Murders, human rights violations and vandalism: a murky year for water in eThekwini Municipality

eThekwini Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda inspects the site where the water pipe that supplies Prince Mshiyeni Hospital with water is being fixed. Picture: Tumi Pakkies/ Independent Newspapers

eThekwini Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda inspects the site where the water pipe that supplies Prince Mshiyeni Hospital with water is being fixed. Picture: Tumi Pakkies/ Independent Newspapers

Published Dec 1, 2023


Since the start of the year, the eThekwini Municipality has had a number of challenges relating to water service delivery, including murders within its water unit and sabotage which costs residents and authorities.

With the Municipality budgeting R1 billion in the upcoming year towards fixing some of the issues in its water network and developing it to meet the increasing demand, we take a look at some of the biggest events this year, which revolved around water.

The two murders that occurred within the eThekwini Water Unit have arguably been the most controversial thing to happen, as it follows numerous murders within the unit that took place during 2022.

In early November, Emmanuel Ntuli, the acting senior manager for Plants and Logistics in the Water and Sanitation Unit was shot dead.

Ntuli was killed at his home in Mandeni, north-east of KwaDukuza, the Municipality confirmed.

Ntuli had been under the protection of the Durban Metro Police for around a year due to death threats, the Mercury reported.

In late September, Khumbulani Khumalo, manager for Community Services in the eThekwini Municipality’s Water and Sanitation Unit, was shot dead while in a municipal vehicle in Inanda.

Police in KwaZulu-Natal confirmed the 51-year-old was found inside a white Toyota Bakkie with state number plates with multiple gunshot wounds.

Private security firm Reaction Unit South Africa (Rusa) said at the time the body was found with two gunshot wounds to the head.

From around the start of September, residents in the northern region of the Municipality were left for a little over a week without running water after state assets were vandalised, causing drops in pressure in the water network.

The vandalism of the air valves in the water network was confirmed by the City’s head of Water, Ednick Msweli.

The issue also highlighted the City’s old and dysfunctional method of tracking and fixing problems, which is still done manually.

This left many residents in areas like uMhlanga, Durban North, La Lucia and other northern areas in a state of desperation and inconvenience for around a week.

“A water tanker came to our area during the day, but most of the people were at work so we couldn’t really use that. We have had to go out to family members and friends to bath and all of that,” Somerset Park resident Devasha Nair told IOL at the time.

Former Umgeni Water board member Visvin Reddy said the water outage reeked of sabotage.

“Every time something like this happens, when the water or power goes out, there is someone benefiting from it,” Reddy said.

The Municipality said the problem stemmed from the Northern Aqueduct.

“The interruption is due to low pressure at certain parts of the main northern aqueduct pipeline. Municipal technical teams have been working tirelessly for the past few days to identify the source of the problem and to ensure speedy repairs,” the City said.

Chairperson of the uMhlanga Ratepayers Associations, Terri MacLarty said residents were frustrated by the lack of a solution which has left them contemplating legal action, the Mercury previously reported.

Water problems in the area also affected tourism to an extent, as many of the lavish hotel accommodations were left without water for guests.

“The lack of water poses the threat of many of our hospitality members losing vast amounts of revenue from the continued water rationing and repairs,” Duncan Heafield, chairperson of uMhlanga Tourism Association told the Mercury.

But the Municipality does have a lot on its plate, to say the least, from fixing the wide range of damage caused to state infrastructure during the floods in April 2022, to cleaning out the corruption in its ranks.

The City’s ability to prioritise was also questioned, after it planned to host the South African Music Awards at a time when service delivery was reaching a trough.

To add problems to their plate, the South African Human Rights Commission in September said the City violated the rights of citizens by failing to provide access to clean drinking water.

But since the publication of the report, the Municipality has announced big plans to revamp its water unit.

Whether or not they can follow through will be a question for 2024.

eThekwini Municipality spokesperson, Gugu Sisilana confirmed the just over R1 billion budget will be spread over six sectors, with the lion's share meant for upgrades.

New infrastructure was allocated R124,950,000, refurbishment of infrastructure - R78,085,000, infrastructure upgrades - R323,984,000, non-revenue water - R228,876,000, storm-damaged infrastructure - R40,800,000, and “other, e.g transport assets etc.” was allocated R207,723,000.