He worked on the gold mines all his life. He was a hard worker and was dedicated to his family.
He was very health conscious. He always woke up early before he went to work, at 3:30 a.m., to have a workout.
He had his gym in the backyard. He pumped iron every morning.
He was always in good shape.
He was not a drinker or smoker.
He was a healthy person, till he got cancer. He received chemotherapy.
All his hair fell out, and he got very thin. Even then, when he wasn't feeling well, he would train with his weights. He got my brother and me into training with weights when we were young. We still do it.
He beat cancer, once, but it returned after a year or two.
It eventually got him.
He wrote two books over a time span over four years: From Darkness to Light and Walter the Wonder Boy.
He was hoping to get them published, but it never happened. It was his dream to make money from his books.
He was an excellent father. We will always love and miss him.
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Read an Excerpt
From Darkness to Light
By Walter Gird
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2012 Walter Gird
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMining Stress
Chapter 1 Mining stress
Title Page Prologue 7 A typical day: Stress in the dark 8 An underground fire: At the place of gold 9 The underground hair dresser 11 Illegal miners: Another look 13 The danger of an illegal diamond 15 The unforeseen: the mine accident 20 The trembling jelly 22
To be a miner deep in the bowels of the earth is a stress factor. The environment is unnatural. The pitch blackness you work in, the excessive heat conditions, heat stroke, falling hanging, the greatest killer, difficult physical conditions for your body to function, poor communication between workers and management, blacks far firm homelands, living in over crowded compounds or hostels. Alcoholism, prostitutes, continual fear of injury all made life difficult. This was the environment I worked in for 35 years. I worked on most of the major mines, coal, diamond, platinum, and gold mining from the deepest on the Rand to the Goldfields of Welkom.
I started my mining career as a learner miner, learning all the physical work to be done by black miner-workers. Lashing stuff by hand, tipping the gold the bear reef, by means of pushing half ton coco-pans, through winding passages or gullies with small rails. When the full hopper arrived at the center gully it was tipped by had into it. A moving scraper would pull the stuff to the tip. Other duties were blasting, making areas safe to work in, installing support by means of sticks or packs, I was super fit. In Welkom I studied further and massed the mine overseers' exam, and was promoted to shift boss or foreman. Pressure was the name of the game. The daily call, or blasting, or the tonnage to be tipped would determine whether you would stay or be fired for incompetence or relegated to night shift.
A typical Day: Stress in the dark
As a young shift Boss I remember the following work related incident in a typical underground situation I expected a "visit or inspection" by the Mine Captain that day. When he arrived he shouted "Hyena, come here!" This was a name he gave to me because I had a high pitch giggle when I laughed or got nervous. He was to me a terrifyingly big man, with a long waxed mustache. My dad had a similar one, but the similarity ended there. My dad being short, strong and muscular, handsome, as a matter of fact he came first in the longest wax mustache competition in the Free State years before.
My bosses name was known as Satan with a long A. "Why is the work not completed, Mr. Hyena?" He roared. I answered "the night shift did not complete cleaning". "Bull shit!" he answered. "You will see the manager and pay a fine when you come out, do you understand." Before I could answer he turned to go. Unfortunately standing too close was the team leader, unexpectedly got a back hand. Off they went, the boss with his assistant called a pikanin, out they went, two cap lamps one behind the other until they both disappeared around the bend in the haulage or tunnel.
On surface that afternoon after showering I met the Team leader Thabo, much afraid of the coming charges in the Managers office. I assured him in Sotho that I would win the case, and that he must not worry. He told me that I did not know Satan, much feared by all. At the hearing the Manager heard Satan's story. He asked me what did I plea. "Not guilty" I answered. "Why?" He answered, "Because I did my job, got my call and had no accidents for the day." He was very surprised and asked Satan why my story was different to his, caught unawares, thinking after the night shift set back I had not getting my call. The manager, with drew the charges and congratulated me on work well done, and said I could go. Outside waited Thabo hoping against the worst. On hearing the good news, said he would go and have a beer on "Ramasemong" the father of the fields.
A close shave: Flying rocks
As a young miner I worked on many different mines and was like an adventure to me, different people, and different methods. The deepest and hottest were the gold mines on the Rand. At that time ERPM was the deepest and that's where I worked as a miner. The easiest way to explain the story is first to tell and explain the workings and the environment of how a very deep and hot gold mine function and operate. Because of the depth, the configuration of the faces being must be mined in a certain method. The long wall method was used, meaning to try and mine +_ 300m in a line, each panel divided into 30m panels. Leaving a panel behind would cause geological stress and in turn because a rock fall or worse a seismic event, a great danger to human life should it happen.
I was assigned the bottom panel being the most important leading the rest of the other 9 panels above, lying at a degree of 30 degrees. All the panels were blasted daily so that they could move forward uniformly with out abutments left behind as explained. One pay day every one is in a rush to go out early. The cage would come early. Most of the holes to be charged up were already drilled. The miners assistant myself and the Team leader were busy with this operation and most of the gang had left the station.
Unfortunately the bottom rock drill broke down; the delay would be a mitigating factor to near tragic event that would follow. It was critical time wasted, a great frustration, going out late on pay day. Being a gas free mine, smoking was allowed, but at certain designated points usually where there are fresh air, we called it a vent flow. The charging up with explosive was completed, but for only the remaining holes to be drilled by the "late" machine operator. Above him sat the team leader waiting. In his hand was the igniter cord, having connected up all the panels charged holes, he lit a match to light a "zoll" or hand made cigarette. On lighting it the match accidentally came into contact with the igniter cord in his hand. Immediately it caught alight and a ball of bright red fire erupted. This ball of ferocious fire started its run op the face towards explosives and started to ignite it.
It was a fire from hell, flames advancing up the panel at great speed. The men reacted fast. The team leader was shouting in Fanagalo "balega balega" which means "run", it wasn't necessary because everybody was running and crawling away to safety anyway.
I also headed to the back area aiming to get behind a pack. The first shots went off with a deafening roar. Everything shook. The roof started falling in, slabs on either sides of me also fell. The body shaking concussions carried on. The earth shook. The blasted rocks directly from the blasted face came past me like deadly explosive rockets of death. I froze, my whole body froze and I went numb from fright, death at my doorstep.
After the shots stopped ,as if a war had ended, silence reigned, slowly I crawled out of my hiding place. Slowly so did the others, "shell shocked". After surveying the damage it was reported that no one was killed or injured. We would be the very few to come out of such a blasting accident unscathed, unhurt. Where there was support sticks there were only pieces left, where there was a rock drill machine, also pieces were left. We were lucky to be alive. Those working the other 9 panels above saw the smoke, heard the shots and ran. The loss of production was 10 faces not blasted. I was in deep trouble. The IOM was called in to hear the hearing, as it was a blasting accident, a mining law was broken. The TL was discharged and I was given a heavy fine of R10, donated to the orphanage. The incident would haunt me forever.
An underground fire: At the place of gold
We read ,see and hear on television about underground mine fires. Those who know nothing about the working of a deep mine and have not been there and experienced it, will never know fully the implications to the psyche, and the pain of such a life threatening nightmare. To avoid this mine enforces very high standards and rules that must be taken to prevent these fires from happening. Just as in the strict enforcing of road safety with arrive alive campaign and so on, invariable accidents will occur. We all know over the years that over the Xmas period more that a 1000 road accidents occur resulting in such related car, bus, havoc wrecking deaths and injuries for life. The human error: factor? I survived this fiery out of hell underground fire experience.
The unexpected happened that dark steamy underground night. The very deep darkness suddenly became a daylight nightmare, the sound of crackling new wood burning furiously, a fire ball out of control. The night shift procedure on coming on shift was to check the safety which entails making sure the winches, ropes, scrapers, chains, snatch blocks and lastly the rigs in place and that they are properly secured and away from timber or support packs made of wood.
To explain further the cleaning process the winches, scrapers and ropes operate by bringing and carrying ore away from the face to a man made hole or tip. The scraper runs up and down the face, tipping the gold to the gully, from where it is pulled to the tip. Once all the before mentioned is in place the Team Leader signals by means of pulling a long wire, attached to an air signaling device. The scrapers can start moving up and own in rotation, one receiving the ore the other giving. The face winch driver was unfortunately a replacement from the day shift, doing a double shift being very tired and full of the Free State beer soon fell asleep behind the handles of the still rotating winch drums in full motion. To make it worse the team leader on the face also in a deep imbiber in strong alcohol fell soundly asleep like a new born. The top snatch block and rigs came loose. The moving ropes now fee cut into the top timber pack, knowing away up and down in a sawing fashion. High friction heat started. The ropes cut deeper onto the pack eating away, a combination of igniting grease on the rope. A mine fire had started; a tragedy was to occur, something that could have been avoided, human weakness apparent.
The support pack smoldered. The smoke from the fire grew denser, blacker. The once weak flickering fame grew bigger, stronger. It suddenly turned into a ferrous timber eating ball of red fiery destruction. The once deep blackness exploded into a Xmas tree from hell: with its bright light lighting up that total underground darkness. Those asleep, slept on, their deep breathing its sign. Smoke entered their nostrils, fright and consternation erupted, looking for water hoses, to put out the fire. They screamed hysterically. On the farm we would call people out of control like headless chickens. Luckily for me and the miner we had smelled the danger and were already in motion, pulling hoses and opening the taps for the water to stop the impending mine fire.
The strong ventilation flow had made matters worse, there were three packs burning, the flames darting and jumping from one pack to the next. The searing heat, pouring sweat, the blinded eyes, made it difficult to bring the now hot hoses to pint to the fiery flames. More hoses were pulled up, when six hoses were spurting all at once the fire started to subside, the whole area now thoroughly wet, muddy and sticky, the smell of teak wood smoke overpowering the area. Only half an hour ago all was well a life threatening event suddenly sprung up out of the pitch darkness, inferno, now just as it suddenly erupted it stopped. The sick pungent smell of burned timber was a blinding reminder of what just happened. It brought a sick stomach feeling. Men were lying down utterly exhausted, their chests in pain, breathing a mere choke, and we had won. The fire was out. The blackened ex-timber packs a grim reminder sight looking like skeletons burned out which will never burn again. Once the PROTO (fire control professionals) room on surface had picked up the signal of a mine fire the mine rescue teams were on there way, they were too late, their jobs were done by us.
The underground hair dresser 1980
Alone stood the majestic mine shaft head in the African veld.
Through the lasing of the icy Free State winter it stood. In summer it was covered in tick mine dist blowing off the mine dumps, day becoming night. The structure was made of strengthened concrete, steel reinforcing and iron girders.
The shaft hole itself not round but oval in shape, this configuration proved to be more resistant to the earth's movement. On its great head were six huge turning wheels turning twenty four hours daily. These either pulled up the men working the mine, or the ore bearing ground from the deepest bowels of the earth. The ringing of the Banks man bells could be heard signaling to the Onsetter below to what level he should go to.
There were three shits in the 24 hours. The morning one provided the night sift with the necessary ore to tram to the shaft. The afternoon shift was put aside for the Engineering department. Their job was to check the shafts condition and do repairs. At the shaft bottom was usually an excessive amount of water, mud and rock fallen from the over-filled ore cage, you have to be on your toes if you worked there, ducking and diving, as you could hear the rock clanging it s way down as it struck the pipes in the shaft. Above the shaft bottom was the belt level. Here were situated many ore-pass openings with iron doors with strong handles to open them. At the end of the belt stood the bin in which, when the belt was in motion tipped the said ore, once the bin was full the bin controller would signal to the winch driver on surface to hoist it.
Of the three shifts I enjoyed the night shift, as a Shift-boss I had certain privileges, at my disposal was an office underground first aid bay store, and two phone, these connected to all the levels under my control and legal jurisdiction. My work entailed checking the safety of all working where miners were, the safe tramming of locos and hoppers, their click-clacking and warning hooter heard, the iron wheels grinding as they move through the maze of tunnels and haulages to tip their precious loads.
The different gangs would pass me as I sat at the store waiting place. Many different nationalities would greet me "How are you, Ntate Ramasimong?" They would chorus. One such a black man was a Shangaan hair-dresser. He always looked like a model on parade. He wore the non-regulatory white boots, white officials overall and white hard hat. No warning could change this attire. The gleaming white teeth could be seen in the gloom. Under this hard hat was another covering, a plastic "see-through". The shinny well combed hair glistening at the touch of cap lamp light. During the day he ran a booming hair-dressing business. He was also called "Mofie". During that time of the 1970's the gold mining industry was booming. All people black and white benefited, the gold fields of S.A. were a mass of workers, the churches full, the schools full, and businesses doing well.
My job on night shift was going safely my target met; suddenly the earth shook and gave a sight shudder. It was 4 am, the phones started ringing. That dreaded call, a fatal, a miner's nightmare.
A rock fall had occurred on level 44, the miner, my assistant and I quickly got on to the four wheeled bike and started pedaling like mad to the fallen in stope. On arriving there were, we trudged up the long 45° stair case to the top. Here the Team-leader in charge, Thabo greeted us, as is the custom, but was in a shocked state, his best friend the Winch driver, (Our "Mofie") was trapped under a pile of rock. We had come just in time to assist him in the rescue, he was already dead, his left arm missing. There was no evidence of blood loss. His torso from the neck down was crushed. We felt like puking, a friendly man a few hours before, now a corpse. My assistant shone his cap lamp on his head to examine further. There wasn't a scratch. The permed hair was still in tact, the black shiny Negroes curls glowing under the lamp light beam. Not a strand out of place. His face was in deep repose as if content, proving to all that even in death this underground hair-dresser guarded his precious hair up to the end, until death do us part!
Illegal miners: another look
I read and heard about illegal miners on different mines in South Africa, but did not take notice as I had not seen any myself. On one of the shafts I worked on I was suddenly confronted with the problem. It came as a shock. On a certain shaft in the Goldfields, Welkom there must have been a 100 of them. I had to work night shift that week and on arriving at the waiting place, to my consternation there they were, 20 of them. Not showing that I was afraid I walked up to them. They greeted me with the traditional greeting of "Ntate" which means father. I asked them who they were and what they wanted. They answered they were hungry and were waiting for food provided by the gang coming up behind me in the rear. Making as if all was in order I sat down and waited, ignoring them. To my surprise the whole gang knew them and a chattering of bartering began. Many squashed loaves were pulled out of hats, shirts, trousers and overalls.
Excerpted from From Darkness to Light by Walter Gird Copyright © 2012 by Walter Gird. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1 Mining Stress....................5
Chapter 2 Early years....................24
Chapter 3 Filling the gaps in time....................62
Chapter 4 Married life: Never a dull moment....................79
Chapter 5 Cancer: Unknown forces strike....................103
Chapter 6 Reflection, Prayers and Motivations....................136