A retired auditor and businessman ‘Ben Mfazwe’ has come up with an innovative idea to combat the challenges of drought and sanitation in rural areas by creating a toilet that cleans itself without using a single drop of water.
The Andyloo, as the toilet is called, is believed to be a first of its kind and has taken Ben Mfazwe 12 years to put together.
Mfazwe spent valuable time away from his family working in his garage in the posh suburb of Sterling in East London, trying to design and build the toilet.
“One time when I was doing some auditing work in the Lesotho highlands, I saw the problem of sanitation there and also in rural areas around the country. I was surprised to learn that South Africa does not have enough water and imports this scarce resource from Lesotho.
“Then I asked myself: When we run out of water one day, would I want to relieve myself in the bushes? That’s when the idea to design a toilet that does not use water came about,” said Mfazwe, who is originally from a rural part of the Eastern Cape.
“When we grew up in Cala, we used to relieve ourselves in the bushes, like many other rural village people,” he said.
Mfazwe said the Andyloo – a portmanteau word containing fragments of his two children’s first names, daughter Andisiwe and his son Loyiso – was initially for his own use only, but now that the product had been completed and tested, he wanted to share it with the rest of the world.
He described the toilet as maintenance-free. The faeces is deposited into a heat-sealed, self-cleaning, revolving receptor (urine is separated into a sump in the ground). After flushing – by simply closing the lid of the toilet seat – the revolving receptor rotates and drops the faeces into an incinerator, which receives its heat from an automatically fed biomass briquette-burning combustion chamber below it.
“As the heat travels through the incinerator, it dries and heats the faeces from the bottom until it reaches its combustion temperature, which in turn produces more heat to burn the faeces above it. All excess heat and moisture escape from the toilet via a chimney,” he explained.
Mfazwe said all burnt briquettes and ash then fall into an ashtray that can easily be removed and cleaned daily. The ash could either be used to improve soil quality or thrown away as refuse.
It has not been an easy journey for Mfazwe, as his family did not initially share his vision. In fact, he was the joke of the house. His wife, Nothende, used to laugh at him and teased him that he had skipped a playing stage while growing up.
“I used to say he was wasting his time building something that would never work. I told him maybe he did not play with toys as a kid and now wanted to build himself a toilet as a toy. But a few years ago, when he first tested it, I realised he was on to something and that this had real potential,” she quipped, adding that she was now very proud of her husband’s final product.
His daughter also initially failed to make sense to what her father was “innovating in the garage, day in and day out”.
“We used to joke that he loved his toilet more than his family, because it seemed as if he was spending more time with his toilet project than with us. We felt neglected at times. Even though he was inside the yard, it felt like he was not around,” said Andisiwe, who has left her job to help her father make Andyloo a success.
In 2013, Mfazwe and his family registered Hygiene Complete Solutions, a family business where the couple and their children are all directors.
The toilet, with a 10-year life span, has an estimated cost of R22 500 per unit, and is the business’ main product.
However, Mfazwe still needs investors to help him with the manufacturing and distribution of the Andyloo. He is hoping for approval of funding that he applied for at the department of trade and industry. His initial plan is to pilot his toilet to at least 500 households in a village as a start.
Laboratory tests have already been done at the University of KwaZulu-Natal under the auspices of the Water Research Commission. A few tests and demonstrations were also done in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
“On Mandela Day in Mpumalanga, one of my toilets – which is meant for a single household – was used by 90 people without any problems,” he boasted.
He plans to have factories in all nine provinces to have a national footprint before expanding outside the country’s borders