‘Twas quickly done, with none to see,


Some forty-odd years ago, I was running the engineering operations of a brick factory in South Africa. The bricks were burnt in either a five-hundred foot-long tunnel kiln, or in a set series of twenty static kilns. The fire to burn the bricks was produced by gas produced by the Lurgi-process controlled burning of coal in three massive gas producers, and the temperature when burning was usually around 1200 degrees Centigrade.

Occasionally, the mechanisms whereby the coal was hoisted to the tops of the three gas producers broke down, and manual labour, in the form of Black labourers, had to shovel the coal into the chutes until the mechanical feeders were fixed. The older two gas producers had constant problems, and the task of monotonously shovelling large quantities of coal were both costly to management, and decidedly unpopular with the Black labour force, as the areas where they had to stand and work, although in the open air; were full of fumes and smoke. I had recently been promoted to run the engineering side of things, and, after standing alongside the men shovelling the coal; decided that every effort should be made to remove the problem by renewing the hoist and feed mechanisms for both old ‘producers’. But in the meantime, I decided to make things a little easier for the men doing the hard work shovelling.
I searched around, and located a full head visor-helmet which was fitted with a breathing tube, sufficiently long to get fresh air to the ‘shovelling position’; bought three, and issued them to be used immediately. I thought no more about the purchase, as, to me, it was simply a matter of allowing workers to perform their duties safer and more comfortably. The actual effect was dramatic, as, suddenly, every black labourer who spotted me as I walked past commenced smiling, saying ‘good morning’ or ‘Yeybho inkosi’, or even the Afrikaans greeting, ‘More, Baass! The opposite effect came from some of those same Afrikaners, who simply reckoned I was spoiling the Black labour force rotten!

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