Out of service – sorry!

By: Helgard Muller

Why are there so many ‘out of order’ toilets in South Africa?

Most of us would have paid several visits to shopping malls over the past festive season. They are normally upgraded regularly and the toilets are in a reasonable condition although I sometimes battle to understand the respective graphic indications for male and female as well as the intricate workings of fancy taps that the architects or interior designers introduced.

My problem is more glaringly obvious in the thousands of so called ‘venues’ that are sprawled across the country – whether it is a wedding venue, conference venue or meeting venue – where you will find a number of toilets or urinals out of order. Not even to mention the outdoor venues such as parks, visitors’ centres, and municipal caravan parks where at least one-third to half of the toilets will have ‘out of order – sorry’ or ‘not working’, and sometimes a weak ‘management apologises for the inconvenience’ message written in broad black marker letters. And then at your next visit it will be another two or more out of service – it would be rare to find all of them working. The fuelling stations along our national roads such as the Star Stops, Engen One Stops and Shell Ultra Cities may have an excuse for non-functioning toilets as they are sometimes literally swamped by hundreds of people passing through. But where does the problem lie for the bulk of these non-functioning toilets and urinals?

It cannot be a shortage of qualified plumbers and plumbing companies as the December copy of this magazine as usual carried a long and impressive list of able plumbing companies represented by the Institute of Plumbing of South Africa (IOPSA). There are several listed under the headings of cisterns, concealed cisterns, toilets and urinals. Many licensed and qualified plumbers are registered with the Plumbing Industry Registration Board (PIRB). So the capacity is clearly at hand.

Is it a design problem where the architectural and wastewater flow designs are too complicated for maintenance – all the necessary washers and valves hidden behind a gleaming row of pretty Italian tiles – but inaccessible to the poor plumber? Or not specifically designed to be vandal-resistant and applicable in high traffic situations?

Does the problem originate from the very same management that ‘apologised’ for the inconvenience by means of a bold sign across the broken toilet but a management that is so isolated from the problem in the toilets that they simply do not know or cannot care less?

Read the full feature in Plumbing Africa February 2016,page 34.

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