What will the World Plumbing Conference’s impact be on Africa?

By Shelley Galliver

Originally it was believed the conference would serve as a ‘gateway to Africa’. It would be able to show the world just how advanced Africa is in terms of our understanding of the plumbing industry, products, standards, specifications, as well as sustainability when it comes to water scarcity.

Likewise, it was believed that since the World Plumbing Conference was coming to Africa, plumbers across the continent would attend the conference to learn more about cutting-edge ideas from influential and knowledgeable industry speakers.

Now as we near the event, we have to question whether these beliefs are being realised.

The gateway to Africa? Yes, the rest of the world does regard South Africa as being the ‘mothership’ of Africa, but I don’t believe that what people are being exposed to at this international event (hosted in the most cosmopolitan city in South Africa) will truly showcase Africa. Likewise, people will not be exploring the rest of the country — let alone the continent — while they are here. If anything, a few more days and their foreign currency will be spent at all the tourist attractions of the fair city.

Will they believe that South Africa is a leader in the industry in terms of standards and specifications and is taking sustainability seriously? If the speakers are South African, perhaps. Let us hope they have great topics and make a great impression. Does it matter what they believe about Africa? Probably not.

Then are the plumbers from Africa attending the event since it is so much closer to their borders than the other places that have hosted the event? I don’t believe they are. The biggest problem is that most African countries do not have registered plumbers — in some instances no plumbing qualification or certification even exists. So the chances are they don’t even know the event is happening. And where they do know about the event, did they hear about it from their merchants? They would probably feel out of their depth by attending. Even though the cost may seem reasonable in a global context, for a local African plumber to pay the conference fee, hotel accommodation, flight tickets to Johannesburg and then to Cape Town — and not to mention the loss of income for the days not spent working — suddenly this is not a cheap exercise anymore. I don’t think the average plumber would understand the return on investment.

So as successful as I believe this event will be, I am not sure the impact will be felt in Africa. I believe the African plumbers will be missing out on a potential learning experience, and I don’t believe we have enough time to convey this communication to everyone who needs to hear it.

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