The residents of Johannesburg should tap into a better mayor

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By Howard Feldman, Synthesis

The question is not how many engineers it takes to change a light bulb, but rather how many Rand Water engineers it takes to open a tap? Perhaps a better question is how many days it should take the city of Johannesburg to do so.

In yet another “you can’t make this up” story of ineptitude and chaos in the Johannesburg metro, it transpired earlier this week that some Johannesburg suburbs had been left without water for nine days because a tap had been switched off. It took nine days with no water for technicians to find that the fault was simple: a valve was closed and needed to be opened.

Johannesburg Water said the Rand Water Waterval system was not showing flows going through the meter. In what must have been desperation and embarrassment, they found a smarter way to say the same thing:

“Johannesburg Water teams conducted field investigations, taking pressure readings from their reservoirs along the pipe route up to the Rand Water Waterval dam meter (RW Waterval reservoir), while RW teams were conducting investigations on the supply pipe coming from the Meredale system.

The tap had been turned off.

“The valve was found in a closed position and was subsequently opened.”

It’s fair to say that we have all done this. After my home internet hadn’t worked for a number of days, I lashed out (abused)  my service provider, who on the same day as my teenage-like tantrum, sent a technician to check what was wrong. I am embarrassed to say that it was a matter of plugging the cable that had unplugged itself. I did apologise to them, only to be told that this happened way more than I could imagine.

The difference was that this impact was on my household and not on thousands of people. And no one went thirsty or contracted Cholera from it.

I am not the only one who is appalled. Ward councillor Nicole van Dyk confirmed being told about the issue.

“They had not opened up the valve, a massive valve, and once they did, water started flowing through. Rand Water needs to be engaged on this. There needs to be some type of punitive measure, and there needs to be some kind of accountability,” she said.

It is a strong and appropriate message, but accountability is unfortunately not something that the city of Johannesburg is familiar with.

Johannesburg is in decline and needs urgent intervention. What is potentially a beautiful city, has slided into decay at an alarming rate. The state of the roads, parks, traffic lights (load shedding aside), pavements, vegetation and garbage should be an embarrassment to the mayor of the largest city in the country.

Only it doesn’t seem to be. Earlier in the week mayor Kabelo Gwamanda called a  hastily-arranged meeting with ward councillors as the water shortage crisis in the city deepened. 

The meeting on Tuesday night came as Joburg residents entered a second week without water, with some people in various areas threatening to take to the streets and protest.

The water crisis seem to have affected essential services including the Randburg Fire Station, which did not have water when a fire broke out at a house about a kilometre away.

Employees at the fire station said a water tanker had to drive 12 km from Florida (mercifully not in the USA) to put out the blaze.

“We don’t have our own fire engine and we currently do not have water. When the fire was reported to us, we had to call Florida to assist with a water tanker and it took them some time to get here. Luckily, nobody was injured. Our tankers don’t have water,” said the employee. 

It’s a pity no one at Rand Water had thought to turn on the tap.

The residents of the city deserve better. They deserve a mayor who is focussed on Johannesburg, who has experience and who is prepared to put in the work to make it place to be proud of. The residents deserve a mayor who is not a political puppet, but someone committed to the betterment of the lives of those who live her.

For too long, Johannesburg has been a victim of political powerplays that have had no winners. It’s time for Kabelo Gwamanda to do the honourable thing and to resign. Or to face his taps being turned off.