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Joburg mayor says there is no water crisis as Eikenhof pump station goes down again

Joburg mayor says there is no water crisis as Eikenhof pump station goes down again
Johannesburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda at a community engagement meeting in Lenasia on 15 November 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

Daily Maverick asked Johannesburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda about the crisis affecting 50% of the city’s water supply area. His spokesperson, Mlimandlela Ndamase, started by saying the City is staying in control of the water supply system. Ferial Haffajee asked the questions.

Question: Have the mayor and the administration lost control of the water system?

I ask because, on Friday, 15 March, the mayor said: “As things stand, all systems are currently recovering, and supply has been restored to most of the previously affected areas.”

On Sunday, 17 March Johannesburg Water said its systems were still critical.

Answer: No control has been lost on the City’s water supply systems. Indeed, as of Friday, the system was recovering steadily from the impact of the power outages that affected bulk water pumping into the [Johannesburg] system on 3/4 March 2024.

By Friday all residents were receiving water supply via their taps as usual, with some low pressure in areas linked to areas supplied through the Linden 1 and 2 towers, mainly the Blairgowrie suburb.

Johannesburg Water monitors the water supply system continuously and even under normal circumstances (where no outage has occurred). It regularly warns residents when demand peaks drastically [and] threatens the reliability and capacity of the system. The recent heatwaves have, among other factors, resulted in a drastic water demand peak. As a responsible water supplier, Johannesburg Water must warn residents to use less water to avoid excessive water depletion.

Water use patterns in our City and beyond are higher per capita than international standards in large cities like Johannesburg. Many need to be made aware that we are a water-scarce country and that Johannesburg is the only city in the world not built along a riverbank or ocean (Paris has the Seine, London the Thames, New York the Hudson, etc.

Residents of Dube and Meadowlands fetching water in on March 15, 2024 in Soweto, South Africa. It is reported that the water crisis is due to faults and power outages at several pumping stations, and has affected several areas in the south of Joburg and in others such as Bryanston and Kensington. (Photo by Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi)

Residents of Dube and Meadowlands fetching water in on March 15, 2024 in Soweto, South Africa. It is reported that the water crisis is due to faults and power outages at several pumping stations, and has affected several areas in the south of Joburg and in others such as Bryanston and Kensington. (Photo by Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi)

[In fact, large parts of Soweto, the deep south of the city (like Orange Farm, Lawley and Lenasia), and the west (the Hursthill and Commando systems) had low to no water at the weekend, impacting most of the city, as Daily Maverick reported here.]

Q: The mayor is also quoted as saying that Johannesburg is not experiencing a water crisis. Is this correct, and what did the mayor mean by this?

A: The mayor defines a crisis as a water supply system under total collapse with no mitigation or alternative supply options or [a]… humanitarian crisis where the general population has “zero” access to water. While he doesn’t define the current outage as a crisis, he doesn’t attach any less significance to the frustration and disruption caused by the absence of water from normal operations. It remains challenging and urgent, and he severely empathises with residents.

He too lives in Johannesburg and was severely affected by the unavailability of water in the high-lying areas.

The outage was an isolated and infrequent occurrence. You had 50% of the Johannesburg water supply area affected by a water disruption. It caused great panic and was devastating for both residents and businesses. However, the outages were repaired swiftly, and within a day to two days many systems began supplying water to residents, which was customary in some areas and with some low pressure in others. Of the 60 out of 128 systems affected by the outage, 54 recovered quite steadily and only six, mainly the Linden and Kensington B reservoirs and towers, experienced delays.

These systems are located at the end of the water supply network and, unfortunately, include some high-lying areas, making the recovery more challenging than the other areas. Overall, most of the city enjoys a reliable and consistent water supply.

A 30-minute interruption in water pumping from a pump station, such as Eikenhof, needs a five- to six-hour recovery period to reach normal pumping pressure. The total outages of 3 and 4 March meant water pumping was severely affected by nearly 48 hours of outages at different points and linked to several events. Hence, the system recovery was protracted.

It may take a few minutes or hours to repair the power outage, but once repaired, the pumps are re-energised one at a time and gradually increase in volume to avoid overcharging the system and causing further power trips and potential pressure explosions on the pipelines. So, a complex and delicate process is put in place to ensure the system is diligently managed to protect it from total collapse.

Q: Is Johannesburg’s water not a severe crisis that demands an emergency or declaration of disaster response?

A: Several areas throughout the city have experienced water outages at various points. These have been isolated and linked to a variety of factors. Some have been due to power outages, some to vandalism, infrastructure theft, etc. Some water supply disruptions have been pre-planned to allow for maintenance and water infrastructure upgrades. Where this has been the case, residents have been forewarned, and alternative water sources have been provided, as is the case with unplanned outages.

Joburg water Gwamanda

Mayor of Johannesburg Kabelo Gwamanda at Diepkloof Hostel in Soweto on 28 June 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Lubabalo Lesolle)

We accept that our infrastructure has several challenges. The city has aged infrastructure that is vulnerable to leaks and incessant disruption. These are sporadic occurrences, more regular in some areas than others, but the City is doing its best to maintain and replace old infrastructure where possible and rapidly.

We empathise with our residents in areas where these disruptions are regular and accept that the investment in infrastructure needs to catch up to the rate of development realised in some areas.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Confronting South Africa’s water crisis starts with conserving the water we already have.

The City currently has many projects in various design, procurement and construction phases to respond to this challenge. However, its limited resources will only allow it to respond promptly.

The City’s current water and sanitation infrastructure backlog is estimated to be R27-billion, and the City is spending only R1-billion annually on water and sanitation infrastructure. Ideally, this should be R3-billion to attend to the backlogs decisively.

We are talking to the national government and private sector to consider several financial instruments that may assist the City with resources to meet the infrastructure demands.

Q: Is the mayor a man of his word? At a crisis meeting I attended in the South last year, the mayor announced that a task team would be set up to deal with the community’s issues. I checked back with them this week. The task team’s promise came to naught. They have not heard back from the mayor’s office except for a single terms-of-reference meeting.

A. We will follow up on the same and advise. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • D Rod says:

    Honestly, if this was printed on paper, it would be a waste of paper. Joburg mayor is a clueless puppet. Why even bother?

    • Maronga Maronga says:

      If two seats in council is enough to get you 140 votes to be Moyor it means there is NO CRISIS. After all he is accountable to his Church mates (5000) only who voted for his party.

  • Bob Kuhn says:

    Joburg’s own hamas!

  • J (Not) Z (The Ex Prez) says:

    How is it possible that the Johannesburg Mayoral Office not deem the current water issues as a crisis? Over 50% of water is wasted before it even reaches the taps. So, if I am to infer from their definition, if the mayor’s house was on fire, it would only be a crisis if the fire department could not extinguish the fire and his house burnt to cinders? Other than that, if all of his possessions were incinerated or damaged beyond repair during the extinguishing of the fire, this isn’t considered a crisis. Go figure. The mayor must be far more intelligent than I am, and must have gone to amazing schools.

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    It is mind-boggling that it is somehow seen to be within reasonable limits that some areas are experiencing continual rolling severe water outages, and that half the city being without water for days, some areas being without water for almost two weeks. Then the critical Eikenhoff pump station goes offline again, just starting the non-stop cycle of chaos. This is a CRISIS, the system is on the brink of collapse, as experts have highlighted as reported in other DM articles. There needs to be a serious investigation as to what is going on in Rand Water, Johannesburg Water, and City Power, which is really precipitating the systems collapse in addition to the woefully inadequate maintenance funding. The corruption and maladministration must be exposed and rooted out. I hope that the DM can really dig into this in depth. There has been no feedback today of what the impact of the latest Eikenhof outage is. Johannesburg Water and Rand Water just ignore queries and are unresponsive. The shifting of responsibility onto weather and customers is disingenuous. Promises of programs and apologies for inconvenience ring hollow.

  • Linda Horsfield Horsfield says:

    Expecting an intelligent response from the Mayor is like expecting to win the lottery. Most people realise it is a futile dream

  • James P says:

    Quite frightening how someone this vacant can become mayor. Democracy really is a race to the bottom.

  • Manie Krause says:

    Johannesburg the only city in the world not located next to a river bank or ocean? Interesting insight.

  • Richie Rich says:

    Can you just imagine all the illegal aliens deported from SA and now working the Zimbabwe Department of Water Affairs and now they have a chance to kick back at their deporters by spiking the water.
    Would you live such a free pass?
    No.

  • Just Me says:

    Johannesburg mayor Kabelo Gwamanda is an ANC cadre who is way beyond his true competence at the expense of the city and its citizens.

    The community must vote the corrupt and incompetent ANC out.

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    What is the Mayor smoking

  • Hello There says:

    Heard him speak on the radio earlier. A real life comedy show.
    Ratepayers experiencing some kind of Stockholm syndrome, how else to explain the perpetual support for a freak show of incompetence?

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Please never forget that we have this mayor because of Panyaza Lesufi. He forced him on us much like Vavi (recently repented) and Malema (incapable of admitting he backed pure corruption) bulldozed Zuma into power. Lesufi needs to be booted out of power in Gauteng.

    • Middle aged Mike says:

      No. We have this mayor because of the criminally stupid voters who give us an ANC/EFF city council. Lesufi and his ilk are symptoms of what ails us not causes. We have exactly the government at every level that the voters want and have always wanted.

      • Random Comment says:

        Yes, that’s the unfortunate truth.

        The elephant in the room is that the average South African voter WANTS the disfunction, breakdown, corruption, theft, wastage, pollution and chaos we are currently enduring – there is no other logical conclusion.

      • D'Esprit Dan says:

        No, we have a Mayor from a nonentity party in power because of the sleazy backroom deals of the politicians higher up – if voters wanted this vacuous placeholder or his party in power, they would have voted for more than just the 3 seats they got. I’m willing to bet that the bulk of ANC, EFF, PA and other supporters never thought they’d end up with this mayor. That they vote for for ANC etc is not the same point, but hopefully enough voters have seen what an ANC/EFF-led coalition brings and turn against them in the upcoming elections. My broader point is that whilst we’re not voting in local elections in May, we effectively are, given Lesufi’s bulldozing of an utterly inept puppet into the mayoral office. We can reverse that by constantly highlighting it to every voter.

  • Antonio Tonin says:

    If I had to write what I really thought, DM would be forced to censor me!

  • William Kelly says:

    This mayor is a Muppet. First class. Honestly, what did you expect? No one voted for him, yet here he is. Screwing it up, hapless in the headlights, out of his depth with zero experience and even less competence in leading. #ratesboycott

  • Nick Griffon says:

    What a muppet

  • Confucious Says says:

    Of course there’s no water crisis! There’s also no pothole crisis, no electricity Crisis, no Safety and security crisis, no unemployment crisis, no rail crisis, no public healthcare crisis, no SAA crisis, no SANDF crisis, no corruption crisis, no cadre deployment crisis. No crisis anywhere! Life is good if you work for the anc.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Please watch the youtube clip :Dr Ashenden – “Signs that the religion of peace is intensifying”. if you are interested to see what is happening in Britain today. It is long and visually uninteresting but certainly answers some questions many if us are asking but feel we are unable to.

  • Nicol Mentz says:

    Gross incompetence!! Once again because of political expediency and no consequences for failure of management. The bonuses should be performance based. So far it is in negative territory.

  • James Webster says:

    Why is denial always the first response of black politicians ? There seems to be an ingrained belief that pretending a problem doesn’t exist will make it go away. Does it stem from the cultural misapprehension that appearance is more important than substance i.e. the “big man” heresy ?

  • John Smythe says:

    Same old…. waste of time to read because the ending is always the same. No progress or success to report.

  • peter selwaski says:

    What water crisis? Our women are accustomed to walking miles to get water

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