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Johannesburg Water’s haemorrhaging supply continues to dry up leaving desperate residents pleading for relief

Johannesburg Water’s haemorrhaging supply continues to dry up leaving desperate residents pleading for relief
(Illustrative image | Source: Dean Hutton / Bloomberg via Getty Images | Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo)

Fractured infrastructure has exacerbated Joburg’s water crisis, leaving taps dry in many communities and forcing people to skip personal hygiene in an effort to conserve supplies.

South Africa’s richest metro, Johannesburg, is battling a water crisis with some residents living for over a week with dry taps. Many people have been forced to resort to almost extreme measures in a bid to survive.   

Those with the financial means have had to buy water, drive as much as 10 kilometers to beg from neighboring areas, frequent gym to take showers and simply limit their usage.  

Meanwhile, those with limited or no financial means have had to preserve the little water they are able to source, opting not to shower and forsaking personal hygiene as a result of the municipality’s failure to provide alternative sources of water through water tankers.

Joburg residents’ hunt for water

One resident from Cyrildene, Sandra Amadio has been without water since 14 September 14, 2023. Prior to this, the Cyrildene area, which gets its water from the Berea reservoir, had been having water cuts since January. 

Explaining her plight, Amadio said the water cut happens, “for an average of four days per month, almost every month. Some areas have no water for two weeks at a time”.

“Water tankers have only started rolling out since today. I personally live uncomfortably and tide myself over by filling various water containers for cooking, cleaning, bucket baths and flushing toilets. I’m able to go to the gym to shower. Though it’s disruptive, at least I have that option whereas others don’t. Everyone’s morale is down.” 

water tanker station at the Vorna Valley Spar in Midrand, Johannesburg Water

A water tanker station at the Vorna Valley Spar in Midrand on 20 September 2023. There have been water shortages in the area for days. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Meanwhile another resident, Funginkosi Schriber, said she had to purchase a minimum of three 5-litre water bottles, which cost about R100 a day, in order for her family to drink. The figure triples when water also has to be used for basic necessities like bathing and flushing the toilet. 

“We no longer bathe every day because water is expensive. We’ve also taken a decision to relieve ourselves at work and gym because regardless of the water supply being intermittent, our water bill remains the same.”  

In a statement on Friday, Johannesburg Water attributed the water outages to a power failure at Zuikerbosch Water Treatment Plant which affected most of the city’s reservoirs.  

“As a result, most of the systems lost storage capacity and are currently critically low to empty,” read the statement.  

Johannesburg Water said it was monitoring the situation and also indicated that an alternative water supply had been arranged for the affected customers and would be placed at strategic locations. Residents however said this had not been the case and remain in limbo on the location of the water tankers.  

Midrand resident Leon Govender, who has been without water for three days said, “This is no way of living, it is really bad, there is load shedding and now, there is no water, what kind of situation is that?”.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: When crises collide — water is South Africa’s next ‘perfect storm’ 

Like other residents, Govender indicated that water tankers had been nowhere to be seen for three days. 

“We were given a list of places to go and fetch water from water tankers, but there were no tankers at all.  

“Last night, a water tank came through but the water ran out without everyone getting some water. Even now, people are still looking for water, waiting for a water tanker, which may or may not come,” Govender said. 

Johannesburg water

The Post Office at Boulders Mall in Midrand is closed due to poor water supplies on 21 September, 2023.(Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Post Office at Boulders Mall

A notice on the door of the Post Office at Boulders Mall in Midrand, indicating there are no services due to water supplies, on 21 September, 2023.(Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Johannesburg water previously blamed residents for consuming large amounts of water amid hot temperatures. Water expert, Dr Anthony Turton however said this should not be the case. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africans urged to use water sparingly as rolling blackouts hit precious resource

“We cannot blame the consumer for the plight that they find themselves in. It is simply untenable to do that, it indicates bankruptcy of clarity of thinking about the problem, so I reject that,” said Turton.    

Finetown resident collecting water from a tanker

Finetown residents in Gauteng are forced to stand in queues to fetch water from tankers. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

Municipalities must fix infrastructure 

Experts have warned that as much as 60% of the water that is pumped into Johannesburg Water is lost through poor and failing infrastructure, which was part of the reason for the intermittent supply.   

“It is not the citizens that are at fault, it is the municipalities that are at fault, and they are now deflecting responsibility onto citizens, if the municipalities start to fix up the 60% of water that they are losing, they start billing for the water, and they start paying for the water, then Rand Water can do what it is meant to be doing.”  

Speaking to BusinessDay TV, Rand Water CEO Sipho Mosai said the entity did anticipate a total collapse of the water systems and was hard at work in a bid to mitigate against any potential collapse.  

“There is plenty of water, we supply close to 70 million consumers in the municipalities through the bulk reservoirs that we have…”

When probed on the challenges, Mosai echoed views of water experts that the bulk of water being lost was due to leaks and non-revenue. 

“It is an open secret that in the distribution space and in municipalities about 60% of the water we supply is lost through non-revenue water and through leaks and really puts pressure on the system and that is why you have pockets of suburbs in certain areas without water,” said Mosai.  

Turton also poured cold water on speculation that a recent stormwater surge in the city, which affected several reservoirs, could have been a huge contributing factor.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Financially distressed Tshwane battles with ongoing strike, water shortages and service delivery failures 

“A storm is a short-term shock to the system. The fact is that Rand Water is pumping to the limit of its capacity, that is a long-term effect. It has taken 20 years to get to that point,” said Turton. 

“Rand Water is as big as it can get and now behind that problem is technically a very serious problem which is that all the water in the Vaal system has already been allocated, there is no more water to allocate even if the dams are full.”  

Johannesburg residents have been urged to observe level 1 water restrictions, which were implemented from 1 September 2023 and are expected to last until 31 March, 2024.  

“These restrictions prohibit the use of hosepipes to water gardens, wash cars, clean driveways, as well as filling up of swimming pools and water features between 06:00 and 18:00. Instead, the use of greywater is encouraged,” Johannesburg Water said. 

A water tanker delivers to residents of Hamanskraal. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Major metros impacted

Johannesburg is not the only metro affected by the crisis — Tshwane finds itself in the same position. On Friday, the city’s spokesperson, Selby Bokaba said their bulk water supply system had improved following the thunderstorm and subsequent power trip that affected Zuikerbosch Water Treatment Plant.  

“Furthermore, Rand Water informed the city that their Klipfontein Reservoir, which supplies the Hartebeeshoek Reservoir, has improved and water will be released to the Hartebeeshoek Reservoir which feeds the Soshanguve, Ga-Rankuwa, Mabopane and Winterveldt areas. The city expects to see some improvements in the affected areas following the release of water by Rand Water,” he said.   

This week, Daily Maverick reported that the SA Human Rights Commission feared that a water supply disaster was looming in several parts of KwaZulu-Natal unless municipalities were forced to fix and maintain their dilapidated pipelines, pumps and other crucial water supply infrastructure. DM

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jennifer D says:

    Will there be a point that citizens will understand that the criminality and thievery, along with incredible levels of ANC incompetence and their pointless appointees, will never improve because they have no desire to do so? This situation reminds me of Mozambique after the war, with people walking main roads for miles to get water. We have gone from powerhouse to yet another African country holding out our begging bowl and asking for help. The stupid thing is that we have the capacity, capability and energy in this country to do something, the ANC just needs to eliminate BBBEE and start being more inclusive. The incredible racism in this country – black against white is causing the perpetuation of this situation.

  • Julian Chandler says:

    And my wife thought I was being paranoid when I had 2 x 5000 litre JoJo tanks installed at home, with pump and filters.
    Who’s laughing now, honey?

  • Andre Swart says:

    There’s no shortage of water …. just too many people …. who don’t PAY!

    The only free water is in the rivers … during the rainy season.

    There are no rivers with free water in SOWETO … so non paying people must move to rural areas for free water …

    The Rainbow Nation dream has failed … and instead we are facing a nightmare of poverty and starvation.

    Subsistance farming in the rural areas is all that remains …. move now!

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    A National Crisis.

    Vote DA.

  • Bryan Bailey says:

    South Africa will continue “”as is”” unless there is a change of government in 2024.
    We all know of the ANC destruction of everything the ANC has touched and continues to touch. We can continue to moan complain, but as I read the American government says that and I quote in summarised wording for us as South Africans:-

    “that we have role to participate in our democracy to make our voices heard, by exercising our vote for a change”

    and view that the only real change will happen with this 7 party charter. We all have this responsibility if we want a better future. The load shedding has proven that with all the stories given by the electricity minister, there appears precious little happening.
    No news on new projects (green or other), little or no idea of the last 2 major power stations built, cost over runs, LATE as to where they stand, blah, blah, blah.
    Look at where the DA governs, and NO, they are not perfect, changes are happening for the better, so what do South Africans have to lose with the Charter, none, zero, 0, but everything to gain to get things right.
    I have visited UK, Europe, Canada and the USA and things work. We too deserve this.
    The media (as a whole) should use their power of the word to the people to convince them to vote for change in 2024.. Failing which we are doomed, and yet I am very positive for a new South Africa.

    • Peter Dexter says:

      Too few people understand political party policies and the probable impacts of such policies. Most of our voters have been denied the quality of education necessary to make such an informed decision. The solution would be a “voter’s license” like a driver’s licence. Your right to drive a car is withheld until you pass a competency test, with the objective of reducing the harm caused to other road users. I believe incompetent voting actually results in mare harm than incompetent driving.

  • Laurence Erasmus says:

    The ANC’s policies of looting the public purse, corruption, cadre deployment, BBBEE, AA and racism deliver this Johannesburg water supply crisis! If citizens want a reliable and sustainable supply of water in Johannesburg they will have to ensure that the ANC is fully removed from power and control of all local and national government institutions.

    • Denise Smit says:

      If this was a DA run area, that would have been in the article somewhere and emotive interviews would have been held with the suffering population. Gauteng is a ticking time bomb. The roads are exploding, buildings are burning, there is sewage in the water, potholed roads, no water to hospitals(can you imagine this in the Western Cape?) ,and communities. .And , and , and!!!!!! Now DM use the same language and attitude you did with the taxi violence in the Cape and at Swellendam and Matsikamma. Denise Smit

  • Johan Buys says:

    Who gets away with charging R100 for three 5 liter water bottles?? They are probably getting their water from taps that work, for under 50c for 15 liters.

    That is beyond shameful

  • Frans Flippo says:

    Municipalities need to stop talking and start working. I see water leaks every day along the routes that I take to work, on runs, etc. I sometimes report these to Joburg Water, but many times nothing is done. And also, surely the municipality (like Joburg Water employees driving around) can see these leaks for themselves when they make their way through the city and log them?

  • virginia crawford says:

    There has been a river flowing through my neighborhood, again. Millions of litres lost and no rush to fix it. Yet no one gets fired, no one is accountable and just take their generous salaries and feel nothing. Cadre deployment has led to the corruption and incompetence we now suffer: no water, no electricity? We have to vote the ANC out!

  • Eyes Wide Shut says:

    Put all of those fatcat politicians (past and present) who let this happen into those townships and areas with no water for a couple of weeks. Let them feel what it’s like to go without water to clean themselves and drink (too late for their behaviour, ethics and morals). They sit in their fancy home now with their glass walled walk-in showers, hot water, and taps full of water for their pap in the mornings.
    They’d last a week. Pathetic excuses for humans beings.

  • Peter Dexter says:

    This is merely another symptom of incompetent and unethical political leadership. Cadre deployment results in people being employed to deliver services, not based on merit, but on their support for the ANC. Generally the victims are the very voters who put them there. No doubt this crisis will generate huge profits for the “connected” owners of the water tankers, under the guise “Preferential Procurement.” The ineptitude always feeds the ANC cadres whilst simultaneously destroying the lives of ordinary South Africans

  • Pamina Bohrer says:

    Fun fact (except nobody’s laughing): in Israel the % of non-revenue water (a euphemism for water that simply leaks out of pipes due to poorly maintained infrastructure) is 3%. In Joburg it’s 60%. Treating water as a scarce resource should be a given today, but blaming residents for overusing water, when more than half is lost due to negligence is simply nonsensical.

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