THE threat of water restrictions in Johannesburg being escalated to level three looms if residents do not use the resource carefully as the city grapples with shortages triggered by a heat wave.
But Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Pravin Gordhan downplayed the situation on Thursday and said that it had not reached crisis proportions.
“None of this is about crisis.… We have a problem, but we can’t describe everything as a crisis — a crisis is when something is really unmanageable,” he said.
The heat wave, which has seen temperatures soar to 39.8°C in Pretoria and 36.5°C elsewhere in Gauteng, has seen parts of Johannesburg experiencing water shortages because of demand. The increased water use left the city’s Brixton, Crown Gardens and South Hills water towers dry.
City officials sent water tanks to Rahima Moosa Hospital in Coronationville, Helen Joseph Hospital, Sandton, Ennerdale, and Langlaagte as taps dried up in the areas.
Mr Gordhan, speaking at a City of Johannesburg briefing about the water situation, was at pains to point out that Gauteng is not experiencing a drought.
The province is expected to be hotly contested in next year’s local government elections and the governing party’s share of the vote was eroded in last year’s national poll. It is unclear whether this has influenced officials’ eagerness to allay public fears about the water situation.
“The drought and the issues we have in Johannesburg are not connected. There is extraordinary demand, which we have to cope with,” Mr Gordhan said.
City of Johannesburg official Matshidiso Mfikoe said that water restrictions would be escalated to level three if residents did not use the resource sparingly.
Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau urged residents to cut back on water use so that the city could replenish its supply. “It is estimated that 46% of domestic water supply is used for gardening, ” he said.
Water scientist Anthony Turton said: “The bottom line is that we are living through one of the worst droughts in 20 years.”
The government needed to be transparent and ensure information was readily available, he said.
Democratic Alliance councillor Amanda Forsythe said the government had been “reactive”.
“It is irresponsible for both (Mr Gordhan) and (Mr Tau) to brush this off as an incident that is not going to happen again,” said Ms Forsythe.
AgriSA president Johannes Möller said farmers were holding meetings to discuss ways to deal with the drought.
There was not enough money to help all farmers, but whatever was available needed to be stretched and used smartly, he said. Mr Möller commended the government for availing parts of its land for grazing.
Meanwhile, the Gauteng department of education has asked district directors to provide it with lists of schools that have been affected by water disruptions.
The department is also in discussion with Johannesburg’s disaster management centre on ways to provide water to affected schools.