Toilet topples over, trapping woman inside

A concrete public toilet in a Cape Town informal settlement fell over while a resident was using it

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Photo of a toilet
Vuyiswa Nofuma had to be rescued from this concrete toilet when it toppled over with the door side face down. Photo: Thandi Jolingana

“I screamed for dear life,” says Vuyiswa Nofuma. The resident of Taiwan informal settlement was trapped in a toilet when the concrete structure toppled over on Monday morning with her inside.

“The toilet had fallen face down leaving me trapped. Luckily, there were some neighbours sitting nearby drinking. They heard me, saw the toilet, and quickly fetched spades to dig around the toilet in order to turn the toilet to its side and get me out,” she says.

Nofuma says she has been using the flush toilet, which is a few metres from her home, for five years.

“When the toilet fell, I landed on my left arm hurting my shoulder and the toilet pot broke falling on my leg,” she says. “I had seen that it was not properly attached to the ground, but I had no idea that it was completely loose. When I was done and turned around to flush, I felt it tipping over. I tried holding on, but couldn’t. I crouched, covering my face and head with my arms and hands.”

Community leader Thandi Jolingana said, “Most of the toilets that we use here are unstable and are not pinned properly to the ground. We have reported this to the City of Cape Town since last year, along with toilets that leak or that are broken. But it seems that our reports go unheard because the toilets have not been fixed yet. Even cleaning them, we have to do that ourselves.”

“What happened to Vuyiswa was so unfortunate and dangerous, she could have been badly hurt,” said Jolingana. “I am really worried about the children who play around and next to these toilets.”

When GroundUp visited, a toilet nearby stood skew, seemingly on the verge of falling over.

GroundUp reported in June this year that Taiwan informal settlement was to get new flush toilets and a new sewer pipeline. The City had budgeted R6.6 million.

Mayoral Committee Member for Informal Settlements, Water and Waste Services Councillor Xanthea Limberg said the City was unaware of the incident but it would be investigated, and that there were no “complaints on record related to the issue of unstable toilets in Taiwan.”

On the new toilets, Limberg said, “Progress is slow due to challenging conditions on the ground. The anticipated start date for installation is February 2019 after the bulk sewer main has been completed.”

“Regarding the installation of full flush toilets, the City’s informal settlements department will engage with community leaders, the ward councillor, the subcouncil and other role-players to identify and finalise the positions of the proposed toilets. We can only determine the quantity after consulting with the community and ward councillor to identify possible locations. Our plan is to install as many toilets as possible depending on the space available,” said Limberg.

Limberg said due to a change in ownership of the company which provided inoculations of janitors, the City had to terminate the tender, which meant there were currently no janitors to clean the toilets.

Monday’s incident has left Nofuma with a painful, bruised and swollen left arm. “I work in a factory and my duties include carrying boxes. I cannot manage that now because I cannot use my left arm; it’s too painful. I also limp when I walk because my right leg got hit by the toilet pot,” says Nofuma.

With the toilet she normally uses broken, Nofuma is using a bucket at night. She empties it in the morning in the blue Mshengu portable toilets which are quite a distance from her home. She said the other flush toilets were locked by other residents.

TOPICS:  Sanitation

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