Water is life – stop playing with our lives, say Joburg residents
Joburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda promises desperate residents a meeting within 14 days to share water crisis solutions after protest in Brixton.
A group of Johannesburg residents braved the cold rain to protest outside the Brixton multipurpose centre to hand over a memorandum to Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda on Tuesday morning, 31 October..
Zainu Galiel (62) said she had to carry 50 litres of water to her home from another person’s yard. She lives in a duplex so she has to walk up flights of stairs. Galiel lives in Vrededorp, a community that hasn’t had water for three months.
“Two weeks ago we were promised water when we had a meeting at Rand Water; the stakeholder said by 5 o’clock tonight you will have water, but now it’s two weeks later we don’t have water,” Galiel said.
She said the community relied on water tankers and Jojo tanks for water distribution, and that posed a challenge for the elderly or ill who might not be able to carry the water home.
Galiel said the lack of water was adversely affecting her health. “The water they give us is not clean; we have to boil it before we use it. Some people buy water. Why are they neglecting us? Is it because we are in a poor area? Cooking, cleaning, washing; we have to pay to have our clothes washed, what about people who can’t pay that money?,” she asked.
Present at the protest was the Water Crisis Committee (WCC), a collective of community organisations that have been advocating for running water and other issues in communities, as well as organisations such as the Melville Residents Association, the Organisation for Undoing Tax Abuse and its WaterCAN initiative.
In the few weeks that the WCC has been active, it has sent letters to the president and ministers of Water and Sanitation (DWS) and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), as well as the mayor and municipal manager. The organisation has also filed complaints with the Public Protector and South African Human Rights Commission.
In a statement shared earlier with affected communities, the WCC said it had “a relatively successful public meeting where we agreed to hold a protest at the next sitting of the City of Johannesburg Council on 31 October 2023”.
“We have built alliances with people and organisations from other communities facing similar challenges, including the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s initiative, the Joburg Crisis Committee, which seeks to address the collapse of governance in the City of Johannesburg.
“We managed a meeting of the working committee of the Crisis Committee, and they agreed to reach out to all organisations that attended their summit to encourage them to join the protest. They will also share their database with us to contact these organisations directly,” the brief reads.
Sumaya Roman, also from Vrededorp, joined the protest with a baby strapped to her back, despite it being only 8°C, because she said she was desperate for a solution. She said the lack of clear communication was the most frustrating part of the water issue.
“We are supposed to have water coming out of our taps; the excuses range from, it’s a valve fail, airlock, pump failing even if they don’t seem to know what’s going on. Last year we didn’t have water for seven months. Another thing, there is a project in our area for a new reservoir [in Brixton Primary School] and they might have closed the valve to dig and work on it, but they are not telling us anything,” Roman said.
She said they had to buy water for the children as the water from tankers was murky and dirty.
WCC spokesperson Farah Domingo read out the demands of the memorandum, which included holding a public meeting “within 14 days with the City of Joburg, Joburg Water, Rand Water, Cogta and DWS, who are responsible for overseeing this crisis, to present us with a credible and coherent plan”.
The memorandum said the plan should:
- “Demonstrate that you have undertaken a credible root cause analysis of the crisis and that the interventions in this plan are realistic, timebound and will actually be implemented in the real world; Be honest about the support you need and create pathways to mobilise this from the broader society;
- “Identify by name (not generic categories) high-risk and vulnerable groups in each area that are more water dependent – including specific places providing patient care, old age homes, crèches and schools, and informal settlements;”
- Provide “weekly reports on the implementation of these plans with workable inclusion of community representatives from each of the communities that are facing the worst of this crisis”; and
- Carry out a “corruption risk assessment that presents the risks and controls, recognising that service delivery crises are golden opportunities to loot. This assessment must show us that you have started to speak honestly about corruption and its drivers.”
“We live in a world-class African city; however, the conditions in which residents live are contradictory to that. We are committed to the restoration of services in Johannesburg that have deteriorated in the past five years. We will present our turnaround strategy,” Gwamanda said.
Protesters were not convinced and wanted a set date, but they weren’t able to pin down a firm date , other than that it would take place within 14 days.
The mayor acknowledged that the community was tired of blame games between stakeholders and he committed himself to a meeting with the leadership of the committee that will be followed by a community meeting. DM
Johannesburg water stories
‘Ten days without water is tantamount to homicide’
Below are testimonies about Johannesburg’s water crisis from members of the community, collected by Daily Maverick with the Johannesburg Water Crisis Committee. The committee protested against ongoing water cuts at a Johannesburg City Council sitting on 31 October. Johannesburg is in a prolonged water crisis, with residents suffering multiday water cuts and water throttling.
My name is Laurie. I live in Greenside. I have no colon, and it’s tough to live without water. In the last few months, we have had constant water cuts. These sometimes last several days. We have been forced to buy two JoJo tanks and have them installed at great expense. Because I have no colon, water is an absolute necessity for me. I have to bath and clean and put a special antiseptic on to keep clean. Without water, I can’t do that, hence the installation of the tanks.
I’ve been hospitalised twice in the last few months for infections directly related to my having no colon. The water disappears suddenly, with no warning from Johannesburg Water.
After many operations, I have developed depression and extreme anxiety. When the water disappears, my anxiety skyrockets. All of this makes for very stressful living. Last month, our water bill was R7,000, and I wondered, “What are we paying for?”
My elderly parents live with us. My father-in-law is 86 and my mother-in-law is 83. Neither of them can pick up a 5-litre bottle of water. This means we fill a 25-litre bottle with a tap to make it easier for them. I must have spent R1,000 last week alone on bottled water for them and us.
We wash from a sink, boil water for dishes, and use paper plates and plastic cups. We appreciate our local mosque, which has filtered borehole water for us. I battle to carry multiple 5-litre bottles here and there and everywhere. We live in a suburb where we pay high rates for nothing. This is an abomination.
Ten days without water is tantamount to homicide. Food preparation is impossible, so we are eating unhealthy takeaways. My kids miss school, and their performance is impacted. As a parent, it causes emotional and psychological stress. Arriving late at work causes anxiety and frustration. I feel a sense of helplessness.
The water issues started in June 2023. We had to rely on bottled water for drinking and cooking and the water tankers to collect water for toilets and bucket baths. We go to family who have water to take quick showers, so you want to avoid putting extra pressure on their water accounts.
My husband, who is in his sixties, pulled a muscle in his shoulder blade because he carries 20-litre buckets of water up and down. Now he has a pinched nerve causing pins and needles down his arm constantly.
I take care of my 81-year-old mom, who is very sick. If she needs to be washed at night or in the early morning, I must use the water collected in buckets and bottles to clean her. If it happens more than once a night, I run out of water. In October 2023, we had more nights without water than with. We cannot continue like this. We have to take a stand.
I have always wanted to live in Kensington because it’s so beautiful. But when I experienced the first outages in August, I was shocked by the general apathy and lack of communication from our ward councillor, Johannesburg Water [the municipal supplier] and Rand Water [the bulk supplier]. I figured out why. You need a meter number to report, but not all residents know their meter numbers. The Johannesburg Water call centre is inaccessible, and not everybody can afford to make the calls. Once a call is logged, there is no feedback. There is absolutely no support from ward councillors. Not a word.
Now, we plan our lives around water shedding, like we do around load shedding. I have so many questions. How do people who are caring for family members cope? How do people who cannot afford to buy water get through the day? How are people washing themselves? How do people who rely on home-grown food manage?
I live at Makers Valley Farm [a community farm in Makers Valley in Lorentzville]. I am subletting to some of my artist friends, and it’s crazy how we keep making excuses for the city while we pay our rates fairly to the municipality. At some point, I had to stay with no water for three days straight.
I run the farm two blocks from my house, and my team and I have had to let some of my team go. This is because they get to the site, and there’s no water for operations. They work in the sun with no water. I was left with no choice but to release them. I’ve had to cut down on my hydroponic plants to get things right, possibly with better water storage equipment.
I know water is about survival, but I also love my plants. Without plants, we will not be able to live. I’ve spent so much on the plants in my garden, and plants cannot get into a car and go to buy water. So, in the blink of an eye, all my plants are dead through incompetence. Ferial Haffajee/DM
Community members chose to use their first names only.