Tshwane shack dwellers say extortion gangs make them pay for water

Municipality says it’s unaware of this

By Jabulile Mbatha

16 April 2024

Most people have containers in their yards, ready to collect water.

Every day a Phomolong crèche owner has to drive five kilometres out of the area to fill plastic containers with water at her local church.

The Phomolong informal settlement in Mamelodi, Pretoria has no running water in its standpipes. The municipality does send water trucks, but residents say they are often expected to pay for water from the trucks.

The crèche owner, who has lived in the settlement since 2004, says a gang called Boko Haram is making people pay. But, she says, residents are afraid to speak up. Her name has been removed for her protection.

“People are scared to even say their name. Here, people are afraid to put their heads up and complain, because if you do, then you are in trouble,” she said.

She said her crèche accommodates 30 children and needs a lot of water daily. “I have to take a car every day and to drive to my church in Lusaka,” she said.

In February, we reported that residents of Ikageng, Nkandla informal settlement and other parts of Mamelodi had been held to ransom by Boko Haram gang members demanding money for water from the local reservoir.

A Phomolong resident who asked not to be named said the driver of a municipal water truck had asked her for money when she went to collect water. She did not pay because she could not afford it but most shop owners and tavern owners paid, she said.

Another resident who also did not want to be named said he had seen how people who speak out against the Boko Haram gang are intimidated at gunpoint. “They will always find you. I cannot be known for speaking out,” he said.

He says he has to survive on 25-litres of water a week. “I bath, cook and wash dishes with that one bucket.”

Ofentse Madzebatela, the City’s MMC for Human Settlements, said he did not know of criminals charging for water. He urged people to report such incidents.

Madzebatela said illegal water connections from the R3 and R4 reservoirs are the reason some standpipes in Phomolong have no water. “The illegal connection to the bulk water line from the reservoir has affected pressure and flow of water. The City has a plan to address all illegal connections.”

We asked Gauteng police spokesperson Brenda Muridili if any cases of illegal sale of water had been reported. She said no.

“There has been a water crisis affecting different areas in Mamelodi East, dating back four years. Members of the public have in the past been encouraged to report any incidents of extortion to the police for a thorough investigation to take place and for the perpetrators to be brought to book,” she said.