Roger Johnson's enjoyment of his job is based on the people he works with; the diversity in terms of commodity, geographic location and mining method; and the challenges and opportunities to introduce new technology, better practice and improved solutions. Here, he shares some of his ideas and experiences with Rock Talk.
Roger Johnson (56) had more of an interest in sport, the outdoors, music and social activities than in academics in his time as a scholar as La Salle College on the West Rand, but that was no predictor of his future.
Today, he has a slew of degrees and other qualifications to his name, covering the sciences, engineering and even theology. The latest of these is an MEng (Mining Engineering from Wits, which he gained in 2011. He is also a fellow of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM) and a Sanire member.
Still, he modestly points out that he is the only one of his immediate family not currently studying. His wife, Caroline Tuckey, is completing her PhD in ethics; his son, Matthew (23) is doing an MSc in physics at Wits and his daughter Naomi (20) is in 3rd year medicine at UCT. "I do plan to learn Spanish" he says, even though he is taking a break from formal study for now.
Roger was quite involved in computers from the start of his working career: "Very much before the PC," he points out. He has some memories of those days that would startle young people today. "In the mid-1970s, working on the Wits IBM mainframes, one could, by 'special setup,' combine the random access memory (RAM) from the two to give 1 024 kbytes (just over 1 Mb), to run large modelling jobs. I also remember in the early 1980s upgrading the RAM on a Perlkin-Elmer mini-computer, adding 1 Mb at the cost of over R25 000."
His involvement in rock engineering started when he was working on monitoring and fault diagnostic systems for underground coal mining equipment. "A downturn in the coal price brought a premature end to this work. Given my maths and computer background, I transferred to a group developing numerical modelling software for Rock Mechanics (Engineering) application," he explains.
Membership of professional bodies is something Roger values, and he joined Sanire in 1999, transferring from its predecessor, SANGORM. "The two primary things that Sanire has provided me are opportunities for contact with other rock engineering practitioners and workshops, symposia and conferences to further contribute, learn and develop," he says. This is in line with his belief that one should always be willing to learn and teach and has helped him to obey one of his tenets: Always be professional – do things well, to the best of your ability.
Like most of his colleagues, Roger is concerned about the shortage of rock engineers, "In South Africa I believe this is acute, exacerbated by the shortage and aging demographic of experienced practitioners to act as mentors or teachers. I believe the resulting work pressure, compounded by professional 'threats', such as prosecution, makes people reluctant to pursue this profession," he laments.
Apart from his work, Roger has a wide range of interests. He elaborates: "I love to cook – usually without recipes – and do some woodwork. On the sporting side I play league squash, do some mountain biking and play a little golf (badly at present). I also enjoy fly-fishing and wingshooting, which I do quite regularly."
His love of fishing was once a life-saver – although it was also the reason his life was endangered in the first place. The story goes: "As a child, I was fishing at Plettenburg Bay, at the bottom of a cliff off the Robberg. Two freak waves swept right over me. I was not washed off only because I had a new fishing rod that I hung on to because I did not want to lose it. It stuck between two rocks."
Another dramatic memory of Roger's is also water related, and gives him a good laugh to this day: "I decided to swim the Midmar Mile to keep my daughter (aged 8) company. She took off, leaving me foundering at the back of the field. Towards the end, I had a dedicated fleet of boats and canoes ... 'Are you still OK?' 'Yes' and 'You are going off course again..' etc. Finally, I finished (last), more than 30 minutes behind my daughter, and got a medal and certificate to that effect." It goes to show that Roger truly believes in another of his tenets: Never give up.
The other guidelines by which he tries to live his life are personal integrity, honesty and dependability; and care, respect and consideration for self, family and others.
There are still a few things he hopes to achieve, some of them maybe only after he has retired and put in a few extra years contracting or consulting: "Climb Kilimanjaro... go to the ballet at St Petersburg and the opera at Paris Opera House... learn to play the saxophone... catch an Alaskan salmon... drink a Chateau Lafitte with Caroline..." He says he will just have to see what opportunity permits.
Prior to university, Roger worked for Barclays Bank and COM Research Organisation (COMRO), where he was involved in metallurgical research related to comminution and milling efficiency studies.
After graduating, he again joined COMRO, working on monitoring and fault diagnostic systems for underground coal mining machinery (mainly continuous miners).
Still with COMRO and subsequently CSIR Miningtek, he moved into rock engineering related work. Initially this was related to numerical modelling and model development and subsequently more general research and consulting in that field.
Around 15 years back, he moved to Snowden Mining Industry Consultants as Principal Rock Engineer. He thoroughly enjoyed the diversity of consulting there.
Around 10 years back, he joined Anglo Platinum as Group Rock Engineer.
Last year, he moved to Anglo American Head Office, Mining and Technology, where he is responsible for the group's Rock Engineering function.