Alarmist to call Gauteng water shortages a crisis, says Mchunu

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People fill jugs with water from JoJo tanks.
People fill jugs with water from JoJo tanks.
Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi
  • Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu told municipalities to enforce water restrictions with consequences for offenders.
  • He said reports calling the Gauteng outages and shortages a crisis were alarmist.
  • However, he admitted resources could have been handled "in a better way" in the past to mitigate the current situation.

Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu believes that reports calling water shortages and outages in Gauteng a crisis are alarmist.

However, he also admitted that Johannesburg was "leaking big time" and that water resources could have been handled "in a better way" in the past to mitigate the current situation.

Mchunu said the city was losing more than 40% of the water supply to leaks. This includes water being taken without payment and without recording it.

But the actual pipe leaks due to infrastructure damage were significant.“These matters are real, and we can’t leave real issues as they are. It’s not sustainable.”

Mchunu said that although it was true that South Africa was a water scarce country he did not see the issue as a "crisis".“The dictionary definition of ‘crisis’ is ‘intense difficulty’. There are places where you go to a village and there is no water to be seen anywhere – that’s a crisis. So, I don’t agree that a broken pipe or people having to queue for water is a crisis. If it doesn’t rain and there is no water in dams and rivers ... that’s a crisis.”

READ | Gauteng's three biggest metros now hit with water cuts as reservoirs run dry while heatwave rolls on

At an emergency meeting on Monday, he gave a directive that municipalities must enforce compliance with water restrictions.

The meeting was to engage with Rand Water, representatives of all Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane metros and district and local municipalities of Gauteng affected by Rand Water’s water restrictions.

The minister also committed to increase the bulk water allocation to the Rand Water system as an emergency measure for nine months.

The meeting established a Water Room committee, comprising of the Department of Water and Sanitation, Rand Water and all Gauteng municipalities and the business sector, for coordination, provision and management of water systems in the province.

Mchunu told News24 there had been a “noticeable increase” in water use in Gauteng and that municipalities must “design methods of consequence management for persons that do not heed the call” to conserve water.

“We spoke at length [at the emergency meeting] about the need to conserve water.

“There is a noticeable increase in water use this year in Johannesburg, Tshwane and the West Rand – especially in Mogale City [municipality].

“This is a result of the rain not having come. JoJo tanks and other storage is empty, and some residents are using tap water to water their gardens and wash cars. For instance, I went to a car wash that has five JoJo tanks. All are now empty and tap water is being used."

He said it was irresponsible and that citizens needed to be honest.

But Mchunu also admitted the government was not blameless.

“We could have done better… We could have secured, and fixed broken pipes and we could have governed the urban setups better.

“The situation now is that we can build anywhere [without first seeing if the infrastructure exists to support the influx of people] and it’s not sustainable.”

As an example, Mchunu said he visited a development in Hammanskraal that saw the addition of 200 homes in a new extension.

“I asked the man how the extension was appointed, and he said he created the extension. The settlement was created ahead of the planning – this is a recipe for disaster.

“So, we can always say it could have been done better, but now we must agree on [what to do now for the future]. Yesterday [at the emergency meeting] we agreed to implement measures to ensure that people have reasonable access to water in the future,” he said. 

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