Edited by  Megan O’Connor

Alwyn Nicolaas Marais (Nico) has many years in the plumbing industry and with the recent amputation of his leg, Nico shares his challenging but inspirational story of the past year, as well as his current situation.

Marius van Wyk and Gerrie Botha of IOPSA presenting the cheque to Nico Marais. Image supplied by © Rory Macnamara | Plumbing Africa

Marius van Wyk and Gerrie Botha of IOPSA presenting the cheque to Nico Marais. Image supplied by © Rory Macnamara | Plumbing Africa

What spiked your interest in becoming a plumber?

It all started at a very young age in the days before cell phones, Xboxes and online gaming – when we still used to play outside in the dirt, making roads and building bridges for our toy cars. I started adding dams and rivers by opening the garden tap just enough not to flood my streets. As I got older, I was fascinated with the history and workings of aqueducts, water wheels, drydocks and hydroelectric powerplants, as well as all the different height, pressure, flowrate and restriction factors that need to be kept in mind when working with water systems.

How did you become a plumber?

The Technical High School that I attended did not have plumbing as a subject, so I had to resort to my second interest – Electrical. After finishing my matric, I couldn’t find a company right away to start my apprenticeship, so I decided to go and do my National Service. But life works in mysterious ways… I met a girl and when I went to meet her parents, her dad happened to be the owner of Midlandia Plumbing. I started my apprenticeship with them, completed my N2 plumbing Theory at Bethelsdorp Technical College, did my pre-trade practical at ETC and then my Trade Test in 1997 at BIFSA in Cape Town.

After qualifying, what did you do?

After I qualified, I started my own plumbing business, but soon realised that running my own business took a lot more than just plumbing knowledge. I learnt that the training we receive, does not equip one with management, admin or financial skills. So eight years into my business, I started studying after hours, skilling myself in business management, profitability management, industrial relations and Pastel. Soon after I finished my studies, a leading plumbing-material retail franchise group was looking for a Retail Manager, and I made the decision to sell my company and join the franchise group. After ten years in the office, I realised that my heart yearned to go back to having my hands dirty, so I went back to my first passion – now equipped with product knowledge, planning and people relations skills. I had been back on sites for about five years when I had my “accident.”

As a recently disabled person, how is your role in plumbing affected, if at all?

A large part of being a craftsman is mobility and balance –being able to squeeze yourself into that acquit corner, working on a ladder, on a roof or in a ceiling. These skills are perfected with years of experience. Being a recently disabled person with an above-knee amputation and prosthetic leg, my mobility and balancing skills have been severely compromised. This will improve over time, but I am learning new ways of doing many things. Most importantly, I need to learn and accept my limitations – but I will NEVER use that as an excuse before I have explored all safe possibilities. My greatest contributor to going from losing my leg to being back in the field within seven months, is a positive mindset and always pushing myself past possibility.

What is you driving force?

I believe that the obstacles we face in our lives are the best time for growth. I might have a prosthetic leg, but I also have a healthy leg, two healthy arms and hands attached to a strong, healthy body. I am blessed with a sharp mind that has a huge archive of information, years of experience and a strong spirit. I am an excellent craftsman with a great reputation and clean audit record. I am not going to let my prosthetic define me.

What advice would you give to those aspiring to be plumbers or thinking about plumbing as a career?

With the introduction of IOPSA and PIRB into our industry, we have raised the bar to being a respected, professional and controlled industry. An industry that expects nothing less than honesty and excellence. An industry that expects you to better yourself with available training material online and practical courses for CPD. We are an industry that guarantee and honour our quality craftmanship with a COC. This is an industry for people who are not afraid of hard work and late nights. I can make this promise to anyone aspiring to join the industry: if you have a passion for excellence, you will reap the rewards of this industry and become a part of an intellectual and satisfying family.

Nico at work. Image supplied by Nico Marais

Nico at work. Image supplied by Nico Marais

Nico’s story

I have been working as a domestic, commercial, industrial and maintenance plumber for the last 25 years. With the birth of IOPSA (Southern Cape), I was afforded the privilege to be a part of the committee. Years later, I have also assisted the local plumbers with their PIRB registrations, being a PIRB registered plumber myself (0393/97).

An old sport injury escalated after a car accident in 2022. After two unsuccessful operations, in January 2023, the specialist decided it best to amputate my left leg above the knee, due to the deterioration of tissue and muscle mass caused by compromised blood flow. With no medical aid, my current employer and sister, Ebeth and Wynand Vosloo of South Cape Plumbing and Electrical Services immediately started a private fundraiser among family, friends and customers to cover the costs of a prosthetic leg, and took me in to take care of me. An amount of R19 500 was raised.

When Marius van Wyk, ex IOPSA SC Chairman, got word of my medical situation and the fundraiser, he immediately jumped on board, extending the fundraiser to IOPSA, its members and suppliers. An amount of R45 500 was raised. Family of mine, Desiré and Suanda Fouché, whose son is also an amputee, contacted their Orthopedist who didn’t hesitate to get involved as a sponsor. The Fouche’s also opened their home to me for the duration of my rehabilitation and transported me to all of my appointments. Marius Moolman of MNP Orthopaedics Inc. didn’t only assist by supplying all parts of the prosthetic at cost with no labour charge, but also did a personal donation of R20 000 to upgrade the quoted knee to a better functional knee. Marius Moolman referred me to Annemie Erasmus of Annemie Erasmus Physiotherapy who assisted with my rehabilitation for three weeks, free of charge. That was definitely some of the most challenging weeks of my life, but thanks to Annemie’s positive and caring spirit, paired with her expertise in amputee rehabilitation, I managed to walk out of her practice assisted with only one crutch after the three weeks.

Currently, I am safely back in Mossel Bay and back at work. At home, new routines are being shaped daily, from getting dressed to daily chores. Being back at work is challenging, but also exciting. I am learning and accepting my limitations, whilst re-developing old skills that are now affected by mobility. I am also learning when it is easier to remove the prosthetic to get into those hard-to-get positions and spaces that only plumbers understand.

Unfortunately, my current knee and lack of an ankle only allow me to walk on level terrains, so until I have raised the next R150 000 for an even better knee and ankle, I will not be able to operate on building sites with uneven terrain. But I am staying positive that donations will still come in to better my situation.

Every morning I get up and put on my prosthetic, and my heart overflows with gratitude all over again. Thank you to every person, institute and organisation that contributed to giving me a second chance at life. Thank you for all of your financial and physical support and prayers. I would like to extend my gratitude to the following people and organisations:

  • Family, friends and customers
  • Desiré and Suanda Fouché
  • IOPSA members and plumbing partners
  • Mossel Bay Municipality
  • Ebeth and Wynand Vosloo – South Cape Plumbing
  • Marius van Wyk – Stefmar Plumbing
  • Marius Moolman – MNP Orthopaedics [+27 (0) 41 365 0425]
  • Annemarie Erasmus – Annemie Erasmus Physiotherapy [+27 (0) 79 176 5656 ]
Donations can be paid directly to:

MNP Orthopaedics Inc.

Practice Number: 087000319473 Business Reg Number: 2003/015095/21 VAT Number: 4260251758

Tel: +27 (0) 41 365 0425

Fax: +27 (0) 41 364 3764

Cell: +27 (0) 79 784 4002

Email: berenice@mnporthopaedics.com

Banking details

Nedbank 1029597642

Newton Park 198765

Reference: 102340 NICO