Maverick Citizen


A R45m reservoir later, and still no water: Lenasia South residents’ ‘stressful and sickening’ predicament

A R45m reservoir later, and still no water: Lenasia South residents’ ‘stressful and sickening’ predicament
The newly built reservoir in Lenasia South, Johannesburg. Residents still face water cuts despite the new reservoir. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Residents of Lenasia South outside Johannesburg had hoped that, with the construction of a R45-million reservoir, their water woes of almost five years would come to an end. But there are still water outages twice a day.

“Lenasia South’s water issues are a thing of the past,” was the assurance given to residents of the area at the launch of the 15-megalitre, R45-million reservoir on 30 June. Two months down the line and the water supply is being cut twice a day.

Joy Govender, committee member for infrastructure and service delivery in Lenasia South’s Ward 120, didn’t have to wait two months before she knew the new reservoir hadn’t solved the problem. Govender told Daily Maverick she had stepped out of the launch to verify the promise of a regular water supply made by Johannesburg Executive Mayor Mpho Phalatse and MMC for Environment and Infrastructure Michael Sun, who were at the event. 

Govender opened her taps and they were dry, which they usually were at that time due to water cuts. And they remained dry.

Sierra Nevada Primary School principal Dale Abrahams walks past three JoJo tanks that the school installed to overcome the water crisis. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Said Phalatse at the launch: “The opening of the new Lenasia reservoir is one of many infrastructure upgrade projects that the Joburg multiparty government is undertaking to ensure access to quality, sustainable, basic services to all six million residents.

“The overall objectives of this project have been to not only improve storage capacity of the Lenasia high-level reservoir, but ensure reliability of supply, so that when a resident opens a tap, they enjoy clean water … a basic right for us all,” said Phalatse at the time.

She added that the R45-million project hadn’t been cheap, but that residents could expect value for money. 

Lenasia South has been experiencing water cuts for almost five years, with the taps being turned off by Johannesburg Water from 1pm until 5pm and then again from about 9pm or earlier to 3am the following morning. The cycle is repeated every day.

Sometimes the water is cut for longer. At times, it’s not cut at all. But for more than 90% of the time, the area experiences water shedding. 

According to the invitation to the launch of the new reservoir: “The new 15 ML Lenasia High-Level Reservoir was constructed to supplement the existing 6 ML Lenasia High-Level Reservoir, which had insufficient capacity to supply the area dependent on it.”

Johannesburg Water communications officer Puleng Mopeli told Daily Maverick that housing density, increased backroom dwellers in Vlakfontein and illegal connections due to land invasions in Univille informal settlement were causing the water outages.

“Although the new reservoir has been commissioned, the supply line from Rand Water supplying the new reservoir does not have enough water to cater for the existing water demands within the affected areas,” Mopeli said. 

Govender, meanwhile, approached the City of Joburg, as well as Johannesburg Water, to find out why the new reservoir had not solved the problem. She is still waiting for answers.

Other residents Daily Maverick spoke to had also reached out to officials but were frustrated by the lack of response. 

“My personal take on this is simple … they just came to open the reservoir to shut people up. But in actual fact, they have created a bigger hullabaloo because everyone now asks what is the purpose of the new reservoir when they still don’t have water,” said Govender. 

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“As a leader in this community, I feel so incompetent because I cannot deliver on my duties (of addressing people’s concerns),” Govender said. “We are failing dismally to serve our community … leaders must be able to deliver, to answer.” 

On arriving in Lenasia South, this reporter saw roads that had been damaged as a result of burst water pipes and meters that had been broken by the water supply so frequently being turned on and off.

Preetham Mangar besides his water tank. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Preetham Mangar, a retiree living in Lenasia South for almost 40 years, told Daily Maverick that on hearing of the reservoir’s launch, he thought, “Knowing this country, we won’t have water. And we didn’t have water.” 

He had considered getting a JoJo tank, but friends in the government told him there was no need as the reservoir would soon be completed. Mangar now stores water in several containers at his home.

“We can’t live like this. It’s very inconvenient, especially during peak hours,” said Mangar.

“We understood that with the increased population, resources would be stretched. But with the new reservoir, we still have the same problem and no one can tell us what is going on.” He said people were relocating from Lenasia South not because of the crime, but because of the water shortages. 

Alice Kunze carries two buckets of water that will be stored for later. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Samantha Naidoo’s home has a “For sale” sign on the lawn. She said the water crisis contributed to her decision to move from the area.

Naidoo said her family has had to replace their geyser three times in the past 18 months, with pipes and toilets leaking as a result of the water being turned on and off. 

“The mayor was here to open the new reservoir and God knows what she did there because there ain’t nothing happening here,” said Naidoo, who has lived in the area for 36 years.

Mopeli said the City’s water department was currently investigating water losses through illegal connections.

“The completion of the investigations are dependent on challenges encountered. The duration of required remedial work shall be determined by the investigation’s outcome,” she said.

Mopeli said there was a project, still in the design stage, to upgrade the water supply. The project is expected to be completed by 2028. 

Anne Naidoo navigates her way past stored water containers that she keeps in her garage. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

MMC Michael Sun said in a statement on 1 September: “After opening the reservoir in June, residents of Lenasia continue to suffer outages at an alarming rate… This is unacceptable and we will ensure that all efforts are made to speedily resolve snags and ensure residents enjoy the benefits of this new infrastructure as a matter of urgency.”

While Johannesburg Water concludes its investigation and Sun “speedily resolves snags”, residents like Naidoo have to rush to finish all chores that require water by 1pm before the water is cut off, and hold her breath that dinner guests finish eating before the evening outage so the dishes can be washed. Naidoo has resorted to using paper cups and plates to avoid dishes piling up. 

“An inconvenience is an understatement. I don’t think humans should live like this … it’s pathetic,” Naidoo said. “It’s stressful. Physically, it’s draining. Emotionally, it’s sickening. 

“Our whole life is worked around water cuts. Nothing else. Not work, studies or personal things … It revolves around water. Every day for the last four years.”

Minister of Water and Sanitation, Senzo Mchunu, recently completed a year in office, emphasising the mantra of his department: “Water is life, sanitation is dignity.” This clearly hasn’t filtered down to the people of Lenasia. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Drought, disease and destitution: Minister Senzo Mchunu reflects on a rocky first year in office

For Farhana Basha, her period is the most stressful time. Basha told Daily Maverick it was very unhygienic to not be able to clean herself properly as a result of water cuts throughout the day.

“When we got word about the reservoir being ready, it was a lie. We were all so excited… They came here and opened what reservoir? For who? We are suffering every day … especially with hygiene,” said Basha, who has lived in Lenasia South for 21 years. 

Initially, the water cuts had been once a day but this increased to twice a day two years ago, Basha said. She added that residents had been told the outages were a temporary measure. 

“It’s like a lucky packet when we open the tap and there’s water. Do we have to get excited for necessities and services that we are paying for?” 

Resident Nkosinathi Phakade recently had a funeral and needed to drive out of the area for water. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Nkosinathi Phakade told Daily Maverick that Johannesburg Water had recently upgraded the water meter at his home. Although the supply is intermittent, he still pays full rates for a service that barely functions, leaving him and his family of five high and dry. 

“It’s difficult to maintain hygiene in the house. I especially underline the toilet part,” said Phakade, adding that it was a headache with kids around the house.

“In 2020, we had to borrow water from friends with bigger containers so that we could store more water [during a family member’s funeral]. That was very inconvenient.”

Zerina Sulliman says the water crisis has an adverse effect of her daily prayers. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Zerina Sulliman (71) told Daily Maverick the intermittent water supply had a negative effect on her daily life and her spirituality. The Islamic practice of salah – praying five times a day – requires self-purification. 

“We have a little place in the bathroom where you can open the tap, sit and wash yourself… Before you pray, you need to wash and, because there’s no water, you can’t wash.” 

She said her children installed a JoJo tank a year ago. She now keeps water in a purified bottle to wash her hands and face. 

“Water is a basic necessity … You can live without electricity, but you cannot live without water. I’m 71 years old – we lived in the township where we had the bucket system, but we always had water.

“We are supposed to be living a better life now, but it seems things are not going forward; it’s all going backwards,” said Sulliman. DM/OBP

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