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An investigation of water meter tampering and illegal pipping connections: case study of Folweni, KwaZulu-Natal.

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Much has been learned about saving water due to the ongoing issue of water scarcity that many South African townships experience. However, limited research has been conducted to identify the core factors that contribute to water shortages. This study focused on illegal water connections and water meter tampering (referred to as water theft) as core factors that lead to water shortages, with specific reference to a township context. The goal of this study was to evaluate the causes of water theft and the effectiveness of existing strategies to combat this crime. It is vital to note that water theft is a global issue that has a negative effect not only on human lives but also on the economy. Water theft has a negative impact on the smooth running of water distribution networks and places undue pressure on municipal and government revenue. The objectives of the study were to: (i) assess the nature and extent of water inaccessibility in Folweni Township in the Durban area; (ii) determine the causes of water theft in this township; (iii) explore the effects of water theft on the community and the eThekwini Municipality; and (iv) assess measures and strategies that may be effective in curbing water theft in the study area. The study was informed by Shaw and Mckay’s (1942) social disorganisation theory, Merton’s (1938) strain theory, and Beccaria’s (1967) rational choice theory. The field work was conducted in Folweni Township that falls under the eThekwini Municipality in the larger Durban area in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province. This study area was selected because it experienced a high number of water theft cases and severe water supply interruptions. Telephonic semi-structured interviews using open-ended questions were used as the data collection instrument. The findings of this study suggest that the causes of water theft are unemployment, ineffective communication between the community and the municipality, and a lack of social control by law enforcement agencies. Furthermore, the findings revealed that water supply interruptions lasted up to a month without any reports issued by the municipality to inform the community of the nature of the problem experienced. The study further determined that illegal water connections and water meter tempering had become an acceptable norm in this community and that no strategies had been put into place to curb this crime. Participants argued that the municipality introduced only inconsistent mechanisms to deal with water theft and that residents were expected to use these to cope with water shortages.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.