Arriving in South Africa

I finished my second at professor Dilewijns’ laboratory in December 1983, leaving me a month during which to get ready to move to South Africa. During this period I packed up all my belongings and had them sent ahead with an international shipping company. My dad also had a steel trunk where more fragile items could be packed; these were taken by a captain who through family links unknown to me took it as his personal luggage on his ship.

I travelled on the first of February 1984, arriving the next day in Johannesburg. The flight went via Frankfurt, the Cape Verde islands (at the time South African airplanes were not allowed to fly over most of Africa at the time), and turned inland over Namibia, which at the time was called South-West Africa and almost considered an additional South African province. The flight to Johannesburg was fairly uneventful, although the food was good, it being the 50th anniversary of the South African Airlines.

On arrival at General Smuts airport, I must have been one of the last to collect my luggage, which was a good thing, since the person collecting me only held up an A4 piece of paper with “ISCOR” written on it in normal pen, so hardly visible from a distance.

The drive from the airport to Vanderbijlpark was pretty uneventful. One of the few things I remember of it was that the landscape was flat and rather boring and brown – the latter probably because the country was at the end of a summer that had been unusually dry. And there was the inevitable question by the driver, which I’ve noticed white South Africans often ask on meeting you for the first time : “so what do you think of our country ?” Which is a bit of a hard question to answer when you’ve only been in the country for less than an hour, and you haven’t really seen much of it.

I was dropped off at a building which appeared to be some sort of hostel for students working at Iscor. I was given a key to a room, and that was more or less it for the rest of the day. Fortunately I was met the next day, brought to the steel works for a medical and to finish off some paperwork. I was also given assistance in getting to know Vanderbijlpark, where the shops were and opening a bank account to deposit the funds I had brought across from Belgium.

Still, I was raring to go and start doing proper work, and it made me feel impatient that things were moving along so slowly. After two weeks I was finally assigned a flat in Becquerel Court, and someone helped me buy some bare essentials such as a table and chairs, a fridge, a bed and a bicycle. I also was introduced to the manager of the 1420mm hot strip mill, where I would be starting work on a project to do with evaluating the change in strip width from the hot condition (just out of the last finishing stand) to the coil at room temperature.

So it was only at the end of February 1984 I was getting settled into a routine, although the times that I felt I was really making a difference at Iscor were still a few years in the future.


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