Rustenburg Water Crisis: One problem, two stories.

The water crisis that seemed to hit the city of Rustenburg almost overnight, was a long time coming and according to councillors, can even be called an annual event.

The shortages started on 16 September, in high-lying suburbs, where residents woke to no water without any mentionable warning. Calls to the municipality were later answered by the reply that it was “a matter between the Rustenburg Municipality and Rand Water”.

On Wednesday, 2 October, community watchdog MUNWATCH called a meeting with councilors surrounding the problem that had been on going and worsening since it started.

Emotions running high, community members and councilors (who seemed torn between amused and nervous while gazing at the turnout) sat down for the meeting to be opened with prayer. And then the gloves came off…

The Community

Ground rules were set for the meeting which made it clear that some heavy debate was to be expected. Among those were that the point at hand was the lack of water, that no politics would be brought up despite it being in a political environment, that the discussion remained colorless – like water and that respect will be given to one speaker at a time.

MUNWATCH chairperson, Frans Roodtman, wasted no time addressing the elephant in the room. “We represent the minority of rate payers in Rustenburg, a mere thirty percent. You, the council misjudge our capabilities. Not just as consumers, but as capable individuals. Minority groups also have capable individuals that can add value to this municipality.” He continued by adding that it was expected of the municipality to admit that there were revenue management problems and that the paying community was being disrespected and ignored. “I want to thank you though,” he said, “for ignoring us. Your ignorance has created a passion inside us.”

A common observation in the community was the lack of urgency this matter and others were being approached with. While law states that a municipality should respond to disputes or complaints within 14 days or else convey it through writing, Rustenburg Municipality has been known to wait up to 4 months before taking any action. Reports of leaking water running down streets is met with this same slow response, resulting not only in money wasted, but also the much needed resource simply being washed down the drain. Residents noted that there seems to be a perceived resistance to reduce water supply to other areas to alleviate the critical shortage.

“Our payment levels are among the highest in the country. Do not take our patience for granted. Effective non-payment will always be under consideration.”

The community paused their argument with the following demands:

That those affected by the crisis not be charged for basic water consumption in following months. That the municipality disclose full schematics of water supply lines on their website and that response times to leakages be reduced to avoid any further wastage.

The council is expected to report back on these demands on 17 October, during another scheduled public meeting.

The Councilors

Municipal Manager, Dr. Kiddo Mako, took the microphone first. He said that he recognized the problem and the hardships experienced by the community and that they were engaging with Rand Water to find a resolution. He admitted that communication between the municipality and the community was not up to speed resulting in the lack of answers that had residents fuming. “We do respect the community. This is a winning community” he said before handing the podium to councilor Victor Makona.

The community was growing restless now, an hour into the meeting, with more questions being raised and no definite resolve in sight. The councilor attempted to open with a short bio of his career in the municipality, briefly mentioning that he had the pleasure of working with many white colleagues through the years. This blatant attempt of trying to win over the audience with the race card, backfired immediately as the community jointly called for “water not excuses”. He managed to reclaim the situation by referring to the rules set out at the beginning of the meeting. “Please respect me, while I’m speaking.”

He continued by explaining Rustenburg’s infrastructure problem as follow:

“In the year 2000, the Rustenburg Local Municipality made an application to the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry ( DWAF ) with the objective to augmenting water supply to Rustenburg. The application was unfortunately not successful and the Municipality had to devise the Bospoort Water Scheme as an alternative for a period of five years.

In the year 2009, the Producer Forum Consortium did a pre-feasibility study on water supply in the Rustenburg area, and the results did indicate that there would be a water shortage in Rustenburg in due course.

The results of the study proved right as this is exactly the situation we find ourselves in at the moment.

The Municipality is currently receiving 40 mega-litres per day from Rand Water as per the prescribed design. Rand Water has imposed water consumption restrictions to high consumers, such as, mining companies, by 50%. This will enable the Municipality to have water supply to a reasonable extent, including the high lying areas as they are the most affected.  Failure to comply with the imposed restrictions will result in water shedding by Rand Water.

The Municipality has imposed water usage restrictions by prohibiting watering of gardens and filling of swimming pools at this stage. The Municipality has dedicated a team to detect all water leaks around Rustenburg. Rand Water is to install data loggers or effective monitoring instruments to ensure water restrictions.

Daily meetings chaired by Executive Mayor are held by the water crisis management forum to assess the situation and devise plans to restore the situation to normality. Municipality is to continue to provide water by means of water tankers to all affected areas as per the published itenirary.

In the long term, meetings with Minister of Water Affairs ( DWA ) and MEC For Local Government and Traditional Affairs have been arranged with the objective to crafting a permanent solution.  Magalies Water is to increase supply to Rustenburg by 50%, planned for next year, 2014. Bakwena water pipeline by Pilanesberg Water Scheme is to be explored to further augment the supply.” (sic)

He added that some of the daily challenges they face regarding the water is the necessity of upgrading the aging infrastructure and people in low lying areas that have water, storing it up in JoJo tanks and not keeping to water restrictions. “Leakages are also been caused by some disconnecting the water pipes to bypass the meters and fill their tanks and pools” he said.

What now?

While the frustration of both the community and council can be understood, it is clear that the meeting failed to find a common ground for these two parties to meet. A water shedding schedule is one of the options being explored, but its implementation could worsen the situation as it will affect even more areas in Rustenburg. Redirecting the water supply to run from high lying reservoirs to lower areas will not be possible as the current infrastructure does not support this.

“Look at my son!” one mother shouted at the councilors. “He is three years old and has been sick ever since this crisis started. He needs water. Basic water is his and everybody’s human right!”  

But it would seem that this human right will remain a scarce commodity in Rustenburg, for now. 

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