by TINTSWALO BALOYI
SOWETO – THE violent protest over lack of water in the Protea Glen area of Soweto gives credence to the impression that South African authorities respond to citizen’s grievances only when issues degenerate into violence.
There were ugly scenes at the area as residents barricaded the busy R558 highway with rocks and burning tyres days after taps ran dry.
Protea Glen and some surrounding areas have not had water for between three and four days as Joburg Water (JW) cut supplies to aid in the search of the missing Khayalethu Magadla, who reportedly fell into a sewer manhole on June 12.
While most residents initially pledged solidarity with the six-year-old’s family and expressed support to search teams, tempers flared when it became unclear when supplies would be restored.
At the same time, Protea Glen was enduring the second power cut of the day (12pm to 2pm) as Eskom ramped up load shedding to Stage 4. Power went off again at 8pm.
JW only exacerbated matters by not clarifying when normal water service would resume.
The organisation only promised to send tankers to affected areas.
Winding queues formed at the makeshift water points but tankers were either nowhere to be seen, late or had insufficient water for the highly populated areas.
This lit the powder keg as some residents, including some that spent hours in queues took to the streets.
The situation was still tense between last Friday and weekend with some residents doubting reports they would be reconnected in the evening.
“Maybe this (violence) is the language they understand,” said a man protesting at the R558, at Protea Extension 29.
The Johannesburg Metropolitan Department (JMPD) dissuaded motorists from using the road, which links Johannesburg to Randfontein.
“Traffic disruptions going to and coming from Randfontein,” JMPD tweeted.
A local councilor, Phelelani Sindane, disclosed some trucks had to drive back to the Joburg Water depot because of the road closure.
Soweto, a largely impoverished township west of Johannesburg, is synonymous with service delivery protests.
It is the country’s largest township.
President Cyril Ramaphosa was booed twice in Soweto last year- when he launched the African National Congress (ANC) campaign when he cast his vote in the municipal elections.
Last July, numerous shopping malls in the township were looted as South Africa suffered civil unrest after the jailing of former president, Jacob Zuma.
“The only language you (authorities) all understand is us demolishing properties and burning the (water) tanks,” said Axolile Ndevu.
There was an increased presence of police around Protea Glen on Friday to curtail the situation.
JW asked for calm.
“JW would like to plead with customers, especially in Protea, for calmness so that we can get in and supply water.”
The agency assured, “Residents are informed that everyone will have water by tomorrow (Saturday).”
Ntokozo Mhlanga, a resident, said, “Tomorrow it is then, we have been patient enough. This search cannot continue to stop the lives of citizens.”
Some residents interviewed were wary of health hazards.
Bathing, cooking and drinking water became a luxury.
“We are now forced to make our own plans which are already costing us, especially those without transport just so our pregnant wives and young kids can have fresh water to drink and bathe,” lamented Musanda Vhafuwi.
The resident added, “Our elderly need to take medication. Others are chronic. We need to cook.
Another said, “This is now a health hazard.”
“Imagine all the germs due to days without water. Now there is a new virus (monkeypox). On top of that, you (JW) want us to gather at your limited water supply tanks. You want to kill us,” he said.
It is no longer mandatory to wear face masks at gatherings. South Africa on Wednesday reported its first monkeypox case on Thursday.
While a majority in Protea and Dobsonville bore the brunt of lack of water, neighbouring areas like Lenasia and Zuuberkom cashed in.
A survey by CAJ News Africa established some households in those endowed areas were charging R20 to fill a 20-litre bucket.
At a grocery store at the Protea Glen Mall, mineral water ran out.
A woman was seen taking the last six remaining bottles.
Only the flavoured water remained available.
Meanwhile, on Friday evening, JW officials and authorities from the Emergency Management Services and South African Police Service continued with the search for the young Magadla.
“JW further pleads with the community for support, understanding and patience as the team focuses on the search and recovery of the body of the missing boy,” JW stated.
Lihle Zwide, a resident, summed up the prevailing sentiment.
“We hope they find the body of the child,” she said.
“The community supports the search. The problem is our leaders keep failing to plan and communicate, let alone acting early if there’s an emergency.”
“Our councillors are mere decorations with big stomachs, closed minds and open mouths,” Zwide blasted.
– CAJ News