A Glencairn Heights couple have become victims of a new crime rearing its head in drought-parched Cape Town: water theft.
Sheila and Colin Belshaw had to pay a R12 000 water bill after returning from a five-month trip to Europe to find they’d become victims of an 87 000-litre H2O heist.
Ms Belshaw said the water inside their home had been turned off, but they had not shut off the outside supply. Ms Belshaw said they had now fitted locks to those taps although it was akin to shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted. But she wants to share their story as a warning to others.
“We know the theft happened in the week before we arrived home,” Ms Belshaw said. “Our water bill is usually nominal: our last bill was R8. All the other bills were similar, and then there was suddenly 87 000 litres taken – in that last week before we arrived home. So it was not a leak nor a gradual process. It was deliberate theft.”
Their neighbours had not seen anything suspicious.
Ms Belshaw said their insurance company had said it only covered a pipe or geyser burst. “Water theft may be a new thing, but we can certainly attest to it,” she said.
Ward councillor Simon Liell-Cock advised the couple to report the incident to the police.
“He has been very helpful, and the police have been very sympathetic. They have taken statements and affidavits and opened a case – but there is no one to charge – so what happens now?” Ms Belshaw said.
The couple did not turn off the supply to the outside taps so their gardener – who maintained the property while they were away – would have water and use of a toilet on the days he worked.
The property doesn’t have a fence and the Belshaws don’t plan to put one up.
“If people want to get in, they will whether you have a fence or not,” Ms Belshaw said.
Ms Belshaw said it was frustrating to think that an an R85 lock could have saved them
R12 000, but said she had heard that in other cases thieves had simply cut the locks.
When Ms Belshaw posted her story to Facebook she was warned by people in her neighbourhood to change any brass taps to plastic ones as the brass tap tops were also being stolen.
Bobbi Kros wrote: “Stole the lock. Stole the cap. Stole the tap. Water ran and a neighbour turned off the supply for me.”
Other stories have surfaced on social media with a similar theme. People have arrived home from holiday to find their JoJo tanks emptied and/or stolen.
Mr Liell-Cock arranged for the Belshaws’ account to have a dunning block put on it for one month, while attempts were made to sort things out. Mr Liell-Cock said: “I have had two cases of water theft reported to me.”
A Simon’s Town businessman has also had water stolen from his home while away, but as he is travelling at the moment he is unable to provide details. He will do so when he returns at month end.
Mr Liell-Cock said: “South Africans are used to leaving their garden taps unsecured and it is the easiest thing to attach a hosepipe to an accessible tap on your neighbour’s wall.”
He said: “I have heard of fittings being stolen from JoJo tanks which led to the loss of the water but that appeared to be your usual tik addicts who will steal the rings off their grandmothers’ fingers.” He said we were entering a time where the true value of water was being recognised for the first time.
“The City has been providing potable water at 2c per litre in a water scarce country when it costs more than 10 times that to purify and deliver it. The use of potable water for hosing down paving or washing cars is ridiculous, and it has been for decades.”
He said those days are over and residents need to secure their taps and their household reticulation systems far more carefully. “I think this whole water crisis is the shock we all needed to change our wasteful ways; I for one know exactly how much water I personally use, and I will never take it for granted again.”
From February 1 the City will move into full-scale Emergency Stage 3 to try to manage the water shortage. Residents will be allowed only 50 litres a day for each person. This week, Day Zero, the day the taps run dry, shifted forward to Thursday April 12.
The Echo tried several times to contact Fish Hoek police for comment on reports of water theft in the area, but we did not get a response by the time this edition went to print.