‘There is no water crisis’: Mchunu calls for calm during Gauteng shutdown

There is no water crisis. This was the chief message delivered by the department of water and sanitation as it urged understanding from the public during ongoing supply disruptions in Gauteng. 

On Monday, Rand Water began a 54-hour shutdown in parts of the province so it could undertake planned maintenance to its infrastructure. With last week’s announcement being delivered amid a prolonged bout of load-shedding, South Africans worried that they would face difficulties on two fronts.

But on Monday Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu insisted at a media briefing that the announcement did not mean that most residents would be without water. Rather, there would be reduction of supply, but not a complete cut-off as the industry jargon might imply.

“The term ‘shutdown’ was not in the literal sense, but was rather a technical term used in the industry ― and did not mean that there will be no water coming out of the taps. This briefing serves to explain just that,” he said.

Mchunu was, however, still careful to emphasise that South Africa remains a water-scarce country. He called on residents to be cognisant of the water they used on their lawns and to resist the temptation of extended showers, particularly during this period. 

Flanking the minister at the briefing were Rand Water chairperson, advocate Tshidi Hashatse, and chief executive Sipho Mosai. 

“The most important thing [to understand is that] this is regular, this is planned,” Hashatse said. “This is not a failure of the infrastructure. This is something that we have been planning to do for a while and we’ve been talking to our direct customers in the municipality about the planning and timing.”

The Rand Water executives also emphasised that such maintenance undertakings were routine and should be taken pre-emptively, rather than reactively. Usually their effect on the public is unnoticeable, but the larger-than-usually infrastructure work this week precipitated the announcement of the shutdown. 

In total, more than two-thirds of the water supply would still be available, they said.

Questioned about the inauspicious timing of the announcement, with the country reeling from recent rolling power cuts, Mosai said there could never be perfect timing.

“There’s a period of time when you have to augment; there’s a period of time when you have to maintain; there’s a period of time when you have to service and so on and so forth,” he said. “You plan in advance. We planned this thing 10 years ago; the pipes are underground ― now we have to connect. We have been wanting to do this two years ago, [then] Covid started [and] there was lockdown.

“The beauty about it is we’re not cutting water completely. We are still pumping more than two-thirds of the water we produce. The water will still be flowing and people will still be able to wash their hands. There may be an inconvenience here and there, but we’re happy that we’re making the necessary arrangements,” Mosai added.

Mchunu said the public would likely have been even more enraged had the work been delayed until the December holiday period.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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