KZN South Coast residents left without water after April floods

Broken pump station and crumbling infrastructure leaves thousands at risk

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Photo of a man at a tap
In outlying rural communities like Gamalakhe, near Margate, communal taps often run dry. Photo: Jessica Gaba

It has been more than a month now that “water outages” have plagued Port Edward and surrounding areas, affecting as many as 28,000 homes and more than 175,000 people, as well as luxury tourism establishments, holiday homes and B&Bs.

Armscor, the national procurement agency for the Department of Defence, was called upon this week to help solve a water crisis unfolding on the lower South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

With many residents and businesses unable to get tap water, the Ugu District Municipality requested the military hardware procurement agency to help fix a broken pump station that supplies water to reservoirs serving Ramsgate through to Port Edward and inland up to Izingolweni.

“We were hoping Armscor would be able to procure a new pump faster and cheaper than we could,” said municipal manager DD Naidoo. “But we have since managed to get spares from a supplier, and plan to fix the pump station this weekend.”

The South Coast Chamber of Commerce and Industry has warned about the long-term impact on the area, saying that many tourists would not revisit after having bad experiences in the area.

Chairperson of the Port Edward Ratepayers’ Association Doug Powell agreed. “Resorts and B&Bs that do not have sufficient water storage can’t accommodate guests. The loss of tourism revenue is massive,” said Powell.

A local letting agent, Sharron Norton, said many people around the country had cancelled plans to come to Port Edward during the July holiday period.

“Others are waiting to see if the problem gets fixed in time,” said Smith.

Small businesses have been hit particularly hard with many shutting down when water is not available.

Direct losses have also been incurred in the construction industry with new developments coming to a halt. “Concrete cannot be mixed or poured without water,” said Powell.

In outlying rural communities, people who only started getting piped water a few years ago, have resorted to collecting water from nearby streams and rivers, some of which are polluted and a health risk.

According to Naidoo, it was a small piece of metal that washed down Umtamvuna River during recent floods in late April that caused the main pump at Umtamvuna pump station to breakdown. “It got into the main pump and the pump obviously ceased,” said Naidoo.

When operating on full capacity, the Umtamvuna station has two main pumps and a spare. It now only has a spare pump functioning.

“We are pumping water at less than half the capacity,” said Naidoo.

Naidoo said the resulting crisis followed water supply problems throughout Ugu district over the past two years, largely due to deteriorating infrastructure. The Ugu district extends from Scottburgh in the north, Port Edward in the south, and inland as far as Ixopo. It services about 750,000 people.

Asked whether the municipality had the financial resources to repair the Umtamvuna pump station and what the anticipated expenditure would be, Naidoo said, “Our biggest problem is the lack of funding to assess our water and sanitation challenges. It is totally inadequate. This financial year we will end up overspending.”

Naidoo confirmed that irregular expenditure of R243 million had already occurred as a result of normal procurement processes having been by-passed in dire situations. He said emergency provisions of the Public Finance Management Act would again be used to repair the Umtamvuna pump station. He said the repairs were scheduled to take place this weekend.

Peter Brereton, the owner of a luxury B&B, said, “The fact that they have had no spares on hand to fix the pumps at Umtamvuna speaks volumes … This is inexcusable. This is an essential service.”

Water from a borehole on Brereton’s property was used by firefighters on Wednesday when small fires broke out in the area. “Half a dozen homes were at risk,” said Powell.

Powell recently organised an emergency drilling operation at Port Edward Primary School in search for an underground aquifer. The school has about 400 children.

On Monday drilling operations had reached a depth of 240 metres, but no groundwater reserves had been struck. Calling off the operation, a disappointed Powell said an alternative site would have to be found.

Drilling to 240 metres brought up almost nothing but dust. Photo: Fred Kockott

The borehole drilling venture is supported by local businesses, including CO Valves & Piping, a Kokstad-based drilling company, and Port Edward Caltex Garage.

Further afield, in areas such as Gamalakhe near Margate and Murchison near Port Shepstone, people complain that “water outages” have become as common as load-shedding in the cities.

Nonjabulo Cele of Murchison said water was being rationed with the supply cut from 8pm to 8am. She said in some areas a single communal tap served hundreds of people. When water ran out, people resorted to collecting river water, which was not safe for consumption.

Spokesperson for Ugu District Municipality France Zama said it supplied about 87% of rural households with water. He said the municipality needed to replace old pipes and pumps that were not up to the task of supplying the entire municipal district, but lacked the funds for this.

He said the municipality would have to increase tariffs to fund projects. In the meantime, it had little choice but to impose water shedding, said Zama.

Additional reporting by Jessica Gaba.

Follow the South Coast water crisis at This article was produced for GroundUp by Roving Reporters.

TOPICS:  Government Water

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