I invested in the purchase of a power-float machine that had a petrol engine, together with spare blades, as there seemed to be a need for it in my burgeoning construction business. Sometimes I was a stand-in site-agent for other construction companies, some were my own contracts, some were survey alone jobs, some I acted as an agent for Consulting Engineers. It was very challenging and interesting, but much more stressful that my life working for a big company.
I spent a couple of weeks in Pandamatenga surveying some 50 kms of the road to Kasane, assisting the Gaborone surveyor, Dave Baker, for Africa Surveys, Botswana.
In 1997, work was starting at Maun Senior Secondary School for a huge increase in capacity. From 800 pupils, the number would nearly double. John Riley was being employed as the Resident Engineer. He gave them my name as a possible site agent for the project.
My wife, Sheila, was working as the Operations Manager at Croc Camp, and it was there that my ex-wife, Greet Driver, on holiday in Australia, phoned to give us the news that my father was succumbing to his bladder cancer. It had now spread to his other organs. He sounded very quavery when I phoned him in hospital in Orbost, Victoria. He asked for forgiveness for not having come to terms with my divorce from Greet and for his treating Sheila rather badly. I assured him that I loved him; he had been a great father and a valuable friend. He and my mum had been visiting my brother, Richard Earle, since November 1996. Anthony George Grenville Earle passed away a week later, aged 81. My mum was eventually given Australian residence and never returned to live in South Africa.
Over three months or so I was able to relinquish my other work and was employed by the school on a full time sub-contract basis. With my income assured, I bought a new diesel Nissan one-tonner truck. Sheila got a lift to Francistown to fetch it for me. When it arrived, I removed the N-stickers on the tailgate to leave only the ISSA, saying to Sheila that Nissan were not paying me to advertise. It was also useful to distinguish my transport from all the other white bakkies after a few beers in the pub.
Dave Bodington welded a beautiful, sturdy roof-rack to put on the back which is still doing duty as a carry-all, nearly twenty years later.
A good working relationship developed between me and the Maun Senior Secondary headmaster, David Tregilges, and I am still very proud of the scale of work we achieved over and above the scheduled works. These included some forty staff houses, twenty double classrooms, four laboratories, four new hostels, a huge new school hall and much more. With the help of Andries Krause, as Quantity Surveyor and material supplier, and John Riley, Consulting Engineer, all based locally, we saved huge amounts of money. No housing and vehicles were required for Consulting staff, no architects were involved; I took over the drawings and design. The savings were used for building extra items. These included brick paved roads and car parks, toilet blocks, new lockers, sports fields and tennis courts, among other things. A certain envious somebody claimed that David and I were somehow getting rich from a skim-off. We were investigated by the Corruption Police, interviewed and questioned several times and the books were scrutinised, but there was no skulduggery to find.
I designed the decorative pattern on the walls of the hall and the lion shaped seat-cum-plaque-holder that stands in front of it.
There were only a couple of blights on my memories of the job.
Probably the worst was when I was robbed in front of the bank of a briefcase containing the fortnightly labour wages of about P28,000. The case was locked in my bakkie when I dashed back into the bank to find out what was the delay was regarding my foreman, Robert James, who had been behind me in the queue. I found my door jimmied open and the case was gone. Eventually the police arrived and took fingerprints, but only followed the footprints in the sand when I insisted. Nothing was ever retrieved.
Another incident which I found saddening was when a temporary foreman, a Zimbabwean, borrowed P300-00, and resigned without paying it back to the school. When I threatened to report this to his new employer, he cheerfully replied that he would deny it and label me a racist. The headmaster said I should just drop the matter.
I was summoned to the Department of Labour several times to represent the school and learned a lot about how to deal with labour matters. The secret was simply to follow the laid down procedures, rather than common-sense!