Joburg councillors heckle, bask in the sun as bid to tackle water crisis meets vehement opposition
The Johannesburg Metro Council has approved a motion to conduct research on alternative water sources to decrease reliance on Johannesburg Water as residents have battled water outages for three months.
The motion was brought by ANC councillor Masindi Mmbengwa during a chaotic council meeting on Wednesday, 1 November 2023. Tabling the motion, he likened the city’s ongoing water woes to Cape Town’s water shedding and “Day Zero” crisis, for which he said the City of Gold was barely prepared.
“The question is: Should the ‘Day Zero’ come here in the City of Joburg… what will we do? What will be our alternative water? Where are our strategists? What is our plan?”
As a result, he made an ambitious proposal which would help the City generate up to 30% of its own water. It includes exploring the possibility of using well water, spring water and underground water, which would have to be purified by Johannesburg Water.
“The City of Joburg has enough groundwater in the south and other areas such as Doornfontein, Bertrams, Ellis Park. There are already water spots which the City has conducted, one in Yeoville with a capacity of producing 6.1 litres of water per second.”
The City had also identified Gautrain Station in Midrand and the Marlboro areas which were said to pump about 10 megalitres to the surface.
Councillors often heckled and shouted during disagreements, requested several caucus breaks in between the proceedings, while some extended their breaks.
“The University of Johannesburg has now tapped into this alternative water and they have bottled this water after their internal processing and purifications. The alternate water will allow the City of Joburg to generate up to 30% of her own water. This will be a huge savings in our revenue,” according to the notice of the motion.
The motion was vehemently opposed by opposition parties including the DA and ActionSA, on the basis that the ANC-EFF-led coalition was already in charge and could well do the work without bringing a motion to council.
DA caucus leader Belinda Echeozonjoku explained her party’s decision to abstain from voting in favour of the motion: “They are going to use the motion to force and bypass other processes. The truth is, government of the day already have resources to do this, a feasibility study can be in the department. Why did they have to bring it before council?”
ActionSA’s caucus leader, Nobuhle Mthembu, expressed similar sentiments, adding that experts have in the past conducted similar research, and the only thing needed to be done by the coalition government was to implement recommendations.
“The government of local unity must start implementing; the information is there and has been there for years. We also feel like this water shedding issue is man-made, someone is benefiting from the water tankers. The water tankers cost the city R50-million a month.”
The Patriotic Alliance, which is part of the coalition government, voted in favour of the motion, saying it would support all efforts aimed at addressing the water crisis.
“There are no proper solutions, residents are extremely fed up and also demand that load shedding be excluded from all water reservoirs, so that water pumps can be operational all the time because water is a basic need… as PA leadership, we support any attempt in absorbing this dire need by residents of the City of Johannesburg,” a PA councillor said.
Just 24 hours before the motion was tabled, a handful of frustrated residents protested over the water crisis outside the Brixton Multipurpose Centre, to hand over a memorandum of demands to mayor Kabelo Gwamanda, who committed to meet them within 14 days to share water crisis solutions.
“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.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Water is life – stop playing with our lives, say Joburg residents
On Thursday, Johannesburg Water announced that all its reservoirs retained stability overnight and had been supplying normally. Residents are, however, still expected to observe level 1 restrictions until March 2024.
The motion made the following recommendations:
- The City is to institute a professional team with experts under the employ of the City of Joburg to conduct research on the quantity of underground water we have, the cost of processing this water, and give a projection on the duration or lifespan supply of these abundant waters;
- That the research should be done within 90 days;
- The responsible department must submit the assessment report in 90 days;
- The research team must be in communication with the council through the relevant mayoral committee member;
- That all the recommendations from the professional team be implemented and timeframes be tabled on the reports; and
- Upon presentation the possible funding options should be included in the report so that the council can resume the process of ensuring that the City of Joburg has alternative water in our lifetime.
The councillors met at the Brixton Multipurpose Centre for the first time since 31 August, after faulty transformers caused a fire to break out at the Joburg Metro that shut down the building responsible for administering the city.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Go home’: Joburg council meetings on indefinite hold after Metro Centre closure
The council proceedings were not without interruptions. Councillors often heckled and shouted during disagreements, requested several caucus breaks in between the proceedings, while some extended their breaks, basking in the sun after complaining that the venue was too cold, and returning to the council precinct later than stipulated. There were power and sound challenges as well.
Opposition parties labelled the breaks as nonsensical, and depriving residents of their rights: “For us, this shows that the governing coalition is in tatters, there is no agreement between what is coming to council, and that is why they have to have multiple breaks because they can’t [find] alignment or agreement among themselves,” Echeozonjoku said. DM