My father was a mine captain at East Geduld Mine, Springs, Transvaal, South Africa in the 1950s. He had returned from five years in North Africa with the 8th Army and the invasion of Italy. He came back to a job on the mines, almost the only job going for a 22-year old with no education. He worked his way up through the ranks and, I suppose, by dint of some talent, became a mine captain.
My first memories were of living in 77 East Geduld. The house number denoted your rank on the mine. Thus he was 77th in rank. The house is still there–I can see it on Google Earth. It was small: three bedrooms; a bathroom at the back; the kitchen far away from anywhere as that was the servants preserve; and a large stoep.
Then we moved up. We moved to number 13 East Geduld. It was a four-bedroom house; but still with a bathroom at the back somewhere and the kitchen far from everywhere. The central room, heated in winter by a coal fire, was the dining room. We would bath and run naked to the fire to dry and dress, for in the winters it was bitterly cold.
Because we lived in number 13, I was now allowed to play with kids in houses numbered 10 to 20–but not less or more. Although the fellow in number 2 was a firm friend and indeed still is. He and his wife will stay with me over Christmas when they visit their son and grandkids in North Vancouver.
Earlier this week I was on a mine on Vancouver Island. We were taken underground by the mine superintendent. He told me that he had worked his way up through the ranks. Once he was a mine captain, now he is promoted to mine superintendent. We chatted about mining and the role of the mine captain. As in the 1950s, so now. At his mine they have two mine captains. They work seven days on and a few off. They stay in the camp and are on call 24 hours a day. Their job is to keep production moving, and to remove obstacles to progress. They must deal with emergencies and accidents. They are at the heart of operations.
I met later with the human resources officer. In casual conversation I ask him what a mine captain is paid. He said the base salary is about $100,000 a year, and with bonuses can reach $150,000.
That is an honorable salary and can bring a comfortable lifestyle in a sea-side town on Vancouver Island. I am sure my father did not receive the equivalent. True the house was free–my mother simply called up the mine when she needed a bulb changed. The servants who cared for the garden were free–my parents had a great garden but never turned a sod of earth themselves. But my memories are of being impecunious–not poor, for there was always food and adequate clothes. But there was, that I recall, never a surplus. The cars were old and my father fretted when they broke down. Well I recall that 1949 Mercury that was his high point of perfection and achievement.
My father rode a real old bicycle to and from the mine. I rode an even simpler one to school and I recall their agony when I asked for a three-speed bicycle with gears. It took two years before they found the money to buy me one.
So maybe mine captains in the 1950s did not earn what their modern counterparts now earn in British Columbia. But I am glad they now earn well. They deserve it.