Toilets that do not flush and taps that have no water. A health disaster in the making. And the worst is that it could well become a reality as more than 200 schools in the greater eThekwini region face the possibility of their water supply being cut off.
The reason? Unpaid bills totalling more than R10-million.
This was the warning issued by Neil Mcleod, head of the municipality’s water department.
“At least 262 schools are in arrears totalling more than R10-million. If they do not pay, their water supply will be disconnected,” said Mcleod.
However, Christie Naude, media liaison officer for the KwaZulu-Natal education department, said the municipality’s claims would be investigated because its figures could not be reconciled with their own.
She said 210 schools had been in arrears in the eThekwini region, but that their accounts had been settled.
She said the education department had paid the eThekwini municipality R3,1-million and the Msunduzi municipality in Pietermaritzburg R5,2-million because they had been concerned about the outstanding payments.
The worst affected areas were Umlazi, with 49 schools in arrears, Mpumalanga with 17 schools and Chatsworth with 12 schools in arrears.
“As disconnections would have affected the quality of our childrens’ education adversely, we decided to intervene on behalf of the schools and paid the accounts that were in arrears,” said Naude.
But Mcleod said: “I am not aware of any allocation of money to clear school arrear accounts. No money has been received to clear any of these debts.”
“As far as I am concerned, these 262 schools still face the possibility of disconnections,” said Mcleod.
Naude said the money used to pay the arrears would be deducted from next year’s norms and standards budget of the affected section 21 schools. These schools control their own finances.
She said the money owed by section 20 schools (mainly rural schools whose bills are paid by the department) would be deducted from their monetary allocations.
She said schools had to plan better. “They cannot use money allocated for essential services for other items,” she said, adding that they also had a responsibility to ensure that there were no leaks that caused unnecessary wastage.
Tony Soobramoney, deputy director of finance for the education department, said: “One problem being faced by schools is that squatter camps located near them are making use of their water facilities. This is resulting in escalating water accounts for which some schools cannot afford to pay,” he said.
Soobramoney said certain schools were also experiencing problems with their meters.
Desmond Dharumrajh, principal of Cavendish Primary School in Chatsworth, said their water bill for the month of June came to
R34 000. “One of the reasons our account escalates is because people who live in the nearby squatter settlement use our water facilities regularly,” he said.
He said that often, parents did not pay school fees and this was why many schools did not have money to pay their water bills.