South Africa: Gauteng Farming Community Without Consistent Water for Three Years

Ward councillor says only six water tankers are servicing all communities in Emfuleni municipality

  • Residents in Waterdal Agricultural Holdings, south of Gauteng, have been battling with inconsistent water supply for three years.
  • Most households have agricultural plots and rely on subsistence farming to survive.
  • Residents say they often wait up to two weeks for water to be delivered by water trucks.
  • According to the ward councillor, the shortage of water trucks has resulted in limited supply across the community.
  • The municipality has incurred almost R700-million due to water losses in the 2021/22 financial year.

Many residents of Waterdal, near Evaton in the south of Gauteng, rely on growing crops for food and to earn a living, but residents say they have been struggling with inconsistent water supply for at least three years, making farming near impossible.

Resident Puseletso Moloko makes six trips per day to fill her 20-litre buckets with water at a water pump that has been badly vandalised. To get to the borehole, Moloko walks about two kilometres, crossing a railway line on her way.

"There are four of us at home and two small children. We try to fill 14 buckets of water every second day for cooking, washing and doing laundry," she said.

Moloko, who has lived in Waterdal since 2001, said in previous years they would get running water but only at odd hours of the night. "You would have to wake up at 3am to do your washing because that would be the only time water came out of the taps," she said. The situation worsened around 2020 when their taps ran dry.

"What is frustrating is that we have taps and pipes installed in our homes, but no water comes out when you open the tap," said Moloko.

Waterdal falls under the embattled Emfuleni Local Municipality. The municipality has repeatedly come under fire for its lack of adequate service delivery, the poor state of water services in the area, and sewerage leaks polluting the Vaal River.

In a meeting with the municipality's leadership and local businesses in September 2022, the Department of Water and Sanitation's Justice Maluleke noted that a major problem is that there are "44 pump stations within Emfuleni Local Municipality that are critical and not working".

Water leaks and losses are also a big issue in Emfuleni. The Vaalweekblad reported in April 2023 that the indebted municipality incurred almost R700-million in water losses during the 2021/22 financial year.

GroundUp has previously reported on the municipality's debts to Rand Water and Eskom. Maladministration and the ballooning debt has resulted in both utilities taking over the delivery of its respective services in Emfuleni.

In 2022, Gauteng bulk water supplier Rand Water contracted 17 trucks to deliver water to areas under Emfuleni, including Waterdal.

Despite Rand Water's intervention, Waterdal residents say the trucks are not consistent. Residents say they've often waited a week or two for water to be delivered. Because of this, some residents have resorted to carting empty buckets to fetch water from leaking pipes, vandalised water pumps and quarries.

Mamaisa Mbele, a Waterdal resident and facilitator at Asivikelane, warned that some of the places where people have been forced to collect water are not clean. Asivikelane is an organisation focused on service delivery challenges in communities.

Mbele said some residents paid the government's water truck drivers directly so they could get water. "Two months ago, I had to pay them R100 just so they could deliver water," she said. Mbele said this arrangement was unsustainable because people don't always have money. "They are also getting paid by the government, even when they don't deliver the water," she said.

A few residents bought their own water tanks. Those who could afford to, installed boreholes which they share with neighbours.

Mduduzi Tshabalala lives with his partner Mamosweu Tsoabi, and her sister Dineo Tsoabi who run a farming and community empowerment organisation called Serapeng sa Basadi. The erratic water supply makes it difficult for them to grow and maintain their crop.

Tshabalala said Serapeng sa Basadi was able to buy a 2,500-litre water tank and install a borehole after it received funding in 2019. He said the water was shared by neighbouring households and was used for washing, cooking, laundry, and irrigating crops.

"Last season [when their borehole broke] we didn't have water and had so many crops that needed to be irrigated. Farming is one of our main sources of income but without water, we couldn't plant. We've had to rely on other sources of income," he said.

When the water trucks do come, Tshabalala said drivers charge them R400 to fill their tank. "The water doesn't last very long because so many households rely on it," he said.

A petition, started by resident Mamatlakeng Mofubetsoane, was sent to Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu, calling on the government to fix the water crisis in Waterdal.

Mofubetsoane, who has lived in Waterdal since 2006, said the influx of new people at surrounding informal settlements has worsened the community's water woes. "The infrastructure has not been upgraded to cope with the growing population," she said.

Ward 36 Councillor Mpho Kodisang said, "The municipality is trying its best to assist the community get water but it is facing challenges."

Among these challenges are the failure to pay service providers on time, or at all, said Kodisang. He said there are only six water trucks servicing the whole of Emfuleni.

According to Kodisang, the municipality struggled to pay service providers on time because of "the current attachment on its accounts, which makes it difficult to render services to the community". The accounts have been attached by the municipality's debtors which include Rand Water and Eskom.

"I have spoken to the MMC for public works in Emfuleni, indicating the challenges around water. He said they are going to find ways to address the challenges of Waterdal," said Kodisang. He said he could not give a timeline for when the issues would be resolved.

Questions sent two weeks ago to the Emfuleni Local Municipality have gone unanswered. This is despite follow-up emails, calls and messages. Rand Water also did not respond to questions by the time of publication.

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