Stories and Traveltips

ID #5143

Early Years at the National Institute of Metallurgy (NIM), Yale Road, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, Central Gauteng.

In the late-60’s it was housed in buildings across Yale Road from the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Bernard Price Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg. Led by Dr Robbie Robinson, NIM as it was known at the time employed many chemical engineering and metallurgy students looking for work during the summer prior to going on holiday in February. In some cases, like my own, it was a source of desperately-needed cash as well as a way to satisfy the academic requirements of the engineering faculty.

Not too much was expected of us students. I can remember having a competition in the canteen to see who could hold their breath the longest, which I won hands down in a time of 2 minutes 30 seconds and much to the surprise of everyone, including myself. Try it some time – your chest heaves uncontrollably. Not a fun experience but a good way to while away the time. I remember some of the full–time researchers responsible for making it the internationally-recognized institution it was at the time, including Drs Brian Loveday, Grant Robinson and Alan Heynes as well as fellow students Rob Franks and Anton Hendricks

The Zulu are proud and rightly so – they have much to be proud about.  Read about the Battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift or listen to Dave Rattray’s tapes to gain a better insight into what is meant by this statement.  I met several on the mines, both young and old, all of whom bore themselves with a quiet dignity.

In one of the pilot plants where I worked, all hand tools were hung on hooks in a wooden case Their outlines had been sprayed with paint on the inside of the case, ensuring that there was no doubt which tool was involved. When removing a tool, one was required to replace it with a numbered tag. We were issued with tags that enabled whoever was in charge to establish who had not returned the tool in question. It was a simple system run with ruthless efficiency by a Zulu Induna (Boss).

Old and with a long grey beard, he stood bolt upright and silent all day in an official-looking uniform with his knobkierie by his side. I never saw him move or utter a word – he took his job of guarding the tools very seriously. But nobody ever messed with him because there was absolutely no doubt what he would do if you failed to return a tool at the end of the day – i.e. brain you with his knobkierie. He cut a striking figure standing there motionless and silent all day every day. "They also serve who stand and wait". Bear in mind that those were the days when Apartheid was in its heyday.  However, he was able to maintain a quiet dignity even under such circumstances. Perhaps more importantly, no tools ever went missing when he was on duty.

One day the Induna had a bad cold but, not wanting to fidget about, had stuffed a long piece if red cloth up his nose to prevent it from running. The image was absolutely revolting – it appeared from a distance as if he had blood pouring down his face and chest. But I did not dare to mention it to him – nobody did. Instead we endured his ghastly apparition for several days until he recovered.

NIM was, together with the Chamber of Mines Research Laboratories and the faculty of mining engineering at Wits, responsible for ensuring that South Africa enjoyed international renown of mining engineering. It has since moved to new buildings in Randburg and changed its name to MINTEK. I trust that it continues to enjoy such a good reputation, a reputation gained partly as a result of the integrity and dignity men of men like the Induna who looked after the tools.

Mintek is located off Malibongwe Drive in Strydom Park, Randburg, close to the offramp from the N1.

Contcts:     Mintek
Private Bag X3015
South Africa 2125
+27 (11) 709 4111 telephone
+27 (11) 793 2413 fax
GPS: 26deg 5’25.77” S and 27deg 58’45.27” E

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Last update: 2014-02-28 22:31
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.5

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