/ 15 March 2024

Joburg water cuts are playing with fire

Water Trucks Fill Up And Transport Water To The Reservoir Photo Delwyn Verasamy
We have learned to live with sporadic electricity supply but South Africans will not be as kind to the government if our taps run dry. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Ten days. That’s how long it took for Johannesburg Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda to head into crisis talks with various ward councillors of regions that had been without water. We were told the lack of water was due to a lightning strike at Eikenhof pump station. A “power interruption” was how Joburg Water delicately put it. 

The interruption was followed by two more outages, which led to parts of the city not having water for 10 days as it could not be pumped. 

Eikenhof is a critical point in supplying water to Johannesburg. It pumps 1 200 million litres a day and 600 million litres of that is supplied to Johannesburg through the Meredale, Weltevreden, Waterval and Krugersdorp reservoirs. 

Some reports say it is responsible for half the city’s water. If that is the case, half of Johannesburg was without adequate water access for 10 days. 

As talks of protest ignited on Tuesday, Gwamanda finally spoke to ward councillors who had to deal with irate residents. 

People are more tolerant when the power goes out — South Africans seem resigned to load-shedding. But water cuts? That is a different beast, with massive potential for a flare-up. 

Take away people’s water and you take away a significant human right, something bound to set protests in motion. It is something even the middle class will take to the streets to demand. 

With water cuts, confidence in leadership wanes, and both are on the increase in Johannesburg. 

This paper has covered numerous stories of people in the city who live without water for weeks on end. Those who can afford to buy bottled water have to, while those who can’t must wait for erratic delivery from tankers. 

Reports are surfacing that many areas had no water because a tap was not turned on. Essentially, a valve had not been moved to open. 

Underspending on water infrastructure or ignoring necessary maintenance — or leaving that maintenance to unskilled people — has become a fixture in many auditor general reports. 

The consequences of this are visible to any resident, however, in an election year, one would think the government would make a special effort — as insincere as it might be — to get the basics right.

Rand Water, Joburg Water and city leaders are playing with fire, and there will be no water to douse the coming flames.