COMMUNITY IN CRISIS
Frustrated residents of Joburg’s Coronationville battle ongoing water outages
It’s become the norm for Coronationville residents to wake up in the middle of the night to fill up buckets of water, chase after water tankers or stand in queues outside the tankers.
Seconds after a water truck parks in a street in Coronationville, Johannesburg, residents emerge from their houses carrying buckets and bottles.
Like many suburbs in Johannesburg that were hit by water shortages this month, it’s become the norm for Coronationville residents to wake up in the middle of the night to fill up buckets of water, chase after water tankers or stand in queues outside the tankers.
“You can’t have a decent bath. You can’t wash your hair. Your children are having to go to school without bathing. You have to boil water now because you can’t use your geyser,” said Coronationville resident Beverly August.
Resident Andera Fisher sets an alarm for 1am every day to check if there is water, and if there is she has a bath, then wakes her toddler at 2am to give him a bath.
“Waking up every morning to no water is just something else,” said Fisher while filling up 2-litre water bottles at a water tank provided by a local mosque.
“I’m very frustrated. Having three children, having this situation, we can’t do our washing properly — we have to wash school uniforms by hand.
“They’re not telling us what the problem is. So we don’t know where we stand, we don’t know when the water will be back on permanently.”
Fisher said she feels sorry for the many elderly people who live in Coronationville who can’t walk to the water tanks and can’t carry buckets of water.
Several young people in the area have started a service delivering, for a small fee, water to elderly people or people who are at work and are unable to collect water themselves.
Fisher said her children have to wake up in the middle of the night to bath. Then they go to school for only a few hours, as schools in the area send pupils home after half a day because of water cuts.
“You have to run up and down to collect water,” said August.
“Thankfully, Ismail [Haffejee, a local mosque owner] put in a tank here, otherwise I don’t know what we would have done.”
Mosque provides borehole
Ismail Haffejee, who owns a mosque in Coronationville with his family, said he had drilled a borehole to provide the community with water.
“Coronationville has been having water problems for the last two years, on and off,” Haffejee told Daily Maverick.
“That’s when we decided to put a borehole in here. So, in case things get worse, at least the community can get water.”
There is one small JoJo tank at the Coronationville community centre, but residents say it is sadly inadequate.
In the evening after people have finished work, there is a queue outside the mosque, which has two water tanks with a 7,500-litre capacity. The tanks are refilled every day from the borehole.
Two weeks ago they pumped nearly 30,000 litres in one day when there was absolutely no water, and people from surrounding areas came for water.
“We’re just happy to help the community,” said Haffejee. “Especially water. It’s our basic necessity — electricity and water. Most people who come here actually say to us, ‘they can rather cut our electricity and give us water’.”
Coronationville resident Claudia Steyn said she was disappointed at how the situation had been handled.
“It puts a lot of strain on us as parents to have to look for the water truck to make sure that there’s water for the kids,” said Steyn.
The water trucks that Johannesburg Water sends don’t come to a set location at a set time, and, said Steyn, “You have to stay glued to your phone and if you don’t have data, you don’t get the message. So some of us are falling through the cracks not knowing where the truck is at which time.”
Steyn said sometimes a water truck will arrive at 10pm, which compromises their safety, especially as crime has increased lately in the area.
“It’s just not working,” said Steyn.
Just down the road from the mosque is the charitable feeding project, Hunger Has No Religion, started by resident Nuraan Esack Gain. It feeds 350 to 500 people from Monday to Saturday between 11am and 11.30am.
Imraan Davids, a member of the project, fills a dozen 5-litre water bottles every day so they have water to wash and cook with.
Gairoo Esack, also a member of the family run project, said that with water and power cuts, times have been tough for everyone.
“Sponsors are not coming in like they normally do, so it is a little struggle every day. But besides all that, we see that we give people a plate of food every day. We have a lot of kids in the queue every day.”
Project member Fazlin Gain said: “It’s very hard. We’ve got to cook for 400 people every day. We need water to wash the veggies, to boil, so it’s very difficult.”
From the many elderly people in the suburb who can’t collect their own water, to the young children who are sent home from school early, Esack said people are struggling and morale is low.
“It depresses you. You feel very bad; honestly, it’s a very bad feeling. Everybody’s going through that hardship of no water. No electricity. That’s when the crime increases.”
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Schools close early
Zaahied Gain, a Grade 11 learner at Coronationville Secondary School, said the school normally closes at 2.30pm but lately they have been going home at 11.30am.
Gain said you can’t flush toilets at school, there’s no drinking water and some children fainted during the recent heat wave.
“Most children sleep in the class when it’s too hot and there’s nothing to drink to keep them awake,” said Gain.
The nearby Bernard Isaacs Primary School recently released a newsletter about the water outages.
“The school does not receive prior notification [of water outages], therefore it restricts us from implementing a plan of action,” read the newsletter.
“The lack of water has serious effects on our learners’ academic performance and attendance rates.”
The school said that Johannesburg Water occasionally provides a tank with water, but in the event of the water supply being disrupted or off, learners will be dismissed at 12.30pm.
The school and school management team asked parents to provide their children with sufficient drinking water every day to keep them hydrated and to arrange transport for the earlier closing time.
Natalie Louw, who works at a Coronationville crèche, said: “No running water is difficult because we do feed the children — we give them breakfast and lunch and drinking water.”
When Daily Maverick interviewed her, a water truck was parked outside the crèche. Louw said this was the first time the truck had come to the crèche and usually staff would “sacrifice to come in at 5am to fill up water”.
Water minister commits to increasing supply
Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu called an emergency meeting on Monday with Johannesburg’s new executive mayor, Sello Dada Morero, the mayors of Ekurhuleni and Tshwane, and the chief executive officers of Rand Water and City Power, to discuss the water challenges in Gauteng.
The minister committed to temporarily increasing bulk water allocation to the Rand Water system as an emergency measure for the next nine months.
Additionally, the Department of Water and Sanitation had set up a committee, consisting of the department, Rand Water, all Gauteng municipalities and members of the business sector, to coordinate and manage the water system in the province. DM/OBP