HIGH AND DRY
Joburg residents, businesses – and councillors – feel abandoned in endless water crisis
Johannesburg residents and businesses are battling under the strain of the protracted water crisis, which has left them feeling abandoned by the Metro.
Residents and business owners in many parts of Johannesburg are at their wits’ end as the ongoing water crisis continues to upend their lives.
While the length of time that taps remain dry differs from area to area, there is a common feeling among those affected by the water cuts: they feel as though they have been abandoned by the City of Johannesburg and Johannesburg Water.
South Hills, a suburb in the south of Johannesburg, has been battling with dry taps for more than four weeks. While access to water has returned in some parts of the suburb, the most vulnerable areas still have to contend with the crisis.
An elderly resident at the Eden Aged Home in the area has accused the municipality and Johannesburg Water of offering little other than lip service when it comes to addressing the water crisis.
“All they do is call a community meeting with the people, but from there, nothing happens. I have to rely on my son to bring me water from his home, but here at the old age home, we don’t even have water in the taps to make coffee, let alone wash,” the resident said.
A South Hills business owner spoke to Daily Maverick about how the lack of access to water has negatively affected her day-to-day operations. She owns a carwash, so its success hinges on whether there is water in the area.
“This issue with the matter is affecting my business very negatively. We have had to resort to collecting water in buckets and transferring them to the JoJo tanks. Even then, we must use very little water to wash cars so that it lasts.”
The carwash owner, who asked not to be named, added that while the water supply returns on occasion, the reprieve does not last long. “If the water comes back at 12, by the late afternoon, it will be gone again for four or five days.”
The woman also used to run a laundry, but had to shutter the business because the unpredictable water supply made operations impossible.
Councillors ‘feel abandoned by the city’
Johannesburg Water released a statement on Tuesday, 26 September 2023, explaining why there was no access to water in South Hills. The South Hills tower, which supplies water to the area, was empty owing to no supply, it said. The statement read: “The old pumping station is currently running on bypass mode. Poor pressure to no water is expected in certain parts of the supply zone while the system recovers.”
The South Hills residents and business owners are forced to rely on one Jojo tank, located at the South Hills Clinic. Even then, tankers often fail to refill the tank, which regularly runs dry.
Carlos Da Rocha, the councillor for Ward 66, expressed disappointment in how the City of Johannesburg, Johannesburg Water and Rand Water were handling the situation.
Da Rocha said that while many councillors were rallying to get their residents answers and a steady supply of water, the municipality offered many excuses, but little to no support.
Da Rocha said: “We councillors, me and my colleagues, we feel abandoned by the city. We are out in the frontlines, dealing with angry residents in the street and trying to sort them out. [We have been] abandoned by the city manager, abandoned by the city and abandoned by the city council.”
Minister of Water and Sanitation Senzo Mchunu met South Hills residents on Tuesday afternoon. He said he would meet representatives from Rand Water, Johannesburg Water and the affected municipalities in the evening and again on Thursday to monitor the situation.
“We are going to water shift as an interim measure. This means that as the system fills up, they shift water to another and another. Without a period where people are left without water, that is unacceptable,” Mchunu said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Minister Mchunu slams absentee Joburg mayor after two-thirds of the city hit by water cuts
Mchunu also said they would discuss the breakdown in infrastructure that led to leaks and decommissioned reservoirs, adding that he would hold those involved accountable for past promises.
‘We are living in a collapsed municipality’
A similar situation is playing out on the other side of Johannesburg. One of the busiest streets in Melville, lined with a variety of restaurants, bars and other businesses, 7th Street regularly runs dry, forcing restaurant and business owners to constantly stock up on water, relying on water tankers and only one JoJo tank for the whole street. The effects of the water crisis compound business losses caused by Covid lockdowns and load shedding.
Ari Shapiro, the manager of Jo’Anna Melt Bar in Melville, said: “The City of Johannesburg has offered one JoJo tank for the whole street with a low tap; the buckets are higher so you have to make a plan on how you will get it into the bucket … It would be better if they added at least maybe three more JoJos. Some places here have their own, but they run out of water and have to wait for the water tanker to fill it up.”
Jo’Anna Melt Bar serves sandwiches, burgers and beverages. Shapiro said the city was collapsing, which was having a severe impact on his business. “We are living in a collapsed municipality; they try always to fix the issue with a plaster, but the issues are bigger than that. Our lives are going downhill and they are trying to fix it with a sticky tape,” Shapiro said.
The water had returned after two weeks, so Shapiro and his colleagues were filling up containers, preparing for the next time. “If I was a customer, knowing a place is prone to not having water, I would also worry about sanitation. Customers make their own decisions,” he said.
Staff at the establishment start every day by fetching water from the JoJo and water tankers. They manually fill toilet cisterns with water to flush, and provide containers with taps so customers can wash their hands. The water is kept in canisters to ensure it remains clean.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Johannesburg Water’s haemorrhaging supply continues to dry up leaving desperate residents pleading for relief
Yunus Suliman, a resident of Crosby, a suburb in west Johannesburg, says he and other residents are at their wits’ end because they have had countless meetings with the ward councillor, Johannesburg Water and even the mayor, but there is no solid solution. Daily Maverick has previously reported on the effects of water scarcity in this area, especially on vulnerable members of the community
“We haven’t had water for two weeks now. The Northcliff Hill Reservoir is the one that has a problem now; Brixton Tower is okay but supplies only half of the town,” Suliman said.
The municipality has installed two community taps in the area, but the elderly can’t carry water for long distances. “Rand Water is blaming Joburg Water, and Joburg Water is blaming Rand Water. We were told a pipe would be diverted from Northcliff Hill Reservoir when Thapelo [Amad] was the mayor. They came and gave some undertakings, but now we are back at square one. We don’t know where we stand,” Suliman said.
Councillor Rickey Nair said residents who receive water from Brixton Tower will have a challenge every evening.
“By the middle of next week, our ward will return to normal supply (God willing, there are no other major problems). As the Brixton reservoir builds capacity, certain lower-lying areas will start receiving some water. Johannesburg Water will continue to throttle the tower at 9pm and open at 4am, to maintain the recovery of the reservoir. To those residents that do have water, let us remember our fellow residents that don’t have water, and please try not to waste and overuse water,” Nair said.
Meanwhile, the DA and some residents have called for the CEO of Rand Water to resign.
“Rand Water has officially failed the people of Gauteng. We struggle with water while our dams are full! We are petitioning the Minister of Water and Sanitation to fire the Rand Water CEO. Sign our petition and be part of the change,” it said.
Rand Water slammed the call and petition, stating the issues were due to higher consumption during hotter weather.
Suliman said the claim that this was a consumption issue was false as the crisis had been going on for years. DM