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The full story behind the water crisis

Here are the facts as we know them.

HAS the beautiful South Coast lost its gloss after thousands of holidaymakers had to spend their festive season without water?

Many just packed up and left. Will they come back?

All very real fears by local business people and only time will tell.

However, for those holiday people who stuck it out (and hopefully have water by now), these are the facts as the Herald knows them after speaking to Ugu Municipal Manager DD Naidoo, his officials and various reliable sources who prefer to remain anonymous for fear of being caught up in a sinister political battle allegedly being waged behind the scenes.

Two municipalities serve this part of the South Coast – Ugu and Ray Nkonyeni (formerly Hibiscus Coast). Ugu’s jurisdiction covers a much wider area inland and towards Scottburgh.

Ugu is in the floodlights here as water and sanitation are their primary responsibility.

Infrastructure has been a major bone of contention for a long time with pipes often bursting all over the show. Many blame this on the current management, but one has to bear in mind that Ugu was given the responsibility after 1994 to expand services to far-flung areas which did not have the luxury of in-house tap water and sanitation that others were always accustomed to.

There’s no disputing that things could have been handled more efficiently in the past 20 or so years, but that’s a national story.

For the record, the current manager, Mr Naidoo, has only been at the helm for the past few years.

Back to the present: Ugu was caught off guard by a surprise (and illegal) strike by its entire workforce just as the festive season officially started.

The dispute goes back to about 1997 when workers asked for a non-statutory ‘health and disability’ benefit. The agreement then was that one percent would be deducted from their wages/salaries and Ugu would match that with an additional one percent. Sanlam was the insurance company of choice.

There was no dissension in the ranks and all went well for years until someone or some group suddenly spread a rumour that there was a similar situation in the Ilembe District and Sanlam had, in fact, paid back the contributions to the workers.

However, the difference was that, in Ilembe’s case, it was a ‘retirement policy’. Ugu’s was for ‘death and disability’ and, therefore, could only be paid out after any of those unfortunate events.

The Ugu workers would hear none of it. Ugu had already embarked on negotiations to find a suitable solution when, suddenly, all hell broke loose.

There are suspicions that workers were egged on to strike by sinister forces behind the scenes, obviously for their own political motives.

Remember that this entire district is highly volatile politically. Three councillors have already been assassinated and others live in constant fear. SAPS and a special provincial task team are investigating.

While the strike was under way, people unknown (at this stage) crept through the district shutting off valves or opening them (depending on the desired effect) in remote areas and reservoirs ran dry.

There are also suspicions that strategic pipelines were sabotaged. Timely action by Ugu narrowly avoided the main pump station on the Umzimkulu being sabotaged. This would have set the entire district back hundreds of millions. Water would have been totally cut off for months.

The situation was exacerbated by water resources still being scarce because of drought, the hot weather and a sudden increase in demand because of the seasonal influx of holiday people.

Meanwhile, the striking workers were demanding that Ugu/Sanlam repay R120-million as they claimed there was no signed document allowing the latter to deduct the one percent from their salaries/wages. By the way, this included Ugu’s very generous one percent as well.

These were municipal manager DD Naidoo’s options:

* Fire the lot and pass the buck to the national government, or;

* Negotiate some sort of settlement and get them back to work as soon as possible.

If he had opted for the first option, all services to the entire Ugu South Coast – stretching from Scottburgh in the north to Port Edward in the south and inland to Harding, Gamalakhe, Murchison, Boboyi and more – would have been non-existent for the entire season and beyond.

There was no option of recruiting ‘relief workers’ from other areas as none of them would have known any of the intricacies of the district’s water systems.

Instead, he had the guts to negotiate with about 800 angry workers and managed to get them to agree to a more reasonable amount.

Sanlam sent up a representative from Cape Town and he agreed (in writing) to come to the party and repay R13-million. That meeting took place in a boardroom at Ugu’s offices in Oslo Beach while noisy workers congregated in the car park outside awaiting the outcome.

A relieved Mr Naidoo then announced that they would refund the workers an amount of R13-million, thanks to Sanlam.

However, the very next day, Sanlam sent an email and said that their representative had signed the document under duress and in fear of his life.

Ironically, Sanlam did pay an amount of about R2.5-million into Ugu’s account the next day, allegedly because of ‘over payments’. That argument is scheduled for the courts and is now sub judice (in other words, we may not comment further until it is heard in court).

This situation left Mr Naidoo with a dilemma once again: Stand firm or make good on the promise of R13-million (about R10.5-million from Ugu plus Sanlam’s timely R2.5-million).

Once again, he opted to pay the money – with the agreement of his executive committee – and the workers went back to work. That money will now have to be recouped by cutting ‘non-core’ expenditure before June. (Details are still to be discussed.)

Regardless of who is to blame, many of Ugu’s employees then worked non-stop throughout the festive season to restore services as quickly as possible. They often had to work through the night and in very dangerous situations.

There were even threats of violence against crews and Mr Naidoo himself, stirred on by ugly posts on irresponsible social media sites. Mr Naidoo’s home address was even revealed. Some senior technicians fell ill, mainly due to stress.

Ugu’s own complaints/communications centre and Mr Naidoo himself were flooded with calls and also worked tirelessly to keep ward councillors updated. The latter were frustrated because of what (they said) was a lack of information at times as their residents were also constantly on their backs.

But they too worked throughout the season to do what they could for constituents and holiday people.

In a nutshell, the strike caused a catastrophe for the coast and near panic set in. People sprayed insults and accusations with machine gun inaccuracy.

Yet Mr Naidoo and his teams soldiered on and the situation now has improved dramatically. There are still pockets of problems, but they are being attended to as quickly as humanly possible.

In the middle of all this, the Mayor of Ugu Municipality, Councillor Obert Tolomane Mnyayiza, died after a brave fight against illness. However, there was little compassion for him – a man described as a true gentleman. Shamefully, many said his ‘silence was deafening’.

Demonstrating even more ignorance, some still think the Ugu mayor was female.

The mayor’s death was published on the Herald’s website last week and all councillors would have been aware of the tragedy, but few bothered to set the record straight on social media.

To round off, various allegations – including sabotage – are currently being investigated by the SAPS. Any information that could help in their probe would be most welcome.


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