Joburg’s Water Crisis Sparks Civil Society Forum after Intense Showdown with Officials

Johannesburg, November 18, 2023 – In a pivotal meeting held in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, residents and members of civil society confronted officials from Rand Water, Johannesburg Water, and the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) over a spectrum of water crisis concerns.

The meeting, facilitated by WaterCAN, an initiative of Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse dedicated to safeguarding South Africa’s water resources, witnessed a barrage of questions encompassing inaccurate water meter readings, corruption, water quality, tanker distribution, financial matters, and transparency.

Johannesburg residents and members of civil society at the weekend meeting.

A notable absence was the City of Johannesburg, despite an invitation extended by Ferrial Adam, the facilitator and manager of WaterCAN. Following this meeting, civil society organizations proposed the establishment of a comprehensive forum, intended to include senior representatives from the Department of Water and Sanitation, Rand Water, Johannesburg Water, and, ideally, the City of Johannesburg.

Adam emphasized the purpose of the forum, stating, “We want individuals capable of providing answers to questions and taking tangible actions. That forum would ensure that crucial information is available to residents and that responses to the water crisis are coordinated. We want timelines, plans, budgets.”

Director General of the Department of Water and Sanitation, Sean Phillips speaking to concerned Johannesburg residents about the water crisis, in Braamfontein Johannesburg

Key organizations, such as JoburgCAN, the South African Water Caucus, Action for Accountability, the Helen Suzman Foundation, Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Water Crisis Committee, and the Organisation Against Tax Abuse, participated in the meeting.

A panel featuring Sean Phillips (Director General of the Department of Water and Sanitation), Logan Munsamy (Johannesburg Water’s operations and maintenance manager), and Rand Water’s COO Mahlomola Mehlo, provided an overview of the water system and acknowledged the absence of quick fixes for the crisis.

Senior manager of operations at Johannesburg Water Logan Munsamy.

Despite media reports on the impact of water cuts on Johannesburg residents’ quality of life, officials admitted to challenges. Phillips expressed regret over the nine-year delay in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), crucial for supplying water to Johannesburg and Gauteng.

Acknowledging communication failures, senior manager Logan Munsamy disclosed plans to upgrade infrastructure and build capacity, although Johannesburg Water struggles to meet consumer demand in certain areas. The utility resorts to throttling water supply to replenish reservoirs and stabilize the system.

Funding issues were underscored, with Johannesburg Water receiving R1 billion from the government but requiring R2 billion for comprehensive maintenance. Rand Water’s COO Mahlomola Mehlo outlined contributing factors to water shortages and initiatives such as water recycling and hydropower for a sustainable water supply.

Ferrial Adam of WaterCAN retaliated against the backdrop of consumer frustration, stating, “Climate change does call for reducing, but it’s hard to have that conversation when we don’t have water in our taps.”

The proposed forum, according to Adam, seeks transparency on data, infrastructure, and water management. It also aims to initiate consumer education and awareness campaigns on water conservation and lobby for increased funds for Johannesburg Water expenditure.

As the dialogue continues, Adam urged, “Let’s not stop being angry, let’s not go on the back foot, let’s keep the pressure on and find constructive ways to get to a solution.” Fordsburg Independent will continue to cover developments in this critical water crisis situation.