Saturday, February 23, 2013


Please indulge me as I leave my adopted homeland. I'm writing a series called
"Top Ten Things I Would Have Never Said in America" 

Bessie and a Friend carry buckets to my car
4. The township doesn't have water again.

When we first came to Africa I strained to see the first sight of it out the window from the plane.  At first sight, Africa looked like Sacramento, the place I had come from.

I was flying into Oliver Tambo in Johannesburg, one of the first world airports of Africa. I would later see the “other Johannesburg" – the townships. 

During the Apartheid Era (1948 to 1994) in South Africa, blacks were evicted from properties that were in areas designated as "white only" and forced to move into government assigned areas according to their race.  With the Group Areas Act, separate townships were established for each of the three designated non-white race groups (blacks, coloureds and Indians).

Apartheid ended in 1994, but the townships stayed.  In them is an interesting mix of people from all over (the Cape, Zimbabwe, Limpopo, etc).  They have all come to Johannesburg to work; and they are poor.
Darrell with a friend in Diepsloot

To work in Johannesburg means a good wage, but you have to survive the living conditions.  Unless you are like Lorraine, who lives on our property, you can’t afford much in Joburg.  Rental costs are high and the neighborhoods, no longer segregated by race; now segregated by economic status.  Like all places.

Before you start thinking how terrible things are, I can witness to you that the township is not all bad.  There is life and joy and beauty in its corners.  It is a place where families live and there is laughter and music and soccer played in the streets.  There are also many, many opportunities to minister the Gospel.  There are many opportunities to help. 

There are many people who offer to pray for you.

Diepsloot is serviced by the mega-organization (mega disorganization) of the Municipality of Joburg.  The garbage pickups, electricity and water supply are organized through them. 

There is often a problem.

For most of us, City Power is a pain in the butt.  They provide sub-standard service and have too few generators for South Africa’s biggest city.  Diepsloot has primitive wiring and many times neighbors “share” power (illegal and dangerous) so often times the power goes out with no notice.

It can stay off for days.  No worries, its residents are originally rural residents, used to living without electricity and can cook with paraffin stoves or gas stoves.  Or open fires. 

Diepsloot’s water supply comes from the Olivedale reservoir system, 27 kilometers west of the township. The rapid growth of Diepsloot since 2000 had placed a burden on the existing water infrastructure.

If you are an average resident of Diepsloot your relationship with water is this way:  You wake up, go outside with your 20 liter bucket, collect water from a community tap and bring it inside of your house.  Once you have done this, you use the water for a tub bath for you and your family and heat some up to make tea.  If there is leftover water, you cover it and it stays there for later. 

Most people make two trips in the morning to the community tap, two trips in the afternoon.  The 20 liter bucket is the “tap” inside of your place. 

Many times something goes wrong and the water supply is shut off.

No one can live without water. 

Last year the  tap water must have been shut off fifteen times.   In public statements, Joburg water apologizes saying residents could make use of mobile water tankers dotted throughout the township.  Two water tanks are usually put next to the clinics in extension two and seven.

The worst incident of “no water” in Diepsloot happened last year when there was contamination by sewerage due to a maintenance accident.

"Contractors working on a sewerage line out of Diepsloot damaged a water main, creating a strong risk that the water supply would become contaminated," a spokesman said. 

I knew better. 

The contractors that Joburg Water give to Diepsloot for maintenance are people who have to speak Zulu and Sotho.  They are most likely township guys themselves.  The residents near the “accident” say that the lines were joined –sewage to fresh water – by a less-than trained guy working with a partner who was on his cell phone the whole time. 

I have a limited perspective, but in all of my years here I have never, never, never seen a proper “water maintenance” project happening in Diepsloot.  They are the least of these here in the city. 

To illustrate this, Johannesburg Water and Rand Water signed a joint venture agreement in 2006 to build a “bulk supply pipeline” from Pretoriusrand to Diepsloot at a cost of about R11-million.

11 million rand translation? One million, three hundred thousand dollars.  One million dollars for two hundred thousand residents.  Wow.  Real humanitarians.

Kids play in front of their home.
I am appalled at the attention the townships get from the City.  I can’t stand it.  It makes me seethe with anger…

After it happened I received a call from Forget, a home group leader in extension 11 of Diepsloot.  She wanted to know if we could help her fill her buckets somewhere else.  I have a car. 

In one day we filled sixty buckets at Mother Touch Academy, a local preschool that ministers to Diepsloot and its residents.  It was one of the best days of my life.

Seeing the beauty and optimism of its people, their familiarity with suffering and tolerance of sub-standard service inspired me.  The people I helped that day acted like I was such a blessing.  In reality, they are the blessing.  They remind me that we are not owed anything; each precious drop of water from my tap is a gift. 
We have filled many, many buckets outside of Diepsloot in the six years we have been here.  Each time we do, I am angry and inspired.  I hate the conditions; I am inspired by the people.

As you drink your glass of water today, remember that it is a gift.  It is not a guaranteed something; it isn’t something everyone in the world has. 

Buckets waiting to be filled at the water line in Diepsloot 
And my heart breaks…

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