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Day Zero comes to parts of Joburg as water cuts roll through city and taps run dry

Day Zero comes to parts of Joburg as water cuts roll through city and taps run dry
Illustrative image | Source: Dean Hutton / Bloomberg via Getty Images | Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo

Rand Water doubles water restrictions as city reservoirs run dry — water cuts are the new load shedding, say residents.

When students in Auckland Park don’t have water, they can’t wash and can’t attend class, says Kelsey Glennon, a lecturer at Wits University and member of the Melville Residents’ Association. For all of 2022, the water supply in the southwest of Johannesburg and north of the city has been on and off, and in August, it went off completely in many areas.

day zero joburg naidoo

Carly Naidoo (65), a clinical psychologist who has lived in Westdene for 33 years. (Photo: Meseret Argaw)

day zero joburg naidoo

Water storage containers at Carly Naidoo’s, house in Westdene on 2 October 2022. (Photo: Meseret Argaw)

“I can deal without lights, but not without water,” says Carly Naidoo of Westdene, who, along with neighbours, has experienced water cuts almost daily in 2022. “It goes off in the morning and comes on briefly in the evening,” she says.

Tanks to collect water, wheelie bins filled with water and a run on bottled water are stories sprinkled across the city. Now Day Zero has come for millions of Johannesburg residents as water systems were shut down to allow reservoirs to refill on Tuesday.

day zero joburg von weh

Karen von Veh (66), a Professor Emeritus at the University of Johannesburg and n Auckland Park resident. She has had no tap water for four weeks. (Photo: Meseret Argaw)

Auckland Park resident and University of Johannesburg Professor Emeritus Karen von Veh has had no water for four weeks.

“Our taps are completely dry — not even a trickle overnight,” said Von Veh in an update on 4 October after a weekend interview. Councillors in Johannesburg sent notices to communities, revealing that reservoirs had run dry as water cuts rolled across the city of six million people.

“Johannesburg Water’s networks in various parts of the City of Johannesburg are severely strained due to high water demand [usage]. The direct impact is extremely low levels within various reservoirs and towers,” said Johannesburg Water.

day zero joburg khupe

Constance Khupe (54), an academic adviser at Wits University, with her water containers at her house in Westdene on 2 October 2022. (Photo: Meseret Argaw)

The Commando, Soweto and Central systems were out of commission, affecting nine reservoirs and covering much of the city. The Rahima Moosa and Helen Joseph hospitals do not have water and operate with water tankers. The University of Johannesburg is also out of water.

“Good morning all, water remains an issue today, so can I kindly request every staff member [to] bring in water bottles (any quantity) to help with the toilets and washing hands, etc. Thank you,” a doctor asked staff at Rahima Moosa hospital last week. (The message was sent to Maverick Citizen editor Mark Heywood.)

The hospitals have water tankers. But residents say that Johannesburg Water’s reported emergency supplies are sometimes claimed to be at addresses which don’t exist, while they once sent a water tank without a tap. See this report on the conditions at hospitals without water where staff in the emergency department have contracted gastroenteritis.

Rolling blackouts lead to water cuts

“The recent warm weather, as well as load shedding, has severely affected capacity at various Johannesburg Water systems (residents and towers),” said Rand Water in a statement on September 29.

A massive infrastructure outage and power cut (not load shedding) at the Vereeniging purification plant has affected pumping, so while the Vaal Dam is 92% full, there is water scarcity, and now Level 2 restrictions are coming across the city.

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Rand Water is the bulk supplier to Johannesburg Water, and it choked supplies to the Eikenhof pumping station, causing a general system failure. The system is being slowly restarted to refill water towers, and the taps are dry for many of the city’s 1.4 million households.

Ageing infrastructure is buckling. Some of the city’s towers were built in the 1930s and have never been replaced. Across Johannesburg, deep trenches in the roads are evidence of water bursts through the tar as pipes at the end of their lives decay. It’s similar to the old Eskom coal power fleet, which has caused 17 days of consecutive power cuts across South Africa, and water outages are a knock-on effect.

Months without water

“They are load shedding us with water,” says Louise Grenfell of Melville, who has installed a 1,000-litre water tank in her garden and says the council supply is often off all day and that it trickles back from 10pm.

Development is outstripping infrastructure faster than Eliud Kipchoge in Johannesburg. The city’s planners are claimed to be in the pockets of developers who get permissions passed even where no infrastructure exists. Infrastructure installations, like a revamp of the breakdown-prone Hursthill Reservoir, get held up in the political bunfight over who runs the coalition.

Part of Greater Fourways, including Diepsloot, Fourways, Bryanston, Chartwell and Dainfern, have had intermittent water supply all year and did not have water for 40 days from June. It came back for two weeks, but is out again, a resident who did not want to be named told Daily Maverick. “They keep telling us it’s the same pipe; we’re not stupid,” she said.

A Lonehill reader said their area had had only intermittent outages while another reader in a different part of Fourways has reported outages all year long with a long multi-day Winter cut.

Mayor Dada Morero has not yet appointed his mayoral council, so the problem is falling between stools as former mayor Mpho Phalatse, who was voted out last week, heads to court. The impasse could continue for months while the water crisis deepens.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Not without a fight – ousted Mpho Phalatse turns to court to win back Joburg mayoral seat

day zero joburg fish

Julia Fish (35), journalist and Melville Residents Association member at an empty water tank on her property. (Photo: Meseret Argaw)

“They’re fighting for the best chairs on the deck of the Titanic,” says Melville resident and Melville Residents Association member Julia Fish. A journalist and environmentalist, she spends one in five days lobbying the city to put in infrastructure before allowing development like an upcoming VIP gentleman’s strip club and casino. Fish installed water tanks at her home, but these are now empty.

Johannesburg is in a heat wave, as Julia Evans explained here, and the increased water demand pushed the system to a tipping point. “Water infrastructure is a sprinkler system,” says Fish to illustrate how unstable the supply now is.

Water restriction levels 

Level 1 

  • Watering of gardens is not allowed between 6am and 6pm in the summer months (September 1 to March 31).
  • Using garden hoses to clean hard surfaces is also not allowed.

Level 2 

  • Sprays and sprinklers are banned.
  • Handheld hosepipes can only be used between 5pm and 7pm.
  • Vehicles should be cleaned between 5pm and 7pm, using hoses that have a trigger nozzle.

Level 3

  • Sprinklers and other sprays and dripper systems aren’t allowed.
  • Handheld hoses can only be used for 15 minutes between 5pm and 7pm.
  • The use of grey water is advised.
  • Filling of pools is allowed for 15 minutes using hosepipes.

Level 4 

  • Outdoor irrigation of commercial and industrial spaces is banned.
  • Buckets of water must be used to wash vehicles.
  • No filling of swimming pools.
  • Recycling is encouraged, such as the use of grey water.

Level 5 

  • All limits of level 4 are upheld.
  • The efficient and moderate use of water is encouraged.

Level 6 

  • Non-residential households and properties must cut consumption by 45%.
  • Water drawn from boreholes should not be used for outdoor purposes.
  • Watering for agriculture should be reduced to 60%.

Source: Councillor Bridget Steer. DM

Amendments for accuracy were made to this article at 8.30am on 5 October 2022, and additional information was added on 6 October, 2022.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    Unfortunately the new normal. This decay will gradually spread throughout the country. Those who can afford to install water tanks need to do so as a priority.

    • Hiram C Potts says:

      It’s the same old story over & over again, lack of maintenance. There’s no foresight or forward planning, they only make an attempt to deal with issues once infrastructure collapses & that’s often too late.

      I installed 5, 000l water tanks & a generator 4 years ago, my neighbours told me I was paranoid…..

  • virginia crawford says:

    The usual incompetence and corruption but another issue is the poor city planning: for example houses all over Parkhurst and Greenside have been turned into business premises, so infrastructure designed for an a family of 6 is now accommodating twice that number and more, without any upgrade of the water pipes. The increased rates are raked in, but it is not spent on maintenance or upgrades. The rapid expansion of above ground Sandton without concomitant below ground development, has resulted in perfectly predictable problems. Next thing to go is the sewerage system. Furthermore, irrigation systems should banned at level one: wet pavements, puddles in the road and water streaming down gutters are a common sight. Can’t think why a garden should be watered every night.

  • Peter Dexter says:

    Gradually incompetence at all levels of government becomes more tangible as the consequences affect citizens.

  • Mike Blackburn says:

    I find this fascinating. Once again the residents of Jhb are suffering for the incompetence of the ruling party. It should be noted that dam levels are NOT low – this is purely a failure to supply the water that is there. And now we have the narrative that “demand has increased dramatically” – in other words, the shortages are your (the users of water) fault whereas the fault lies with the lack of investment into infrastructure, load shedding and at the end of the day, the looting of public funds meant for this purpose by the ANC.

    Now Jhb sits in limbo between two mayors and nothing will improve until the cancer that is the corrupt ruling class is excised.

  • L Burge says:

    And then we had thousand of liters of water, coming like a fountain, out of a broken waterpipe on corner of Gosvenor/Bryanston Drive. For hours and hours, absolutely no emergency…..

  • Pedro Monteiro says:

    Not withstanding the somewhat better operational state of the water systems in Cape Town, the weakness in strategic water governance was identified as a key factor behind the Day-Z near miss five years ago. CT was woefully unprepared for a likely dry cycle and probably started to respond a year too late. The water (and beyond) governance situation in Johannesburg is Cape Town on steroids. Fortunately, for now, Johannesburg and Rand Water have had climate on their side and there is no serious water supply shortage. This could change in 1 to 5 years – time for the next major El Nino – and that is the time available to address these operational and strategic governance failures and avoid a truly massive catastrophe that may leave decades long socio-economic devastation to SA’s industrial hub – the rich combination of weak governance and climate change will extract a high price.

    • mike muller says:

      Thank you Pedro – that’s spot on. And shame on the politicians of Gauteng and its metros (DA as well as ANC) who were called to a meeting with outgoing Premier Makhura to discuss the water security of the province back in 2019. Most of them simply failed to pitch! As a result, hardly anyone even understands who is responsible for what and why Rand Water which has plenty of water available, has to restrict the supply that they provide.

  • Charles Young says:

    Having lived in a smaller town that experienced its first water outages about ten years ago, my message to the residents of Johannesburg is that it gets worse.

  • Confucious Says says:

    Yet they are voted in….

  • Pall Catt says:

    Are we finally seeing the collapse of our country which everyone has been panicking about for the last 20 years?

  • Craig King says:

    I presume there is already a “Water Mafia” in action delivering water for a price. It is incredible how the motivatority power of money that destroyed ESKOM and PRASA has now spread to water. The ANC pretends to find the complexity of modern infrastructure too overwhelming while they facilitate the wholesale looting of this punch drunk nation.

    Or could there be an alternative reason?

  • Dave Martin says:

    It’s worth noting that even during Cape Town’s once in a century drought, the taps never ran dry.

    Joburg has dams that are 92% full yet the Taps are dry. This is objective proof of the superiority of governance in the Western Cape versus Gauteng.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Having experienced almost day zero down in WCape, I can imagine the mood in Gauteng with water and electricity and political goings-on, on top of the normal issues with traffic and potholes! Pity there isn’t an election this November!

  • David Jenkins says:

    What else must (and will) go wrong before people take voting the ANC out seriously. Surely no one can rationally vote for them again.

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Sadly the alternative is too ghastly to contemplate – the EFF make promises they could never deliver but will form a coalition with the ANC if needs be!

  • William Kelly says:

    The writing was on the wall ages ago. Sewage works, that we pay unbelievable quantities of taxes for (check your rates and taxes bill) spill sewage into our water bodies – with not so much as a blink of an eye. Try not paying your sewerage bill for the same length of time that it takes Joburg City Council to blink an eye and see what happens to you.
    Rand Water, bless their cotton socks, manage somehow to make water drinkable. Load shedding is not their fault, but rest assured, they will made the scape goats for Council failure to deliver. I must say I am quite liking this habit of failure to deliver – I can see myself failing to deliver my taxes quite easily. Let them take me to court for a change and let’s put the shoe on the other foot for a change.

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