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WATER SHEDDING

Minister Mchunu slams absentee Joburg mayor after two-thirds of the city hit by water cuts

Minister Mchunu slams absentee Joburg mayor after two-thirds of the city hit by water cuts
Johannesburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi) | Water coming from a tap in Alexandra on 29 May 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle) | Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti)

Johannesburg residents should brace for a tough summer as Rand Water implements water shedding, councillors have warned.

Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu slammed absentee Joburg Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda, who, like his predecessor Thapelo Amad, has missed several water crisis meetings.

At a meeting on Friday, 22 September, to manage severe water cuts across three Gauteng cities, Mchunu questioned why Joburg’s mayor was absent. There were water cuts in two-thirds of the city and by 25 September it was still struggling. 

Two sources said Gwamanda had missed several meetings on the water crisis. He has left the management of the crisis to the city entity Johannesburg Water and individual councillors. The mayor has only issued statements on renaming William Nicol Drive to Winnie Mandela Drive. His office has yet to respond to two requests for comment. 

The City said: “The MMC represented the City at the meeting.  We cannot comment on the minister’s alleged frustration.”

Rand Water, the bulk supplier, blamed the water cuts on a thunderstorm which caused power surges at the Zuikerbosch Water Treatment Plant, which covers two-thirds of the city’s supply.

On Sunday, another power outage at the plant and at the Palmiet Pumping Station set back Mchunu’s pledge to restore water for the long weekend. Rand Water said excessive use was also straining the system.    

Johannesburg Water spokesperson Nombuso Shabalala said: “Not all customers within these supply zones are affected as customers in low-lying areas will get water and customers in high-lying areas may experience poor pressure to no water.”

Water cuts extended

Johannesburg’s water supply has been stuttering for months. Areas in the southwest of the city are more often without water than with it. Rahima Moosa Hospital in Coronationville now exclusively uses borehole water and tankers to keep it running. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Day Zero comes to parts of Joburg as water cuts roll through city and taps run dry 

The past week has seen the cuts extended to the city’s north, east and west, with a councillor predicting total system collapse. Rand Water is believed to be “water shedding” or supplying its 17 million consumers on a rotational basis. However, Rand Water has denied this and, in turn, blamed municipalities which lose up to 60% of water supplied, CEO Sipho Mosai said in a TV interview last week. 

Parts of Tshwane and Ekurhuleni have also been without water for almost 10 days and water protests are growing.

DA councillor Ralf Bittkau wrote, “Our two main supply dams, Sterkfontein and Katse, are currently at 102% and 97%, which gives us plenty of water to draw from. While Katse is above 55%, we are okay, but going into an El Niño [low rainfall weather system], which may last three to seven years, we don’t know what will happen. We are dealing with a state entity [Rand Water] that, like Eskom, cannot cope with demand.”

Residents have started WhatsApp groups where disaster managers will pin borehole locations in case of a complete system collapse. Both Rand Water and Johannesburg Water deny the system is near collapse. “Rand Water is able and can supply water to its municipal customers,” it said at the weekend.    

Johannesburg Water’s latest report shows that it loses 44.8% of supplied water to leaks, illegal connections and bursts.

Councillor Bridget Steer said although the dams may be full, the city’s water could only be distributed if Rand Water’s treatment plants and pumping stations worked optimally. While Johannesburg has invested in reservoirs to deal with multiyear supply problems in areas including Brixton, Crosby, Coronationville, Westbury, Claremont and Melville, the 10,957km pipe infrastructure needed urgent upgrading.

Johannesburg has a R20-billion infrastructure backlog but its 2023/24 capex budget is lower than most other cities as its spending on staff and contractors balloons. So far this year, the city has reported 4,190 pipe bursts a month, showing the age of the system.

Each pipe burst results in area outages, an additional strain on residents for whom multiday water cuts are now standard. Johannesburg’s emergency services have attended to more than 200 fires in the past season, most in the inner city. The water cuts make fighting the fires harder. At the weekend, a fire raged in the west (Quellerina and surrounds), and because of the water cuts, it ran wild because the hydrants were dry, according to residents. 

Schools forced to close

During the past week, numerous schools which don’t have alternative water supplies have had to close. 

Raylene Nadassen of St Theresa’s College in Coronationville said, “The water [cuts] have significantly impacted learners over the past few weeks. They are not planned and are ongoing without explanation given. There is no fresh water to drink, wash hands, and sanitation is impacted significantly; going to the toilet is a cumbersome exercise. We go for weeks with a trickle of water.

“The school has had to invest in JoJo tanks so learners can continue to be educated. But without rain, how will we fill the tanks? Tankers won’t fill them because the school is not on their allocation. I think it’s inhuman not to have running water at a school. By withholding a basic necessity, it has a massive impact on education. 

“Weeks without water is inconsiderate as it breeds illness and sickness. Our learners deserve to be comfortable at school.” 

What will happen next?

Daily Maverick has spoken to councillors, officials, experts and political leaders. Some solutions are being planned, such as additional reservoirs to store more water. Water restrictions are at Level 1 and could increase if consumption does not ease or the rains don’t come soon (although the supply dams are at reasonable levels). 

Level 1 restrictions are now in place until 31 March 2024, providing that residents avoid hosepipe use, swimming pool refilling and water feature use between 6am and 6pm.

By 25 September, most affected reservoirs were slowly filling, but many were still at critical levels. Councillors said that water was returning. DM

This is the first in our community-led local investigations. The article was co-written with Michael Thompson, who lives in Coronationville and keeps Daily Maverick abreast of water and other community issues. If you would like to undertake a Johannesburg investigation or report with us, please write to [email protected]

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Matthew Quinton says:

    City of CT 43bn for 5m people
    City of JHB 22bn for 6.2m people

    That is R8600 per person in CT vs
    R3500 per person in JHB.

    JHB remains the financial capital of SA with a GDP of over 130 Billion USD…. now just try and wrap you head around exactly how much the ANC steals vs a normal party like the DA. CT has a fraction of the wealth of JHB, but is not run by a bunch of childlike kleptomaniacs.

    ANC! ANC! ANC!

    Viva!

    Amandla!

    Ah where to from here?

  • virginia crawford says:

    Water shedding? Call it what it is: water cuts! The mayor clearly has neither a clue nor a conscience and the cadres lack the technical skills to stop SA’s economic hub slipping into chaos and dysfunction. A curse on them.

    • Iam Fedup says:

      Correct Virginia. No euphemisms should be used to describe power failures and water failures due to leadership failures. You can spin it until the cows come home, but these fools are clueless about how to fix it.

    • Pieter van de Venter says:

      You are absolutely wrong – His party leader stated that his mother declared him fit and aan absolute joy so he must be good enough to be mayor.

      • John Smythe says:

        Don’t forget the his mother told the party leader of that nowhere yes men party that he always asked the difficult questions at school. 🙄 Do me a favour.

  • Elizabeth Louw says:

    Nero is fiddling happily somewhere renaming a street

    • Iam Fedup says:

      And not naming a street after someone useful, who made a valuable contribution to society, but a convicted child murderess of Stompie Seipai. What a shambles.

    • Denise Smit says:

      Yes, behind his handler the EFF MEC for safety, the chemical engineer – They are busy renaming the streets instead of making the city a safe place. This is what happens where the EFF/ANC is in charge. This is their priorities. Renaming of streets to Winnie Mandela and not prioritising infrastructure upgrades or the safety of the citizens. There will be a total collaps of everything in the near future in these cities. Last year the same happened with the water. The citizens were blamed for over consumption. It is like a repeat performance every year. Sorry for Gautengers the EFF/ANC know how to do one thing only. Destroy everything. The unions help them (Tswane where the burning of vehicles and violence is as per instruction of the EFF) One of these days you will not have roads, water, electricity, sewerage systems. Denise Smit

    • virginia crawford says:

      Let’s start naming potholes!

  • Jennifer D says:

    The ANC have an inability, or disinterest, in planning for the future. When a problem arises, they either ignore it and hope it will disappear, or they assign a team to investigate – no actual investigation happens but they do give an aunty a job and a nice day salary for a while.
    Consider the Chinese (master strategists) who have quietly been buying up farms and mines all over Africa – their 100 year plan to make sure they have food and minerals going forward. Our strategy on the other hand is to sit in the sun and look at the sky with a beer in hand. Don’t worry about tomorrow – that will take care of itself. And, it probably will – some US philanthropist will feel sorry and donate a lot of water trucks (and maybe some water too) and Gautengers will be able to queue for their water in the morning – don’t worry about work – we have to get our daily water.

    • Janette Klein says:

      Most of us dont seem to notice the Chinese way – slowly but surely. Africa goes on and on about colonialism, but they dont realise that the Chinese are colonising Africa country by country. I suggest we all start learning Chinese.
      And lets welcome them as they get things done quickly!!

  • Wilhelm Boshoff says:

    “…renaming William Nicol Drive to Winnie Mandela Drive.” Brilliant solution! Now at least there will no water outage on William Nicol, bad news for Winnie Mandel Drive though.

  • Jimbo Smith says:

    “Minister Mchunu” ….ultimately the man responsible being at the top of this food chain. The best he can do is fire rockets at the Mayor for being MIA. Then he retreats into his tent, zips up, does nothing and simply hopes the problem will go away. This is leadership ANC scripted and it plays out every single day given our daily smorgasbord of catastrophes. Talk, promise, deny, blame…..wait a while and then repeat.

  • Zuzu Mdluli says:

    It unfortunate that in spite of the DM’s stated policy your readers comments mainly center on hate inspired name calling and insults, instead of sponsoring solutions. Even if, in your mind, the solution means voting like you do, please don’t insult me and my leaders. Be more creative in your pursuading me, you will be surprised how I may agree with you.

    Otherwise your hate inspired comment only pushes me away and fuels my perception of your racism.

    We need to stand together to deal with our problems,

    • Ben Harper says:

      Aw diddums

    • Denise Smit says:

      Our critique is not racism it is statement of facts. Or are you also saying that 30 years ago apartheid caused the water problems. We are readers and not engineers, the fact is that the ANC/EFF appoints cadres which they can manipulated and not well qualified and competent engineers, town planners, water management specialists, etc. So investigation, identification of problems. plans to address problems, prioritising of process, budgeting, etc does not take place. This has nothing to do with racism. Denise Smit

    • Con Tester says:

      Solutions?

      How often must it be said?!

      The solution is people with integrity, competence, and humility leading the country, not this useless flotsam of varying degrees of incompetence, arrogance, and venality that overwhelmingly comprises our government at present.

      As for persuading you that the country’s current leadership is abysmal, only you can do that for yourself, hopefully based on an objective appraisal of the great mass of manifest evidence all around us.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      @Imbkop – I agree with you that the comments made by many commenters are racist, vitriolic and destructive. I also know however, that it is not their job to convince you of the paucity of the government leadership we have today. Your own eyes and your own brain are really all you need. And, if you don’t like watching our country fail, I strongly suggest you use that brain of yours to vote DA – because they are South Africa’s only chance.

    • virginia crawford says:

      I agree that there is often an unpleasant tone to many comments and the policy of readers moderating comments exacerbates this. However, hating the apartheid government, didn’t mean hating white people, so hating the ANC government is the same. People are frustrated and angry. I am angry mostly to see that the victims of apartheid are now largely the victims of corruption, incompetence, poor housing, poor schools and crime. Stealing is bad, but stealing from the poor is somehow so much worse. The young Black people who were the first to vote in 1994 are mostly in the same situation as before. Reply to comments you don’t like. Newspapers are not meant to persuade but to inform so disagree and offer alternatives. We’re all in the same boat after all.

    • Hermann Funk says:

      I fully agree with you regarding becoming solution focused. For those who want to see a regime change, we need to conduct the critical conversations with those who have so far supported those who created the mess the country is in. Imkop, one remark of yours I don’t understand. How can you still call them leaders while they have demonstrated that they are incapable of leading?

    • alison ellard says:

      I agree 100% that we need to face our problems together. And we have to push racism aside and come together as South Africans. But you have to lead that charge, and stop voting for and protecting incompetent leaders, just because they are black.
      The racist policies that exclude white people from being able to be part of the solution also need to stop. You cant expect that we should sponsor solutions, whilst those that are employed and paid to deal with these issues continue to do nothing. We should all be able to join together and fight for better leadership and demand more from those who are meant to deliver. This is an African country and it should be lead by Africans. But not like this……

  • Craig A says:

    It seems we are at the bottom of that slippery slope.
    Eskom asks us to use less electricity. Rand Water wants us to reduce our consumption. When is SARS going to ask us to pay less tax?

    • virginia crawford says:

      Never.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      This is an ANC municipality in a nutshell: put an entirely unsuitable Mayor in place to do the bidding of those pulling the strings in the background, tell people to consume less of what they’re wiling to pay for, instead of fixing the problem of delivery in the first place, and then change the name of a road as a grand gesture of your commitment to service delivery. Gwamanda is a puppet, his party is a joke, the ANC is a viper-pit of useless, hate-filled trough-swillers in Joburg who are only out for themselves; ditto the EFF and PA: this ruling coalition should be put in prison and the keys chucked away. When you see that the Joburg property company, responsible for the hijacked building that 77 people died in has a board that consists of tollgate cashiers, school dropouts and the like, but all (apparently, according to news reports) linked to the MMC – they should be charged with first degree murder. It is a complete dereliction of duty to the citizens of Joburg, and it is completely and utterly in line with the abusive, uncaring politics of the ANC and its partners.

    • Janette Klein says:

      HAHAHAHAHA !!!!

    • Janette Klein says:

      You made me laugh so much !!

  • Rob Rhodes-Houghton says:

    Water has been streaming down Beyers Naudé Drive outside the new Surgical Hospital from the intersection with Waugh Avenue for days.

  • Francoise Phillips says:

    The ANC can save South Africa billions by sticking to the names of indigenous flora and fauna when they rename streets and hospitals they never built and have run down into the ground. That way there will be none of this wastage of resources to change the political names of things once time and history reveals the inhumane crimes those leaders committed against our country to enrich themselves. Let us stick to names that honour the natural beauty of our nation and save money for future generations and a better life for all. Vote out the ANC cadres of extraction and destruction.

  • Stef Viljoen Viljoen says:

    I think we should face it. Until the majority of the populace decide to do something about it our bleating will have no effect. We have the power and yet we choose not to use it. Eish.

  • Con Tester says:

    “Both Rand Water and Johannesburg Water deny the system is near collapse.”

    Well, that settles it then: The system *IS* near collapse.

  • But wait, isn’t the minister Munchuu and the esteemed mayor drawing salaries? Well folks, open a class action against them, and any minister who is pulling a fast one, by just making noise at meetings. The least you can do is debit the mayor for a days pay for every meeting missed. Not one person is going to do anything about the catastrophe that is South Africa until you hit them in their hip pocket. An urgent class action to sue the city council for the destruction of of every bit of infrastructure can be a start time to cough up. Neutrally they won’t be able to cover the cost of the wholesale destruction but a few hundred thousand each will go a long way towards initiating repair don’t you think. As for name calling and offering solutions, I can’t come up with anything better than this at the moment. Additionally why should the people suffering from such incompetence come up with solutions? From all the comments I’ve read to date, the people being paid grab on public solutions , and turn them into words that they have come up with. What I would like to see, and hear is the honest to G-ds truth for once only then will the community step up to serve.

    • Con Tester says:

      As public servants, the citizens of Joburg will be the ones paying for their defence, and they can’t be sued in their private capacities for their incompetence and mismanagement.

      And that’s assuming that a class action suit of the kind you propose stands any chance of even getting off the ground because they will have their arses covered with reams of T’s & C’s.

  • John Smythe says:

    So, while the mayor of Cape Town is on the streets of the city suburbs overseeing and helping to mop up the mess caused by the storms, the mayor of Johannesburg sits on his fat backside and does nothing about fixing the water crisis. The difference, ladies and gentlemen, is that the DA gives a stuff, while the ANC and EFF (and that other nowhere excuse for a political party that the mayor belongs to) couldn’t give a shoveling shit about the residents of Johannesburg!

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    I do not know why everybody complains about the renaming of streets and other infrastructure. For me it makes total sense to name it after the fools and idiots who caused the decay off it all the last three decades. If this is an unfair take on the matter, then at the very least those who fought for freedom forgot the little small matter of passing on the qualities of leadership, succession planning, and taking care of the assets entrusted to you.

  • Tessa and Colin Weakley says:

    44% of water supplied to CoJ is lost due to burst pipes, leaks, and illegal connections. This us a huge number and one worth focusing on by the Jhb Water engineers. We need to make sure Repairs are done to the required standards.
    Perhaps ask Jhb Water how many Repairs have had to be re visited and redone, within the last year.
    It’s hard to believe that there’s any other reason for the water shortage.

  • Peter Sturrock says:

    Minister Mchunu is a fine one to talk. He was in Makhanda/Grahamstown on 16th August to see the pitiful state of our Municipal service delivery and water supply in particular. Our water shedding got so bad that DW&S had to intervene. Minister Mchunu addressed residents in the City Hall on 16th August and undertook to return “between 16th and 20th September” to provide an update on progress. Needless to say the situation has not improved by any measure and he never kept his undertaking to return. Queries in this regard are not responded to by Municipal officials such as the Speaker.

  • James Francis says:

    How useless are you if an ANC minister tells you you’re not doing your job?

  • James Francis says:

    A vote for the ANC or its partners is starting to look treasonous. Don’t help the ANC continue to use poverty and service delivery as weapons in its bid for a one-party state.

  • Jill Schlachter says:

    I think there is a factual error in the article, in referencing the Palmiet Pumping Station. To my best knowledge, the Palmiet Pumping Station is on the Palmiet River, in the Overstrand District, between Bettys Bay and Kleinmond, in the Western Cape. Poor editing!
    See above:
    On Sunday, another power outage at the plant and at the Palmiet Pumping Station set back Mchunu’s pledge to restore water for the long weekend. Rand Water said excessive use was also straining the system.

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    If anyone expected anything different from such a politically chosen and obviously out of his depth Mayor, they must be living in a fool’s paradise. The string of incompetent mayors in Jhbg. recently degrades the post and makes a mockery of it.

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