Cape Town - It’s unusual to meet five fellows who are actually enthusiastic about sewage.
Yet, there they were, sitting around a conference table, smiling faces. They were five, because the sixth is away in the Northern Cape. But there’s still enough enthusiasm in the room to sicken the cynic, especially on a rainy, cold morning.
It is interesting to see a chief executive officer and five marketers making up a business. But it is good, because without marketing, the technical guys won’t have much to be technical about.
Chief executive officer Piet Nel, new business development director Wikus Muller and Marcus Banga, who is now based in Kimberley, had a bright idea – how to dispose of black and grey water sewage off the municipal grid. After lots of coffee and late nights, they found their brainchild worked. They called it the Bubbler Water Efficiency System and patented it.
They asked Anwar Jakoet to join them as a marketer, Otto Duvenage as their national marketing man and Wikus’s son, Wessel, as their regional marketer. Banga is now promoting the Bubbler in the northern regions of the country.
Back in the old days, people squatted behind a bush and then did not walk behind that bush for a while. Later, when people ran out of bushes, some bright spark dug a hole. And so it went on. The Romans got really clever, realising they could divert water to carry off the evidence. They also soon found it was a good idea to let this evidence flow back into the river from where the water came, downstream from where they collected their drinking water.
When people ran out of downstream and out of sea for outflows, they realised they would have to treat the waste. Outside cities and towns, special treatment plants were set up and underground sewage lines were directed here.
But those are difficult to move and inflexible when it comes to new connections. And where housing is informal, connections simply are not possible.
Enter the Bubbler. Once again, it goes back to digging a hole. But this time, you put a tank in it. Inside the tank, there is the Bubbler unit, a cleverly designed cartridge containing pipes of specific diameter through which air is pumped.
When the tank is full of black water or grey water, or both, the aerator pump is switched on and air moves into the bubbler. The bubbler produces bubbles, obviously, which constantly stirs the water inside the tank in a specific way.
Add the right, beneficial bacteria. Together with the air brought in by the Bubbler, the bacteria digests all the bad stuff in the black and grey water, leaving the active bacterial froth at the top of the water, clean water (not potable though) in the middle and inert sediment at the bottom. The clean water leaves the tank in good enough condition to be drained into the ground water, or circulated back into the cisterns of the toilets it supports. Or even be used for irrigation.
It began to rain later on that cold Friday when we stood at the corrugated iron shack of Nolihle Baliso, her husband, Philemon, and two children in an informal settlement area of Khayelitsha.
Muller and Jakoet, pictured, enthusiastically explain the system, which is attached to Baliso’s home and that of three neighbours. There is no smell, unlike the chemical toilets at the surrounding homes. The Bubbler toilets can also be moved inside a house, which is much safer for the residents.
With few moving parts, the Bubbler is low maintenance. The tank, in Baliso’s case, is made of strong plastic. It only needs to be cleared of the sediment in 10 or 15 years’ time, and only the small air pump needs electricity.
Muller is adamant the system is better than any alternative.
“It works like any normal toilet that can flush. The system is much more cost-effective than the chemical toilet contracts the city currently uses. It has been approved by Water Affairs and it is environmentally safe,” he said. “The best of all is, it is also flexible. It can be moved and added on to as required. It is a completely South African thing and it gives people their dignity back.”