By 1984 I had been holding my own as a civil engineering surveyor for Concor Construction at several mine contracts on the East Rand around Carletonville for three years.
After Western Deep Levels (South) work dwindled, Rod Smith and I were based at No. 7 shaft East Driefontein. Beside the 77m high headgear, there was the usual attendant structures – platform winder house, culverts, pipelines, conveyors, pump-houses, slope protection, stormwater drains and office buildings. From there I went out to neighbouring mines, like No.4 shaft East Driefontein, . The work was varied and often a challenge. I loved it, but the travelling for two and a half hours to Warmbaths every Friday or, alternately, Saturday evening, was tiresome.
I hate confrontations.
One night on my way home in the Peugeot Station-wagon that I had been fortunate to buy, loaded with half a ton of cement collected from my friend Jed, I was followed by four men in a car faster than mine. They crept up behind me, lights on bright in my mirror, refusing to pass although I was in the slow lane. Then they would pass me and slow down in front of me until I passed them again. The whole scenario would repeat itself. When I did pass them, I could see them laughing and giving me the finger.
After several of these sequences, I thought I’d try a bluff. As I drew level, my passenger window open, I turned on the courtesy light so that they could see me clearly. Contorting my mouth into a snarl, I lifted my revolver and thumbed back the hammer.
The driver threw out the anchors and disappeared. I never saw them again.
There were something like forty radios in the work area around Carletonville. Paul Coleman was the site-agent on the new shaft at Driefontein No. 4. Several times, over my own radio, as I was setting out control on other sites, I would hear him blame me when Sergio Zossi, the general foreman, ticked him off for being behind with his work. Always the surveyor’s fault. After the third time, I pinned him down, pointing out that I had never let him down. And if he did have a problem, to discuss it with me privately, not make excuses for his own incompetence for everyone in the region to hear.
The fourth time he did it, I threatened him with violence should he do it again. I hoped that would end it. I was setting out an office block on another mine when I heard Zossi choke him off. He replied that I had not set out the work – an absolute lie. Zossi gave me hell, for all to hear. I told him that I’d come to see him when I had finished what I was doing.
Zossi was in José de Neiva, the area manager’s office when I got to the area head-offices. I explained and listed all Paul’s accusations to both of them. I told them both that I had promised to beat Paul up if he did it again, so was on my way to go and attempt to do so.
De Neiva said he would fire me if I did. I replied that I was sad to hear that, but I had given my word. Zossi, a tough character who had risen to his position the hard way, seemed to find it amusing.
At No. 4 Shaft, I found Paul in his office. I was terrified; adrenalin pumped, heart hammered. He was most surprised when I plucked his specs off his nose and put them on his desk. When he demanded to know what I was doing, I said I was keeping a promise for his lies and his accusing me of incompetence on the radio for the world to hear.
It was awful. All he did was squeal and try to protect his face, reversing all around the office. I got in a few body blows but nothing damaging except to his ego. The clerk in the office next door got on the radio and squawked to the thirty-nine other radios that mister Peter and mister Paul are fighting!
Paul got outside and ran. Pursuit was so undignified that I gave it up, Paul screaming that I was an animal! He jumped into his truck and left site. I presumed that he would head for our bosses to report me.It had been a sickening experience and I was torn between being ashamed of resorting to violence, and proud that I had kept my word.
Up on the hillside, I was setting out slope protection control when Zossi and de Neiva arrived and sent the clerk to call me. I wondered if I would get to working my notice, or be summarily dismissed. In the office, the two bosses said they needed both of us and it would be unfortunate if either were laid off, which would happen if we could not work together.
I said, no problem, as long as Paul stopped his lying. Paul said okay. Hell, I actually liked the bloke. But I hate lies of shifting blame.