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Anger boils over as Gauteng water outages take their toll

Parts of Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Joburg have been without water for days

01 September 2021 - 17:49 By BELINDA PHETO and Shonisani Tshikalange
Kushie Shinkwena and Elijah Mbale haul water at South Hills in Johannesburg.
Kushie Shinkwena and Elijah Mbale haul water at South Hills in Johannesburg.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/Sunday Times

“This is not the city life we signed up for. It's like we are living in a village.”

Kushie Shinkwena of South Hills in Johannesburg is fed up. Wednesday was the seventh day his suburb did not have water.

He's taking a short break, gathering the strength to push 75 litres of water in a wheelbarrow.

Residents have resorted to fetching water from the community swimming pool taps, which are not affected by an ongoing water outage which is making life unbearable. Shinkwena has made the daily trek of about 2km to fetch water since last Thursday.

His plight is shared by residents in parts of Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg which have experienced water shortages, some of them for days.

High water usage in households and businesses, together with ageing municipal infrastructure including leaking water pipes, has led to Rand Water issuing Gauteng municipalities with a notice of 20% water restrictions.

Rand Water spokesperson Gregg Mulzack told TimesLIVE on Monday that Rand Water has exceeded its limit of what its licence permits it to abstract from the Vaal Dam.

“Our abstraction licence permits us to abstract 1,347-million cubic metres of raw water from the Vaal Dam. At the moment, we are at 1,680-million cubic metres. That’s more than 330-million over what we are allowed,” he said.

But it's cold comfort for residents with overflowing toilets.

The past few days have been tough for Liz Sylvester, 68. She struggles to carry enough water in one go so she fetches it in smaller quantities to fill a 25-litre bucket: “I make three to four trips because the water is too heavy for me.”

Sylvester has lived in the area for almost 21 years and in recent weeks water cuts have become frequent — something not experienced before.

“Just three weeks ago we were without water for 10 days and we are without water again now,” she told TimesLIVE. She described service delivery as non-existent.

“If it's not water, it's electricity. We never have both,” she said.

Liz Sylvester carries water home in South Hills.
Liz Sylvester carries water home in South Hills.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/Sunday Times

Ricky Nelson was on his third trip to the community swimming to get water when TimesLIVE visited the area on Wednesday. The boot of his SUV was filled with containers.

“We are doing our laundry today and have to make sure that we have enough water,” he said.

Nelson lamented the “false promises” by Joburg Water, giving assurances that the water supply would be restored soon.

“Even last night, they said we will have water this morning but that has not happened.” People living in low-lying areas had water but not residents higher up.

Ricky Nelson with his water containers.
Ricky Nelson with his water containers.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/Sunday Times

Shamiraih Zean lives in a rented home and his family shares a toilet with five other tenants. “The toilet is so full and we can't blame anyone. What are they supposed to do when pressed?” she asked.

She is worried about hygiene and potentially becoming ill. “We have not even been able to have a proper bath in the past few days. The water that we fetch is for drinking and cooking,” she said.

No water means no business for salon owner Olivia Moukam. “Most of the hairstyles that we do require water so I had to turn clients away. Some opt to come with their hair washed already from home and that helps a lot but it's only a few people who are able to do that,” she said.

With schools closed because of the water outage, Moukam has to take her two children to the salon, adding to the stress.

For Hennie Gouws, 64, the lack of water left him feeling helpless and he won't, for the first time, take part in the upcoming local government elections. “I'm at a point where I feel voting will not bring any change. The crime is out of control, service is just not there,” he said.

Without any notification, we suddenly hear that the reservoir has gone dry, so there are no words to describe the inconvenience, the unhygienic circumstances that we are confronted with.
Laudium resident Ahmed Arbee

Gouws fetches water from a relative in the neighbouring suburb of Moffatview. “Water is everything. Our animals need it and we also need it,” he said.

Elijah Mbale, who is self-employed as a plumber, said: “My wife just gave birth, so I have to fetch water for her because she can't do so herself. I make sure that I at least leave her with water that will last her for the day and I do another trip in the evening for us to use overnight for the toilet and washing our hands.”

Laudium resident Ahmed Arbee, who is chair of Laudium Care Services for the Aged, said water outages had been an ongoing problem.

“Without any notification, we suddenly hear that the reservoir has gone dry, so there are no words to describe the inconvenience, the unhygienic circumstances that we are confronted with,” he said.

He said water problems started in the area last week Friday. “The pressure was reduced for the whole weekend. On Sunday, there was a little spurt of water but it dissipated. We had various undertakings that the water would be back to normal by the evening, only to be disappointed over and over again,” he said.

Arbee said officials need to account to ratepayers for the gross failure in the performance of their duties.

“The provision of services is the basic duty of the city council and the Rand Water board in terms of their partnership in this matter. The community has had a protest but I don’t think one should have to go to the extent of a protest march to demand reasonable service which we pay for.

“To be denied this human basic service is a human rights violation and councillors and officials need to come out clearly as to what has happened as we suspect that the closing of the water has to do with giving water tanker owners an opportunity to benefit from their tenders,” he said.

He said there are occasions when water tankers are provided, but not always.

Laudium Ward 61 councillor Farouk Essop said after five days there is no water, causing the closure of schools in the area.

“We called Tshwane and Rand Water identify the problem and Rand Water is blaming Tshwane and Tshwane is blaming Rand Water. In the meantime, the community doesn’t have water ... nobody can tell us what the problem is,” he said.