WaterCAN, OUTA’s water division, has called for urgent meetings with Rand Water and Johannesburg Water over the ongoing water crisis Gauteng. This follows a disturbing increase in water challenges over the past year, marked by frequent shutdowns, water shedding and lately, “water shifting”. This crisis has left numerous communities without water for days (sometimes even weeks), highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive solutions. 

The situation in Gauteng 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. These statistics, released in a reply to Parliament by the Minister of Water and Sanitation, underscore the urgent need for immediate action. WaterCAN emphasises that these losses are not just numbers; they represent a dire reality of irresponsible behaviour that South Africa can no longer afford.

WaterCAN wrote to Johannesburg Water and Rand Water at the end of October to demand answers on the scope of the problem as well as feedback on possible solutions. We also requested an urgent site visit to some of the problematic reservoirs along with community groups and organisations, the media and experts proposed by civil society.  In addition to this, WaterCAN wants to see an outline of the plans and budget to fix water leaks and respond to non-revenue water; answers on whether the Hursthill 2 reservoir is cracked and is limiting the volume that can be held and copies of reports on and work done on any reservoirs in the Johannesburg Water area. We also requested to be kept abreast of plans for managing the ongoing load shedding that is affecting water supply and providing proper backup power, including dates on which this will be implemented. It is also imperative to know whether Rand Water is meeting its obligations to supply and pump water. 

Rand Water and Joburg Water has since agreed to an onsite meeting, which will take place on Saturday the 11th of November – we will keep Joburg residents informed of the outcome. 

WaterCAN, JoburgCAN and members of the Johannesburg Water Crisis Committee also staged a protest in Brixton at the City of Johannesburg’s council meeting on 31 October. Despite heavy rains and bitter cold weather, protestors persisted. Members from communities which have been without water for over 50 days, were also present. The protest yielded positive results, with the mayor Kabelo Gwamanda engaging with the group, agreeing meet with them within 14 days to discuss the ongoing water crisis. 

WaterCAN welcomes the mayor’s about turn after he 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 sorting out our water crisis. All levels of government must come together and work towards a solution instead of engaging in petty political games. 

“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. South Africa’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,” says Dr Ferrial Adam, Executive Manager of WaterCAN.

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

The recent 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 calls upon the government, municipalities, and all stakeholders to collaborate immediately.

In an ongoing effort to seek sustainable solutions for the Gauteng water crisis, WaterCAN demands the following: 

Regular communication from authorities to residents: Implement a communication strategy akin to the weekly updates during the Covid pandemic.

Clear action plans: Municipalities must outline clear, actionable steps for the next two years, focusing on leak repairs, improving wastewater treatment works (WWTW) and enhancing water treatment plants.

Collaborative structure: Establish a comprehensive structure involving all levels of government, water bodies, academics, experts, and civil society representatives. A “Codesa-type” approach is urgently needed to tackle this crisis collectively.

Community engagement: Engage community structures to act as watchdogs against vandalism and assist in fixing leaks. Use registered plumbers to advise and assist in these efforts.

Public awareness: Raise public awareness about the water crisis, emphasising the importance of collective efforts in water conservation and the significance of everyone’s role in addressing the crisis. 

“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,” emphasises Dr Adam. “We urge them to seek help and abandon political games. If urgent action is not taken, we are heading towards a deeper crisis.”

WaterCAN implores the government and relevant authorities to act decisively. Failure to address this crisis now will have devastating consequences, impacting millions of South Africans and jeopardising the nation’s sustainability.