A global online poll, possibly the world's largest ever, has voted in the new seven man-made wonders of the world. The poll, which drew around 100 million votes, announced on 07/07/07, named the Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan, Brazil's statue of Christ the Redeemer, Machu Picchu in Peru, Mexico's Chichen Itza pyramid, the Colosseum in Rome, and India's Taj Mahal as the new seven wonders, with honorary status being given to the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt (the only remaining one of the original Seven Wonders). Little did I know at the beginning of the year that I would get to see two of these during 2007, in continents that I hadn't visited before. (More about that later.) The extensive travelling I have done this year has simultaneously been the source of much enjoyment (in seeing new places) and disappointment (in not being able to take the rest of the family with me).
The year began for me with a couple of short getaways with the children individually. Sarah and I visited Mountain Sanctuary Park in the Magaliesberg mountains, and enjoyed doing a few walks and swimming in the beautiful rock pools. We also visited the nearby Magaliesberg Canopy Tour where we travelled on ziplines above the trees in the Ysterhout Kloof. Eleven platforms have been built against the cliffs and rock faces of the kloof and are joined by long steel cables. The two and a half hour guided canopy tour essentially involves zigzagging down the kloof while stopping at each platform to admire the views.
Later in January, David and I spent a few days at Royal Natal National Park in the Drakensberg mountains. The highlights of the trip were watching David build a successful fire in the rain to 'braai' our supper, and doing the spectacular 'Mudslide and Crack' walks. We had a very enjoyable time together.
In February, I attended an International Ferro Alloy conference (Infacon XI) in Delhi, India. I was unexpectedly asked to give a presention on behalf of a colleague who wasn't able to attend, so I had the opportunity of visiting Asia for the first time, and seeing some fascinating parts of India around Delhi (such as the old city and the ancient Red Fort). I also spent a day travelling by bus to the city of Agra to see the Taj Mahal. This white marble mausoleum, constructed between 1632 and 1648, is truly a spectacular building, and it's easy to see why it is considered one of the wonders of the world. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned it for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and it cost such a fortune that his son had him locked away for the rest of his life, before he could build a second matching mausoleum for himself. I found it very interesting to see some local craftsmen doing delicate inlaid work with semi-precious stones in marble. They explained that they were direct descendants of the craftsmen who worked on the Taj Mahal.
I also went on a post-conference trip to a ferro-alloys plant in Bhutan, a small mountain kingdom in the Himalayas, tucked away between India and China. The managing director of Bhutan Ferro Alloys was part of the Bhutanese royal family, and it was good to renew my acquaintance with him since I met him at a conference in Cape Town a few years previously. Bhutan made quite an impression on me, and I would have loved to have spent longer there and seen more than the area around Phuentsholing. It was a very peaceful contrast to neighbouring India, and, although the country is largely rural in nature, everyone is educated and employed. The architecture was quite distinctive, and it was interesting to see scaffolding made from bamboo. The trip to and from Bhutan involved a flight and a very long (rickety) bus trip through the very interesting scenery of West Bengal.
During March and April, Debbie made a few trips to Cape Town (some with Sarah and David) to visit her Mom, Renet, who was very ill. Although Deb didn't grow up with Renet (she was adopted by her grandparents as a young girl, after her father committed suicide), she has developed a good relationship with her and had worked through a lot of the painful issues of forgiveness. Towards the end of April, we received a phone call to say that Renet was critically ill (having had a stroke), and within a few hours Deb was flying down to Cape Town. She was able to spend that night in the hospital with Renet and was able to be with her when she died in the early hours of 26 April. I went to join Debbie for the funeral in Cape Town, and to help sort out some of Renet's things. The death of her mother had a deep impact on Deb. We were able to spend some time with Deb's (half) sisters Ursuline and Beverley, and with her uncles and their families.
With family issues very much in mind, I spent some time collecting quite a lot of photographs and family tree information from all the various branches of our families, and have assembled these into a mini website. Anyone interested in taking a closer look at this, please let me know and I'll gladly send you the necessary links and password.
In May, I went travelling again, this time to the USA, Canada, and Germany, as I needed to have meetings with a number of companies about some metallurgical testwork and pilot-plant equipment. I visited Claremont (near Los Angeles), Denver (where I was able to see our very good friend Mauricio for the first time in almost ten years), and San Francisco for meetings, before spending the weekend in Eldorado Hills (near Sacramento) with Mac and Nancy McCarty so that I could visit our close family friend Jim Jensen who is now 93 years old. (He was instrumental in my choosing to go into the chemical engineering and metallurgical field.) Then it was on to the Toronto area in Canada for another couple of days of meetings (as well as a brief sightseeing visit to Niagara Falls) before flying home via Frankfurt where I had my last meeting of the trip.
In June, I returned to Germany, this time to Dusseldorf for the European Metallurgical Conference. In July, I went to Swakopmund in Namibia for the SAIMM Base Metals Conference (where I was part of the organising committee), and had some very interesting visits to Rossing Uranium (where I was able to climb inside the fluid-bed roasters that are very similar to something we envisage using on a platinum production project) and to Ongopolo Mining in Tsumeb before returning home via Windhoek. At the beginning of August, I was asked to give a talk on the past 25 years of developments in pyrometallurgy as part of the 25th Mineral Processing Conference in Cape Town.
Also in August, I had to spend some time in Golden, Colorado (adjoining Denver) again for some testwork. On this trip, I flew to the USA via Brazil and spent one day of the weekend in Rio de Janeiro. I think I have become quite good at 'five-hour holidays', and can, with some careful planning, fit in an amazing amount of sightseeing into a very short time. In less than a day, I was able to make the most of my first trip to South America. I walked along Ipanema beach, and ran along Copacabana beach at sunrise. I got to drive up the very high (700m) and steep Corcovado mountain to see the gigantic statue of Christ the Redeemer (another wonder of the world - 38m tall and weighing 700 tons), and also took a cablecar up 'Sugarloaf' mountain. Rio is a very beautiful city.
I had a connecting flight to Denver via Washington DC, with a few hours between arrival and departure. In those few hours I was able to walk the city flat, and saw many of the well-known landmarks. I spent a little while in the National Air and Space Museum, and was most impressed with some of the exhibits in the main museum as well as the temporary 'Treasures of American History' display. The unexpected highlight for me occurred while photographing the Star Wars robots R2-D2 and C-3PO; it took me while to realise that they were standing in front of ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the 'original' (1946) general-purpose electronic computer.
The testwork at Hazen Research in Golden went well. After hours, I got to see some of the local scenery, including Lookout Mountain which is where Buffalo Bill Cody is buried (and where the Buffalo Bill museum is). I got to spend some time (especially over the weekend) with Mauricio and Adele Barbera. I had the real privilege of climbing Mount Spalding and Mount Evans (at 4350m, one of the so-called fourteeners - Rocky Mountain peaks above 14000 feet) with Mauricio. We also visited the spectacular Red Rocks Amphitheatre for an enjoyable Beatles tribute concert, and went on a summertime alpine slide at the Winter Park ski resort.
Sarah took a photographic course (arranged through school) with Brian Farrell this year. As the final event, the participants (and some family members, including me) visited the Elephant Sanctuary, near to Hartebeespoort Dam. This is home to a small number of orphaned African elephants. I was at first a bit sceptical of the concept, but was impressed by the rapport between these very large animals and their handlers (all Zimbabwean) who provided fascinating information about the elephants. Visitors get to experience the elephants close-up, and are able to touch them and even walk with an elephant's trunk curled into their hand.
In October, I ran the Harrismith Mountain Race, which I last ran fifteen years ago. The 15km cross-country race traverses the most wonderful scenery, and ascends and descends the 600m high Platberg mountain. At the finishing post, I met up with Budge Rens who had won the race 50 years ago. I knew him as the superintendent of the Sunday School at the Johannesburg Methodist Church when I was a child, and he is now getting on in years. He told me that his family asked him to stop running this particular race about three years ago (in case he fell), but he confided that he still runs cross-country! The Harrismith Mountain Race is claimed by some to be the 'toughest in the world', but for me it's certainly my favourite, and I hope to run it again a few more times in the years ahead.
November was a very busy month at work, but Deb and I went to see the musical show 'Umoja' at the Victory Theatre to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and enjoyed the evening very much.
Later in November, I spent a day in Potchefstroom as an invited guest at North West University, for the presentations of their final year chemical engineering and metallurgy design projects where the students had to come up with a design for a platinum smelter and / or base metals refinery. I was very pleased to hear that seven of the twelve groups had based their design on the ConRoast process that I have been working on since about 1994. I wasn't sure whether to feel excited or old at the thought that this process is now being studied at university level.
During the year, we have been working closely with Independence Platinum on the demonstration and further development of the ConRoast process, and my major work activity has been focused on a couple of feasibility studies for the commercialisation of this process. We have now been operating our largest furnace (1.5 MW) at Mintek as a small commercial-scale producer of platinum group metals (PGMs) in the form of a PGM-containing alloy for Independence Platinum at a smelting rate of about 1000 tons per month. We are hoping to have a 10 MW furnace in production close to Rustenburg in about two years time (beginning of 2010). A larger (40 MW) furnace is planned to follow later.
One of my excuses for the lateness of this newsletter is that I spent a few days just before Christmas bringing Debbie's mother's car up to Randburg from Cape Town. The winding up of Renet's estate took a few months, and Debbie was kindly given her car. The prospect of driving a non-airconditioned car through the Karoo in midsummer wasn't an attractive prospect for Deb, but I had a very enjoyable trip bringing the car home via some of the scenic back roads. The first day, I drove along Route 62 through the Little Karoo, with very attractive scenery of vineyards and fruit farms en route. I spent the evening just outside the town of Prince Albert, at the foot of the awe-inspiring Swartberg Pass. I stayed at Bushman Valley which is owned by friends of my parents, Ian and Barbara Uys. Ian is a writer of military history, and has written a few books on the battle of Delville Wood (which my grandfather survived), and on the Boer War. His family ancestry involves the Voortrekkers - Pieter and Dirkie Uys (well known in South African history). Barbara's great great uncle was the captain of the Titanic, and they have recently opened a Titanic museum in Knysna (where they have their home). As you can imagine, we had a wonderfully enjoyable evening with many stories being told. The next day, I spent driving over the Swartberg Pass and through Meiringspoort, and was again struck by the magnificence of the scenery that South Africa is blessed with. I went for an 11 km run through the prettiest parts of Meiringspoort, followed by a very welcome swim in the deep (bottomless, according to some stories) pool at the base of the lovely waterfall. I spent the second night of my journey at the Mokala National Park (South Africa's newest national park, opened in mid 2007) near to Kimberley, and was able to enjoy a little bit of game viewing before setting off on the final leg of my journey home.
During the year, I have continued my involvement with the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM), where I have chaired the Metallurgy Technical Programme Committee (where I have assisted in organising a number of conferences) and the IT Committee, as well as being on the Editorial Board for the SAIMM Journal, and being a member of the SAIMM Council. My most satisfying accomplishment was to persuade SAIMM to make all of their past journal papers and conference proceedings freely available to everybody via the Internet. I have also been working with SME in the USA towards the inclusion of SAIMM publications in the OneMine.org project.
Some other enjoyable activities I enjoyed during the year included attending talks by some very interesting people, including Patricia Glyn (journalist), David Block (astronomer and applied mathematician), Reinhard Bonnke (evangelist), Piet Byleveld ('supercop'), Vuyo Jack (entrepreneur), as well as a range of Internet personalities at the annual iWeek conference. We were taken to see 'Fiddler on the Roof' at the Civic Theatre, and also enjoyed attending a number of photographic and art exhibitions.
Other special moments of the year included getting together with friends that we hadn't seen for a very long time. It was especially good to spend some time with Basil again, and to see Lumkile once more, as well as a number of friends from school and university days. The last part of December provided a number of opportunities to get together with friends, and we spent Christmas Day and New Year's Eve at Lynne's house with my Mom, and the extended Bezemer, Dold, and Wurts families.
Debbie's work with people in prison (HeartWork) has continued to make a deep impact on many people's lives. Deb has re-written and expanded the course this year, and HeartWork has now been formally registered as a non-profit (Section 21) company. The HeartWork team have run courses in the Johannesburg women's prison, the men's prison, and for families of people in prison. A major focus this year has been working with recently released ex-prisoners. Their re-integration into society is really challenging, but a number of people have worked hard at making a success of their lives. It has been a privilege to get to know some of these people. Personal relationships with people (with their ups and downs) have been central to the growth experienced. Our church and friends have continued to be wonderfully supportive of Deb's work.
David started off the year studying electrical engineering (information engineering) at Wits University, but during the year withdrew from the course as he wasn't finding it to be what he expected and wasn't enjoying all the background introductory scientific studies. He was wanting something a lot more computer related. A number of students from the course left at the same time that David did (including his girlfriend, Nthabiseng). Anyway, after a couple of humbling months of joining the ranks of the unemployed, he got a job with Dial-A-Nerd, where he spends his time fixing computer problems for a wide variety of clients. He has worked hard, very rapidly proving his capabilities, and is doing very well at his job. The working experience has been very good for him. This coming year, David intends to return to Wits University, taking a different course. His eventual aim is to combine a computer qualification with a legal / business one.
Sarah, now sweet sixteen, completed Grade 10 this year (doing very nicely again), and seems pleased at the thought of having only two years left of school (and wishes there was even less). On the sporting side of things, Sarah has continued playing netball. It was wonderful to see Sarah's artistic talents develop and flourish this year - in drawing, painting, and photography. She enjoyed going on a school tour to Fouriesburg and Lesotho. Sarah was very sad to say goodbye to her closest friend Bridget whose family moved to India at the end of the year. (One of the saddest by-products of South Africa's currently high emigration rate is that Sarah has had to say goodbye to so many of her closest friends over the years.) A final exciting development for the year, is that Sarah has just started her first few driving lessons (with me). In preparation for her learner's licence test (probably in April), we have been driving around the empty parking lot at Mintek quite a lot recently.
All in all, it has been quite a year, and it has been very enjoyable to spend some time at home over the past couple of holiday weeks, catching up on some reading, and running often with our border collie Kayla (now six years old). Now that 2007 is at an end, we are looking forward to 2008 and the new opportunities that it will bring. We hope that 2008 will be a wonderful year for all of you as well.
Rodney, Debbie, David, and Sarah