Full Name: Trevor Rangasamy
Position: Director & Principal Rock Engineer
Company/Organisations: Middindi Consulting (Pty) Ltd (RSA), Middindi International Ltd, Rangkom Investments (Pty) Ltd
Date and Place of Birth: 11 September (911), Durban
Education: MSc (Eng), BSc (App Geology), AREC, COM Cert, SC Cert, G.D.E (Wits)
First Job: Assistant Strata Control Officer, Vaal Reefs Mining & Exploration Company
Personal Best Achievement/s: First Black COM Cert Rock Engineer in RSA, Starting Middindi Consulting (Pty) Ltd, making informed decisions whilst working on mines that saved lives
Philosophy of Life: Hard work never killed anyone ….
Favourite Food/Drink: A nice Durban bunny chow and Granadilla Twist
Favourite Sport: Cricket
1. How did your career in the mining industry begin and where are you now?
Back in the day, it was difficult to get a job in the mining industry, so I plied my trade as a spray painter, sandblaster and security guard (burglar bar) installer. Whilst doing these jobs, which kept me humble and grounded, I applied for jobs at any mine that advertised vacancies. Fortunately for me, Anglo American advertised jobs in the Sunday Times for Geologists and Rock Mechanics personnel. I applied and the rest is now 22 years of history. I am currently a Director and Principal Rock Engineer at Middindi Consulting (Pty) Ltd.
Hard work never killed anyone …
2. Why did you choose Rock Engineering?
Rock Engineering chose me, come to think of it, since at the time I thought that the job I applied for was in Geology. It happened to be a job I did not expect and had never even heard of before. I have come to love it and am passionate about it. I was desperate to find a steady job, one that my mother would have been proud of. So, when I told my mum that I got a job at Anglo American, she smiled and said that you now working for the big “White Man” and I must learn tolerance and respect, and face challenges head-on, rather than throw stones from the cover of the “bushes”. That I did all too well during my first 2 years at Vaal Reefs, i.e. I faced my challenges, dropped the stones and quenched my thirst with knowledge.
3. Please tell us a bit more about your career journey?
Personally, it has been tough but worth it. There were many obstacles to overcome, more from within myself rather than externally. Coming to terms with being, initially, one of very few people of colour in Rock Engineering was challenging, since my young mind thought that I was intellectually challenged, hence there were so few entrants in this field. I know now that this is probably furthest from the truth. I had to somehow overcome an inferiority complex which was linked to “fear” more than anything else. I feared saying too much about what I engineered to be a solution because I thought I would be made to be a “fool” of in a sea of people whom I believed were intellectually superior. I know now that this is not true and I can do as well, if not better, than most. This field made me a man. I have fond memories of learning and sapping in knowledge. I lusted for knowledge. I craved it. I passed my COM certificate in 1995, about 18 months after working on the mine, and to date, that makes me proud, because there have been, and are, horror stories of passing this exam. Karl Ackermann was my examiner for the practical and I was petrified of him due to his imposing physical stature. He passed me, maybe because I was just as imposing with my talk. I must admit that I developed an attitude second to none. I was professionally groomed initially by Morris Rosenblatt, Dion Booyens and Gary Dukes, and then thought my life was over when we started reporting to Johan Laas. It turned out to be the contrary, and Johan Laas was adept at teaching one to develop a process to apply substantiated logic, convey this in a well-constructed report, and face rather than hide from problems.
My years at Western Deep Levels, I have blocked out of memory. Yoh, the seismicity, it is too much for a poor sugar-cane grown Indian to handle. There were no Section 54s then, we didn’t need them, the BV78 and Christmas dyke issued them weekly. Working at initially Waterpan, then South Shaft and finally South Deep for JCI was a breath of fresh air. Dr John James was the coolest Manager ever. He allowed us freedom to innovate and explore our capabilities. To model where no man as modelled before. I have the utmost respect for Dr James. I had small stints at Itasca, the CSIR and Groundwork Consulting. These jobs helped me find and develop my consulting skills and essentially sowed the seeds of being in charge of my own destiny. Just over 13 years ago, I started Indiroc Consulting, which started with rapid growth and was very successful. I met Johan Hanekom at the MQA and we started discussions about forming a company together. Johan was everything I was not, so this to me was the ideal partnership. We have been in business now for 13 years, a sterling example of a rainbow nation, learning, growing and developing together.
4. In your opinion, what are some of the challenges that the fraternity is currently facing?
The challenges are easy to list, the solutions a bit more trying. I visit mines pretty often and get the feeling that there is general negativity amongst young aspiring rock engineers. I am not sure what truly underlies the discontentment, but my intuition leads me to speculate that it may be the time it takes to pass the COM exams and the lack of proper training and mentorship, amongst other issues. There is a publication available on the internet of a young woman’s horrid experience in rock engineering. If this is the sentiment being propagated and publicised, then we have a long way to go as a fraternity. I am not sure what the current mandate of SANIRE is, but surely they need to address the waning enthusiasm and disbelief within our fraternity.
There are few recognisable icons left within our fraternity. Some of them have entered the afterlife, others enjoying sunsets at the coast, and those who have lost interest. Many of these icons have laboured in the research institutes. The “#ResearchmustFall” campaign has left us rudderless. I have worked and/or interacted with the kind Dr Roberts, the eccentric Dr James, the noble Sir Napier, the smart Dr Malan, the correct Mr Jaeger, the unionist Mr More O’Ferrell (Snr), the articulate Mr Arnold, and the gung-ho Mr Fernandes. It seems all I have left is Mr Rangasamy.
I am of the opinion that not much technical design happens on the mines, since practitioners are inundated with ground control work. The development of trigger, action response systems requires rock engineering input at the face almost every day; this has led to stagnation in packaging, synthesising and analysing data, albeit due to time deficiencies. We have regressed into highly paid, overworked shift bosses. We need to somehow take back our discipline.
5. What are some areas that you believe will become of increasing importance in the near future for the rock engineering discipline?
Regulation defines the thresholds; over-regulation squeezes the scientific life out of you. We are being squeezed, the noose seems to be tightening, and the science is leaving us. Our local industry is in decline due to many factors. We are not, this continent awaits us. The make-up of our fraternity has changed over the last 22 years and we need to be more embracing of these changes. We revamped the exam structure some years ago, for the better. It is more structured, more referenced, more concise. Are we examining to fail or failing to exam?
Our antiquated ways of mining using hand-held and “ama ting-ting” hauling is not sustainable in the long term. We need to gear ourselves for mechanisation. The science is dissolved in empirical design charts, yet we use them liberally without question. We need to start deconstructing these charts and imparting the science back into them. Third party reviews are becoming increasingly important due to legal liability faced by rock engineers. SANIRE needs to provide guidelines on the calibre of practitioners allowed to conduct such reviews. My personal experience is that some of our so-called reviewers are misinformed, immature, misdirected and believe that unbalanced reviews place them in a favourable light. Unbalanced, ill-directed and out of context reviews are damaging to the credibility and reputation of all that ply their trade in our discipline.
It will all be ok in the end, if it’s not ok, it’s not the end ….
6. What advice would you offer people aspiring to be in your position?
There is no substitute for exposure to the mines we work in. The reality and truth lies at the face. Spend the time to learn the systems, the layouts, the successes, the failures. The time spent imparts confidence and self-belief. You can acquire knowledge from books, but may find it difficult to challenge the relevance. Exposure provides you with the confidence to challenge the readings, if warranted.
7. Who is your role model/mentor?
I have none at the moment but believe that good, honest, moral, ethical hard work presents no self-harm, but permeates hope in a world going bonkers.
8. What is the best advice you have ever been given?
It will all be ok in the end, if it’s not ok, it’s not the end ….