Cape officials look askance at Umgeni Water plan
● Confusion surrounds the appointment of a KwaZulu-Natal water utility to help Cape Town avoid Day Zero, allegedly against the advice of city officials.
Durban-based Umgeni Water was last year embroiled in a legal spat following allegations of tender irregularities. Its entire board was suspended and replaced with an interim structure that at one stage included ousted SA Airways boss Dudu Myeni.
Myeni has since moved on but the interim board still awaits the outcome of a forensic investigation into alleged tender irregularities, recruitment anomalies and financial mismanagement.
A directive issued in December by Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane said Umgeni Water must build and manage a 10-million-litre-a-day desalination plant in Cape Town.
City of Cape Town officials said the move was surprising, coming shortly after the council began its own desalination project comprised of four short-term plants.
“We are also concerned about the origin of this thing. There is no intention of us purchasing it,” said an official, who wished to remain anonymous. The lack of detail about the Umgeni plant has fuelled suspicions about the utility’s trek to the Cape.
Mokonyane and her department insisted this week that Umgeni Water was the logical choice to implement the government’s crisis intervention. Speaking to the Sunday Times after a media briefing, she scoffed at suggestions that Umgeni Water was out of place in Cape Town.
“That is silly. This is a national Department of Water and Sanitation. These are utilities of the national department — we are not a federal country,” she said.
Trevor Balzer, the department’s deputy director-general: strategic and special projects, highlighted Umgeni Water’s “very, very good track record”.
Desalination critics say it’s expensive, producing relatively small volumes compared with water reuse and aquifer supply.
Umgeni Water spokesman Shami Harichunder said the utility had identified a desalination service provider in a tender process. “Umgeni Water has studied desalination technology to extensive detail and it has resident expertise to operate and manage a desalination plant.”
Brewery bottles free water
South African Breweries expects to spend about R24-million filling 12 million “quart” beer bottles with pasteurised water from its Newlands brewery’s spring and distributing them to up to 300 shops in Cape Town if Day Zero arrives. Ricardo Tadeu, SAB’s zone president for Africa, said the water would be free but customers would have to pay a 90c returnable deposit for each bottle.