Makunga, spokesperson for the Competition Commission.

(The GroundUp investigation did not implicate the Naicker-owned trucks in selling water.)

Competition for the eThekwini water supply contracts has been brutal, the amaBhungane investigation has shown.

In February 2022, according to AmaBhungane, Amos Ngcobo, a senior manager in the water unit, was shot and killed in the municipality’s Springfield office. Two months later, Phumzile Qatha, who was in charge of allocating water tankers, was shot and killed outside the City’s Ottawa depot. And in November 2022, another official in the water unit, Sydney Qwabe, died after being shot multiple times in his car. Both Qatha and Qwabe had reportedly raised concerns about their safety.


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