It’s tough to be old and without water in Joburg

“I’ve fallen down carrying a bucket of water with no one here to help me”

By Silver Sibiya

19 October 2023

Elaine de Vos at the Akasia Hof subsidised accommodation in Jan Hofmeyer, Johannesburg. Photos: Silver Sibiya

Residents of South Hills, Linmeyer, Melville, Mayfair and Jan Hofmeyer in Joburg have been experiencing extended water outages, lasting up to seven weeks. In some areas residents have taken to the streets in protest. But suffering silently in their homes, elderly residents, many of whom are frail, say life has become particularly difficult for them.

The Caroline Street building in Jan Hofmeyer, owned by the City of Johannesburg, has 48 individual units to provide subsidised accommodation for the elderly. It has no special facilities, but the City does pay for security personnel and is meant to maintain the place.

“I’ve fallen down carrying a bucket of water with no one here to help me,” says Taina Molepo, a resident since 2011. “Luckily I did not suffer any serious injuries.”

She is 79. She is short of breath and has to fetch water from water tanks in the block’s yard.

“If it is not water, it is electricity. We have normalised loadshedding, but it is not easy,” she says.

“My geyser has been dead for two years and I don’t have R1,500 to fix it. Electricity is also expensive. I stay alone, but R500 does not last the whole month.”

She complains that the City does not maintain the place.

She says she would have preferred to live in an RDP house with her children and grandchildren.

“I applied for an RDP house in 1996. I saw many receive them but not me. I was told to come and stay here, because it was going to take long to get the RDP.”

Another resident, Sylvia Patric, 62, says the last few years have been hard. The Covid lockdown “was terrible”. Then increased loadshedding made life difficult. And now the water is off.

She says she had no choice but to throw away a lot of her food “because that on- and-off affects the food in the fridge”.

Vella Pedachiey pays someone to fetch water for him.

Myra De Kock turned 82 last week. “Come voting time they [will] want us to vote for them. Sorry, no votes from me, because they are not listening to us,” she tells GroundUp.

She shares a unit with Vella Pedachiey. He uses a walker and has a prosthetic leg because of a car accident in 2008. He pays someone to fetch water for them.

At nearby Akasia Hof, also City-owned, with 18 units on two floors, the water outage is in its third month. Unlike Caroline Street, it has no water tanks and residents rely on water trucks.

Resident Sandra Neethling, 68, says the lack of water has made life unbearable.

For a while they would get water briefly in the mornings, “but for the last six weeks, there is absolutely no water”. She said several residents have moved out as a result.

She says she has gone out looking for water in other areas, “but when you go there they chase you away. You can’t get water from them”.

She baths at her sister’s place in Germiston when she can.

“All we are asking for is just water,” she says.

Elaine de Vos, 77, a resident for seven years, says the water truck service is inconsistent. “I do not even wash my hair, because it requires a lot of water.”

She lives alone and has no family to visit her.

Community leader Yola Minnaar says there are about 260 elderly-headed households in the area. An organisation, Park Care, sends nurses to visit the elderly and to take them to hospital when needed. People also rely on private donors for food and clothes and other necessities. Minnaar says government ought to be helping, but “we took it upon ourselves to help where we can”.

Caroline Street has four water tanks, but more tanks are needed for other old age facilities.

Community leader Yola Minnaar on the right at the Caroline Street complex.

Ward Councillor Rickey Nair (ANC) says, “As an old person myself, I sympathise with them. I’m aware of their dire situation … The City should be helping them.”

He says the rents for the elderly are about R280 a month.

Gauteng Social Development spokesperson Nkosana Mtolo told GroundUp they would assess the situation in Caroline Street to determine how they can assist.

City human settlements department spokesperson Neo Goba said maintenance to the building currently cannot be carried out because the department has “no panel of contractors” for its compulsory “three quotations procurement system”.

He also said “some of our tenants are not paying on time across all our old age homes … resulting in repairs and maintenance not being conducted on time”.

Johannesburg Water said there are currently water interruptions at Brixton reservoir, South Hills tower and pump station, Crown Gardens, Midrand System, Alexander Park and Naturena.

Spokesperson Nombuso Shabalala said this was because of inconsistent supply from Rand Water and high demand. To mitigate this, Johannesburg Water reduces flow and pressure to 50% from 9pm to 4am to allow reservoirs and towers to refill.

Sandra Neethling (left) and Elaine de Vos in Akasia Hof, Johannesburg.