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News > Science & Technology > Tonbridge's Scientists: Ronald Creasy

Tonbridge's Scientists: Ronald Creasy

OTs answer: What can I do with my science degree?
2019 has been an extraordinary year for Science at Tonbridge. To mark the opening of the new Barton Science Centre, we asked Old Tonbridgians with a science background to write to us with their story. In the next pages, we hear from 9 OTs, whose experience demonstrate the wide range of job options available to science graduates, and many of whom have exploited the positive characteristics of their science-trained brains in some unexpected sectors. 

Mining Engineer

The choice of a career in the mining industry is not something one meets too often in OTs and my gravitation in this direction came from a family history of colonial stock, mainly from China, India and Ceylon, and their assumption that Britain after the war was not the place to be.    

My science orientation led to a number of enquiries into the various engineering options with perhaps the lure of a very generous metalliferous mining scholarship following an entrance exhibition to Imperial College tipping the decision. I duly entered the Royal School of Mines in October 1957. I graduated in 1960, and started work on the copper mines in Northern Rhodesia. In those days, mining in Southern Africa was controlled by the large mining houses. The life of mining graduates in Africa followed a fairly arduous route where one worked at every job in the mine from shovelling, timbering, drilling, blasting and hauling the ore to the shaft, as well as the treatment of the ore in the surface plant - a programme which took two years to complete. It did give one a very good insight into the workings of a large mine where the number of employees could total some 10,000 or more.   It was a system which worked from the Cape of Good Hope up to the Copperbelt bordering on the Belgian Congo.

Above: Harold Macmillan delivers his famed 'Winds of Change' speech 

Harold Macmillan in his famous 'Winds of Change' speech in the late 1950s was spot on. What he did not foresee was the corruption which would creep into the mining industry and effectively destroy it. Independence came to Northern Rhodesia in 1964 with the creation of Zambia. The problem came with the impatience of the politicians with the rate of progress of Africanisation. Fast-tracked mining graduates failed to master the complex requirements of a large mining operation. The profitability of the Copperbelt mines took a severe hit in the years that followed and what had been a massive industry went into decline. Today it is being re-financed by China, a very different type of colonialism. The demise of the mining industry in Southern Rhodesia/Zimbabwe following the end of UDI in 1980 is well documented and followed a far worse course, i.e. blatant interference by politicians.

In South Africa, prior to the 1994 universal franchise vote and for a number of years thereafter, starting up a mine was a well documented process provided one could secure the funding. The landmark decision by the Government to transfer the mineral rights without compensation from the landowners and hold them by the State together with the excessive requirement for free equity distribution has virtually put a stop to all new mining activity in the country. One Chief Executive has publicly stated that he has no longer any interest in starting new mines in South Africa. 

Despite this, there is in South Africa a huge pool of highly qualified geologists and engineers with hard-earned mining skills. It is perhaps lucky that Cecil John Rhodes stopped at the Belgium Congo border because now there is still half a continent of only partly explored land rich in minerals. It is in these areas that South African mining personnel of all disciplines are working under expatriate conditions. The results of their work has brought relative wealth to these countries and much needed infrastructural development into the areas in which these mines have been started. Unfortunately the politicians are already looking at possible ways of milking these operations. Many mining companies have halted development plans and/or pulled out of certain countries because of corruption and what amounts to subtle bribery demands.

Big mining is highly capital intensive and through mining the only practical way a country can fast track infrastructural development. As I celebrate my 80th birthday I still enjoy a part time participation in developing a mining operation, but not in Africa. It is sad to see a once mighty industry in Southern Africa sink into a quagmire of greed and corruption. 

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