South Africa: Gangs Make Us Pay for Access to Water, Say Mamelodi Residents

Municipality confirms illegal connections to the reservoir but blames people occupying nearby land

  • Residents of Mamelodi in Tshwane say gangsters have been controlling access to their local water reservoir in exchange for money.
  • The Tshwane Mayor visited the reservoir this week and blamed land occupiers for the illegal connections.
  • The City plans to evict occupiers living around the reservoir to prevent the illegal connections.
  • But the residents say it is gangsters tapping into the water supply and selling it.

Residents of Ikageng, Nkandla informal settlement and other parts of Mamelodi say they are being held to ransom by gangsters who control access to water.

They say the gangsters demand money for water from the local reservoir.

They say the extortionists are members of two local gangs known as Boko Haram, who are active in west Mamelodi, and Farasah, who operate in townships in the east.

A Community Police Forum member, who asked not to be identified, told GroundUp that the gangs have been terrorising residents for years.

“Two weeks ago, I heard the gangs are now collecting fees from Nkandla informal settlement residents who don’t have water. They tell them to pay money so they will divert water from the reservoir to the settlement. That is extortion.”

GroundUp visited Ikageng last week and found pensioners and young children fetching water from a municipal water tanker.

Pensioner Isaac Kgatla said they often had no water in Ikageng between 9am and 5pm. Standing with the wheelbarrow filled with plastic containers to collect water, Kgatla said Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi and ANC Secretary General Fikile Mbalula had visited Ikageng in March 2023 to address them on the water and other service delivery issues. “They promised to fix it but that did not happen,” he said.

Another resident, Esau Mnyakeni said, “We protested and brought this area to standstill but it only leads to promises which are never fulfilled. It’s hard living without water. On weekends we can’t even flush toilets, it’s too bad.”

Senior Private Investigator Calvin Rafadi, who works closely with local investigating officers, believes that “Tshwane is under siege” by what he calls the “water mafia” who target contractors who provide water tankers.

“This affects the time it takes for people to get water. These groups also target construction contractors and operate in Mamelodi, Nellmapius, Mahube Valley and Bronkhorstspruit,” he said.

He said residents are too scared to come forward to report many of the extortion incidents.

Gauteng SAPS Commissioner Elias Mawela told GroundUp that police were “on the tails” of some of these criminals.

“This thing of extortion didn’t start now. The Boko Haram gang started extorting money from shops owned by foreign nationals.

“There was a time we had a water-tight case, but it fell flat because complainants were no longer cooperative. But we are still calling for people to come forward with the information so we can deal with them,” Mawela said.

City of Tshwane Mayor Cilliers Brink visited the reservoir this week and blamed people occupying land near the reservoir for water shortages.

“It is fundamentally unfair that illegal connections and land invasions lead to paying consumers in places such as Mamelodi not having water at high peak times,” he said. He said illegal connections to water infrastructure reduced the level of water in the dam. “I get old people who pay their accounts who say they have to get up at 1AM just to have water because of illegal connections.”

“Yes, the municipality has let this happen. We all let this happen. We want a perimeter fence before the end of February,” Brink said.

City spokesperson Lindela Mashigo also confirmed that they “continuously remove illegal connections made to the reservoir’s feed”.

Mashigo said they could not say whether gangs were responsible for the connections.

The City has begun legal proceedings to evict people living at informal settlements around the reservoir “as a permanent measure to deal with the illegal connections”, he said.

Meanwhile, two people made a brief appearance at the Mamelodi Magistrates Court on Tuesday, 30 January on charges related to extortion.

They were arrested earlier this month after GroundUp reported that gang members had hijacked government-owned Nellmapius Heatherly flats in Mamelodi East, Tshwane. They were forcing residents to pay them R500 monthly and had sold apartments illegally for up to R20,000.

After the publication of our story on 11 January, eight suspects were arrested. Two appeared in court on 15 January. During the brief hearing, the court heard that one of the accused was apparently still sending threats to residents from prison.

The matter was postponed until 6 February.

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