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‘FRESH HELL’

Joburg’s latest water outages – residents ask: ‘Is this sabotage or secret shedding?’

Joburg’s latest water outages – residents ask: ‘Is this sabotage or secret shedding?’
Illustrative image | Sources: Dean Hutton/Bloomberg via Getty Images | Leila Dougan

There is seemingly no end to the City of Joburg’s water troubles, after the knock-on effect of a power failure at one treatment plant once again left residents with dry taps this week.

Former Johannesburg mayor Mpho Phalatse, in her 30 days in office, vowed to ensure the maintenance, repair and replacement of Joburg Water’s ageing infrastructure while clamping down on leaks and outages to ease the misery of the city’s residents.

But in 16 months of a multi-coalition government, Johannesburg Water’s challenges appear to be worse – and have been blamed on rolling blackouts.

This has left many parts of the city without water regularly – for days – due to constrained reservoirs and towers, with levels “critically low to empty” in some areas. And not only houses have been hit – schools, hospitals, old age homes and businesses are affected too.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Make a plan and fix Gauteng’s massive water outages, activists tell Joburg city and Rand Water

This week, supply to several Johannesburg Water’s systems was affected, including the Commando system comprising the Brixton, Hursthill and Crosby reservoirs, Waterval, Quellerina, Eagles Nest and Crown Gardens. This came after a reported power failure at Rand Water’s Vereeniging treatment plant in the early hours of Monday, 20 March 2023, which affected the pumping capacity at the bulk supplier’s Eikenhof pump station, resulting in Rand Water’s Meredale reservoir and Johannesburg Water’s Waterval reservoir being left empty.

While Joburg Water says pumping was restored to 100% at Eikenhof, the system is reported to be still battling to fill the reservoirs, which is affecting supply around the city.

The affected areas include Kensington Malvern, Bez Valley and Bertrams to Cyrildene, as well as South Hills and Crown Gardens and, more recently, Brixton and Melville. 

Dare I paint a picture for you of a household without water for eight days? Something from a Stephen King novel comes to mind.

Robertsham and surrounding areas have been without water for 12 days, and on Wednesday residents marched to Joburg Water’s offices to voice their concerns. One of them, Ahmed Raja, said they have been hit by water shortages since last October.

They had marched “to try and get answers as to why a basic human right like water is not available to the residents, yet we have to pay every single month for a service that is not being delivered. We were told we would have water back in our taps, but still nothing. We need water for basic cleanliness. With Ramadan upon us a shortage of water is affecting religious practice. We have to store water which is time-consuming and impossible when you have no water in the taps.” 

In response to the outages, Johannesburg Water has deployed 28 water tankers to “critical areas”. While the entity says its working on stabilising the supply, it has urged residents to use water sparingly.

Read more in Daily Maverick:

Why Joburg has worsening water issues — even when the dams are full

Buckets and JoJo tanks are the order of the day for Joburg’s elderly residents as taps run dry

Gauteng under ‘severe strain’ as power cuts hit water supply systems

However, another Johannesburg resident, Kashia Rees, says the problem needs a more permanent resolution, addressed with a sense of urgency.

“Every day the message is the same from Rand Water and Joburg Water – the reservoir is critically low, and people in high-lying areas may experience no water or low pressure. Yet taps are dry – widespread. The lack of urgency in a crisis like this from Rand Water and Joburg Water has been chilling. Dare I paint a picture for you of a household without water for eight days? Something from a Stephen King novel comes to mind,” she said. 

“As the access to water is our basic human right, many people in the community have approached and communicated with Joburg mayor Thapelo Amad. He only responded to a few people asking for reference numbers. Oblivious to the extent of the matter, he’s sitting with thousands of reference numbers and then ignoring community members. 

“Amid this crisis very little is done to investigate the matter and find a resolution – a speedy one. It’s incomparable to the response time of City Power (which is always under fire). The solutions of water tankers from Joburg Water are inconsistent and flaky at best – it’s not as though you can just run out and get water. They are placed in specific spots and if you’re not there because of a lack of transport or it arrived at night or perhaps you were working, then too bad for you.”

‘Political sabotage or inefficiency?’

Rees added: “The question remains: what’s happening and why isn’t anything being done? This isn’t as simple as endless potholes on roads – no, this is water, a basic human right. Without access to water, I shudder to think of the diseases born, the violation of our human right to sanitation, violation of our human right to dignity. It’s 2023 and Joburg is not a city of the future.

“This begs the question: if Rand Water’s stories are true, then what and who is behind the vandalism? Could it be political sabotage? Is this some kind of secret water shedding, a fresh hell for South Africans? Or is this just down to a lack of efficiency and care?”

Meanwhile, incumbent mayor Amad told News24 that resolving the city’s water problems remains high on his agenda.

“Last month, I announced that the City, through Joburg Water, has invested just over R400-million, which will be used over the next 18 months to build and upgrade the bulk water infrastructure, especially along the Commando system (Crosby and Brixton), which is always the hardest hit by water shortages. This investment will significantly reduce the water supply challenges. I have instructed Johannesburg Water to provide alternative water relief measures to affected areas through stationary water tanks and mobile tankers,” he said. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Making an announcement is not actually doing anything: we need to know what the plan is and the timeline. A city without water or electricity in the most industrialised country on the continent? Mind boggling and terrifying!

  • José Lueje says:

    It’s possible to survive without electricity. Impossible without water !.

  • Johan Buys says:

    On a positive note : sewer systems run on gravity.

    So whatever water you use to flush, they have to deal with it.

    Until they can’t and then the people in low lying areas have a bigger problem…

  • William Kelly says:

    No doubt the token mayor will continue to make token statements and nothing will continue to be done. But keep on paying those rates!
    Time to courier some used toilet paper to the mayor’s office. Or do what the French do and dump a few honey suckers worth of protest matter into the council offices.

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