/ 10 October 2023

Angry Joburg residents protest six weeks without water

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Borehole water collection in Johannesburg. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

After six weeks without water, residents of Jan Hofmeyer, Vrededorp and Vredepark near Brixton in Johannesburg, took to the streets to protest on Monday.

By 5am, they started closing roads in the area. “We want Johannesburg Water and/or Rand Water to come up with solutions,” said community leader Yola Minnaar. “We, as the residents, and especially our old people, cannot carry on like this.

“Last year we were without water for seven months and now we are six weeks without water … Johannesburg Water can’t tell us what the real problem is. Other streets, at least, have had some water, but us in Vredepark, we haven’t got any water at all. Not a drop.”

Minnaar said the Caroline Street home for older people had been without water for nearly three years, with its vulnerable residents completely reliant on JoJo tanks erected by Johannesburg Water.

Angry resident’s in Vrededorp/Fietas and Brixton block a busy intersection to protest not having water. (Video by Yola Minnaar)

‘Have a heart’ 

Dr Ferrial Adam, the executive manager of WaterCAN, an initiative of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), told the Mail & Guardian of her wish that Johannesburg Water and Rand Water would have a “heart for residents” suffering with severe water cuts

On Monday, WaterCAN called for urgent meetings with Rand Water and Johannesburg Water over the ongoing water crisis. It said that over the past year, Gauteng has witnessed a “disturbing increase in water challenges”, marked by frequent shutdowns, water shedding and now “water shifting”. 

This crisis has left numerous communities without water for days, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive solutions. The situation has reached a critical point, with cities like Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Ekurhuleni routinely losing 30% to 34% of their water to leaks and losses, while Emfuleni experiences an alarming 71% loss, as revealed in a parliamentary reply in June by Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu. 

These losses are not just numbers, they represent “a dire reality of irresponsible behaviour that South Africa can no longer afford,” the civic network said.

“We are in a water scarce world and with climate change, a third of your water you’re losing to leaks and losses is just not acceptable,” Adam said.

“We have had hot summers before — why has this only become an issue now in the last year?… You can’t say consumers are using too much water. Where? You’ve got poor areas like Orange Farm and rich areas like Sandton. Surely they’re not using the same amount of water?”

At a time when every drop of water matters, “we cannot allow negligence, poor excuses and grandstanding to be in the way of responsible water management”, Adam said, describing how the country’s water leaks are not only an environmental crisis but also a “testament to the lack of accountability that has gone unaddressed for far too long”.

Angry resident’s in Vrededorp/Fietas and Brixton block a busy intersection to protest not having water. (Video by Yola Minnaar)

Blame games

The responses so far to the public from Rand Water, Joburg Water, municipalities and city mayors have been disappointing, “characterised by finger-pointing and blame games” rather than providing solutions, leadership and direction.

“A glaring example of this poor leadership is the mayor of the City of Johannesburg, who reportedly blamed the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) for the crisis and failed to attend meetings with the DWS and Rand Water.” 

While the DWS is not without its faults, now more than ever, “we need a united multi-pronged approach to sort out our water crisis”. All levels of government must come together and work towards a solution instead of engaging in “petty political games”, she said. 

“The reality is that this crisis will not be solved in the near future, and it is becoming our new norm. It is imperative that every citizen recognises their role in conserving water, especially until projects like Lesotho Highlands 2 are completed, which might extend beyond 2028,” Adam said.

 “We need to embrace this as a long-term challenge that requires sustained efforts from everyone.”

Angry resident’s in Vrededorp/Fietas and Brixton block a busy intersection to protest not having water. (Video by Yola Minnaar)


The outbreak of cholera cases in Hammanskraal, coupled with staggering water losses and deteriorating infrastructure, highlights the pressing need for a united, multi-pronged approach. 

WaterCAN said it demanded regular communication from authorities to residents and for municipalities to outline clear, actionable steps for the next two years, focusing on leak repairs, improving wastewater treatment works and enhancing water treatment plants.

A comprehensive structure must be established involving all levels of government, water bodies, academics, experts, and civil society representatives, while community structures must be engaged to act as watchdogs against vandalism and assist in fixing leaks. 

“The government needs to acknowledge the severity of the water crisis we’re facing. Ignoring it violates our human rights, and they must be held accountable … If urgent action is not taken, we are heading towards a deeper crisis,” she said.