sometime in the ´60s          


THE CHALLENGE OF THE MINE

by Eugen P. Plotzki          Download this document as txt or pdf-File.


„Monrovia must be over there, beyond the horizon to the southwest,“ said the mining engineer. „And this wooded hill down there must never be touched. Not a single tree's got to be felled! Behind it we'11 have the housing estate, protected from the dust and noise of the work up here an the ore mountain.“ The three men in his company, a Liberian and two German engineers, later said with a smile that he had even added: „On pain of death!“
Their smile was not only aimed at his abrupt manner with which they had long since been familiar; it also may have concealed emotion or disbelief, as the case may be, in the face of such visions.
For nearly two years had they been living and working in the stifling, humid twilight of the tropical forest and the ore mountain, rarely able to see farther than a few steps ahead. Now for the first time they were standing in something approaching a fresh breeze high above the lowlands of the oppressive jungle, able at last to breathe deeply - and to see! For the first time they were looking out from this first big clearing cut into the jungle along the drawn-out ridge of the mountain during the last few days, across the Land, over the endless roll of the dark green waves of hills gradually turning blue in the distance. Like men reprieved they found that now they were able to take their bearings from the setting sun instead of the compass.
It was a cheerful descent to the camp, plunging back into the undergrowth which swallowed up all light between the trunks of the jungle giants whose tops could barely be discerned aloft, surrounded once again by the warm and musty smell of the dank decay underfoot, so familiar but no longer oppressive now that one knew that one day fresh air might blow through here as it did up there in the clearing.
The camp was nine hundred feet below at the foot of Mount Zaweah, as the mountain was called in the language of the Kpelle who inhabited the land around. Its steep slopes being all but inaccessible, unfit for tilling, untrodden by all but an infrequent huntsman and thus sinister, the mountain's name was spoken with a slight shudder: „That which is concealed within the mountain - Zaweah.“ Yet it was impossible to find out whether this secret quality lurking in the mountain might not be a lucky one.
That was the subject of that evening's conversation by the light of smoking paraffin lamps in front of the two palm-thatched huts in the Small clearing, the „headquarters“ of the first few years. There was rice for supper, brought from the workmen's camp several hundred yards away to save bother, and sardines. Later an the voices, instinctively lowered beneath the night darkened bell of the crickets' chirping, grew animated over the gin and nearly cool tonic water from the kerosene powered refrigerator. „That which is concealed within the mountain!“ - What would this iron-ore deposit far inland in the country of Liberia and the west coast of Africa become some day? Would there be sufficient and economic iron ore? And if so, could the foundries be persuaded to invest hundreds of millions in the place for the working of a mine? The men were able to go along with the mining engineer's daydreams of a housing estate beyond the wooded hill off the site of the open-cast ore mine only with a nervous smile. How were they to know that many a daydream of his, hatched in his early career before the Second World War had since become reality? Anyway, it was a goal worth working for, a stimulus to resume the daily hardships and privations of life in this alien environment, in the heat and during the months-long rainy season.
Much had been achieved since the first ascent of this ore mountain in May 1957, whose existence had then be known to just a handful of specialists. To be sure, the mining engineer had been able to find no more than was known before, a deposit of inferior iron ores, useless to the foundries in their existing form. With an iron content of less than 40 per cent, a mine on the site had been judged uneconomic by every geologist and mining economist. However, if the ore could be enriched, which had often been done, it would just be a question of the investment required, in this instance certainly a big one. One would need complex treatment installations to enrich the crude ore extracted in open pit mining, a railway to the coast, the construction of a harbour to ship the ore to Europe, power stations to drive the machinery, huge water supplies to be pumped over a long distance, and most of all, thousands of people to run all these installations and machines.
Manpower was positively the greatest problem of all; it could not consist of Africans, nor of Europeans alone. A totally new living and working community would have to be set up of races differing so muck as a consequence of their respective conditions of civilisation. Compared to this problem, the purely technical matters would be almost simple, unlikely though it seemed that night - the building of a town for some ten or twenty thousand people in the almost deserted region, along with every supply and service facility that has come to be accepted by city dwellers.
A pipe dream? Ah, but how much had been achieved already, and with quite moderate means, by very few! It began with the early climbs up the steep slopes among the thorny undergrowth exploring for ore outcrops, beating paths to the Spots where prospecting trenches were to be dug across the ridge at regular intervals. They were to follow the ore beneath the uniform top soil and rubble, steep up the southern slope, steep down the northern slope, often interrupted by vertical or overhanging rock faces which could be inspected only by men suspended an ropes. The cutting of the first long gullets through the forest in order to establish a simple, provisional surveying system. The construction of the first „road“, built to hoist up by block and tackle a small diesel compressor which was needed to drive a tunnel into the side of the ore mountain halfway up the slope. All this had been achieved with the help of backwoods people who had never used their primitive tools for anything but farming, hollowing out a log for a dugout, building huts or making simple hunting weapons, and who moreover spoke a language none of the three men understood, not even the Liberian. Thus it was not enough to engage interpreters. To do the thing properly, one had handpicked ten of the first fifty labourers, most of them members of the Kpelle tribe, and got a Young teacher to teach them to read and write a rudimentary English. The ten were subsequently made foremen, a source to them of considerable pride. The System was then extended to a growing number of workers.
Oh, yes, quite a bit had been done, and as the level of the gin sank in the bottle, the future became increasingly brighter to the four men in the dark African night. Why, had not the mining engineer reported that another few hundred thousand dollars had been got out of the steel bosses in the Ruhr? Enough for another year's work with a hundred additional workers and some technicians, as well. After that there would surely be a way of persuading even the most sceptical foundry bosses to risk a couple of million dollars and go the whole hog. The thing to do now was to explore the depth of the ore deposit and to ship a fey thousand tons of ore to Germany for testing in order to establish appropriate treatment procedures. Considerably more money would be needed to get a complete aerial surveyed, to work out plans for the building work, the use of mining machinery, workshops, power stations and the residential area. „Well then, a lot's been done already, so let's be confident about the future. Good night!“ The Sound of drums from the labourers' camp accompanied their sleep and did not fall silent until muck later in the night.
The next morning, after the foremen and their crews had been given their jobs for the day and were scrambling up the slope to their places of work, the four men discussed the working schedule for the next few weeks. A rough estimate of the production costs was to be worked out shortly at the German headquarters in Düsseldorf to be presented to the steel works so that these might prepare the release of further capital. But a lot of data for the calculation were still missing. It was a most complex equation with a large number of unknown quantities. The four men had enough experience to do many of the calculations themselves; they knew the daily capacity of a powerful bucket excavator in open-pit mining, and the approximate costs of ore transportation from the surface to the treatment plant at a given distance. They were familiar with the rates for shipping the concentrate to the various European ports, but who was to say how muck the construction of a mile of railway would cost in this region, how muck the dredging of a harbour, or how muck should be set aside for the Operation of schools, church, hospital, department store, etc.? All these facilities were assumed to exist in Europe; one did not have to establish them in order to open a mine.
The mining engineer had in any case planned to stay in Monrovia for the next few weeks to clear up legal land economic questions with the authorities; his stay would hopefully yield some data for the calculations as well. As an each of his visits to Liberia, immediately upon arrival he had applied for an audience with the President, just as he always did before leaving. The head of state had always been receptive to his problems and queries which were not only political and economic. Before long, a human contact had developed, at first reserved, later more frank and even cordial. This was due in large measure to the efforts of the Liberian lawyer and first Liaison officer who might almost be called the initiator of the Bong project, and who was able to approach the President at any time for advice or to make suggestions.
President Tubman, great statesman and unifier of a people which until his installation in 1944 had been held back by tribal laws and a, lack of integration, cannot fail to command the admiration of any unbiased person who has ever talked with him. Of world-wide fame as the founder of Liberian's Open Door Policy, he impresses anyone who has the good fortune of knowing him better with his own, personal Open Heart Policy. This binds those conversing with him to equal frankness, or should do so, at any rate. His delight in mutual argument in an expressive style, which manages to be both businesslike and informal, and his keen sense of humour which often challenges his partner, make plain speaking easy. The more so since he always seems to have time to listen and never gives a hint of the almost intolerable demands made on his time. However, one can guess at these from a look at the Mansion's waiting rooms, at the colourful crowd of audience seekers. Rarely has the term „father of the country“ been used with better justice. Those who wait here make a fascinating picture. A living cross-section of Liberia's humanity, to be enjoyed until one's name is called by the Aide-de-Camp an duty, invariably a courteous general conveying an impression of personal concern. Crowding the halls are ambassadors of the many countries with diplomatic ties to Liberia, members of the government, high-ranking officials, senators, deputies, superintendents, tribal chieftains in their dignified robes, delegations from towns and villages, students, quiet housewives, chatting miniskirted girls, worried old men, most of them wearing the same brightly coloured shirts or country cloth as the schoolboys seated beside them, in short, anyone who wishes to see the head of state in any official or, from the looks of it, private matter - and anyone has the right to do so.
A truly great man who is capable of making everyone feel that he is there for him, and he really is. What superior self-discipline it must require, since the President's working day begins before daybreak and never ends till midnight.
The mining engineer was called into the President's study almost too soon, from the midst of a conversation such as one rarely has the Chance of, except here. Where, but for ceremonial occasions can one meet several ministers simultaneously to settle questions concerning various departments, or talk to people from parts remembered fondly where one stayed long ago?
Still, none of these important or amusing conversations could be nearly so important as a talk with the Oldman, as President Tubman is called respectfully, and indeed reverently, in the African tradition, nor so amusing. A single remark of his and a problem might cease to be a problem; he teils one whom to see about any matter and may wink at one as he supplies a useful hint an the best approach.
The mining engineer left pleased and encouraged, as after every audience in the Mansion, then still in Ashmun Street which is now the State Department. One of the problems the President had solved with supreme assurance was one which may seem to be of secondary importance but which was pure dynamite to European ore policy. The intended opening of their own production by what was then the greatest ore consumer in the world iron market - and in Liberia to boot - was understandably being watched by the main suppliers of the Ruhr industry with less than good will alone. There had been attempts by one group to assert an alleged claim to Zaweah, even after this group's own prospecting there had been abandoned. The Liberian government was naturally concerned about the speediest possible unlocking of a maximum number of the country's natural resources, by as many groups as possible. For every project of the kind meant more development for the region concerned, new lines of transport and communication, training facilities and the raising of the standard of living through the transition from a substitute economy to a modern division of labour with its attendant advance in hygiene, civilisation and economy alike. A country like Liberia whose natural resources, apart from the often problematical rubber plantations, lie in its iron ores cannot afford to „put an ice“ even a part of them. In consequence, the President made the expected decision, doing so as always after listening to what the ministers of the various departments had to say an the matter. Yet whenever he can, he makes it a practice to help the losing parties by personal explanation and encouragement.
There had been many gratifying instances of selfless assistance to the German newcomers, especially from the men of the first mining company in the country. These people, on whom the mining engineer had called as soon as he arrived in Liberia to inform them of his company's intention to try to open up a mine of their own, had readily offered their help. Initially consisting of information and advice, this help later grew to include the use of tools and machinery, as well as the loan of specialists. An astonishing degree of support to the European mind, but those who know Americans would say it was typical. With their characteristic generosity they may have decided that if they could not prevent competition, they might as well support the newcomers also in the interests of Liberia, being after all in the same boat. Besides, the Germans had been good customers since the company's early days and might remain business partners even after their own mine went into operation. That helpful attitude toward the new arrivals - and it was equally generous an the part of the Firestone people - began at the top and went down the line to the last employee, whether Liberian, European or American. With L. K. Christie, whom the mining engineer affectionately called „Liberia's Miners' King“, he enjoyed a special relationship, a kind of no-nonsense good fellowship intensified by mutual appreciation. The older man, successful in business and a personal friend of the President, never showed the slightest trace of condescension towards his younger friend, although he might have been forgiven for it. And there was yet another subtle quality to their relationship, of the kind that might arise between two men who happened to court the Same girl without the other's knowledge and only meet years later when one of them has been happily married to the girl. That roughly was the Story of Bomi Hills, or at any rate a part of the story.
In 1934/5, a Dutch firm of diamond merchants had prospected for diamonds practically throughout Liberia, locating several deposits of iron ore almost as a by-product of that venture. A concession had been taken out for the apparently richest of these deposits, Bomi Hills, and was offered also to interested circles in Germany. Among other iron ores, the report had mentioned those of the Bong Range, but with the qualification „too poor to be profitable“. The mining engineer's company had been interested in gaining the concession for Bomi Hills along with another German steel company. But in the Hitler Germany of those days a permit was required by the foreign exchange board for the transfer of the purchasing price of 50.000 Dutch Guilders (!); and the well-substantiated application pointing out that the project was positively in the interest of the German economy provided that long-term peace would be preserved, was curtly rejected. Instead, the applicants were advised by a newly-set-up office in charge of such matters to start working the large iron ore deposits in the Salzgitter region of central Germany, which were in part their property, in part that of other foundries. To this, the applicants countered that these deposits had been extensively explored geologically at great expense and had been found to be of such poor quality as to make them uneconomic to mine for decades ahead, although they might serve as a reserve for the later future. Soon after, the better parts of the Salzgitter deposits were apportioned to the newly formed Reichswerke Hermann Göring as a raw material basis. The politicians of the Third Reich, if they thought economics at all, based their calculations solely an the vast resources of Eastern Europe which would come under German control in the near future. As expected, the cost of the steel produced in the Salzgitter mines was astronomical, which scarcely mattered to the Nazis with their inflationary policy - kept carefully from the people - and their hazardous gamble for Lebensraum. Seen that way, Liberia may have had the final say in starting the state owned German concern which is a heavy mortgage burdening German taxpayers even now. But let us return to Bomi Hills!
The concession for Bomi Hills was eventually purchased by an ore company in Amsterdam, founded by members of several German Jewish families who had run an old-established, reputed ore company in Silesia before escaping from Nazi Germany. How much these people still regarded themselves as Germans, even after massive persecution from which many of them had barely escaped with their lives, is borne out by the fact that of all people, they placed a German in Charge of exploring the Liberian deposit! A tragic mistake, for while the drillings and other operations were proceeding at a cost nearly exceeding the means of these refugees, the German raised suspicions in the country of working for a camouflaged Nazi project, whereas it was in fact the last chance of Nazi victims to recoup, at least in part, their material losses. In that way those unfortunate people lost the means for building a new life in some safe place before the Germans unexpectedly overran Holland, which cost several more of them their lives. After the war, following years of wandering across North und South America and other continents, the last few survivors of once great families began once more to build up an ore company in Amsterdam. Many an act of help and support was extended to them from still active business friends in Germany; and yet, how little it was to redress such enormous wrongs!
In the meantime nothing much had happened in Bomi Hills, until Christie purchased the concession after the war, and the site took a new lease of life. True to his nature, Christie, who was a genuine entrepreneur, played for high stakes, gambling his whole fortune on success. He subsequently managed to get the project to the stage where he was able to interest a wealthy partner. And not a minute too soon. In the United States they say that iron ore mining is not a poor man's job. And though Christie was far from being poor, iron ore mining takes different yardstick. Because of the necessity of a large turnover, iron ore mining requires investments so high that as a rule they can be financed only by a long-term guarantee of markets, and this in turn can be granted only by a very big consumer of steel, i. e. a big steel producer. In Christie's case it was one of the world's biggest, the Republic Steel Corporation, which bought into Bomi Hills as a major partner and made possible the construction of the mine, along with railway and harbour installations. In June 1952, the first ship left Monrovia for Baltimore with a cargo of iron ore; Christie's gamble had paid off. Since then Bomi Hills has often been described as a „gold mine“.
Consequently, it was understandable that the government should wish to alter the terms of the original concession agreement. It was agreed with the owners of the concession to replace the early low royalties by a fifty-fifty division of profits. This was called the Tubman Formula and has remained an important component of every contract concluded since. Always aware of his debt to the country, and wishing to prove his gratitude, Christie later founded a virtually all-Liberian iron ore company based an the controversial Mano deposit at the Sierra Leone border, doing so at great personal financial sacrifice. The early death of this remarkable man was a smarting blow that would Jong be felt.
It was always a special delight to be present at Parties and listen to the conversational fireworks between President Tubman and Christie, which was always brilliant but never domineering. They had a similar sense of humour and understatement. Once, when the talk turned to the various mines, the President asked the mining engineer: „Which mine would you like best?“ A loaded question quite typical of him in that it provoked a matching answer. Mindful of his special relationship with Christie, the mining engineer winked at his friend and replied: „Mister President, if a man were asked that sort of question about a woman, he might answer - at least mentally, and if he were honest - >the other fellow's<. But I am very happy with my wife.“
As so often before, the talk then turned to the „poor bone“. In the course of the frequently complicated negotiations with the government commission on the terms of the concession agreement, conducted with toughness an either side, the mining engineer had made the point that this - unlike Liberia's first two mines which extracted direct shipping ore - was a deposit of poor ore, unusable in its natural state. While those who came last would have to take what was left - and in this case what was left was the poor bone Bong - the concession terms would have to take this fact into account. Speaking about the matter, the President himself had remarked that if he knew the Germans, they would turn the mine to excellent use. What an argument!
On another, more informal occasion he told a little story to drive home his point. „A great chieftain would share out the meat at dinner parties always in such a way as to let his oldest and favourite son have the portions with the bones in them. The son observed this practice with growing consternation and finally, seeing his father alone, asked what it meant. „Well, son,“ Said the chief, „you know, while the others quickly finish the soft, fat meat, growing lazy in the process, you exercise your teeth and jaw an the firm bones which, moreover, contain the best nourishment, the marrow, which gives you additional strength. By the time the others grow hungry again you still have some bones left, and they will come to you and ask if you can spare any. In that way you will have the upper hand and can name your own terms.“
The President has an inexhaustible store of such stories and anecdotes to fit any occasion and has never been known to repeat himself. He closes almost any audience or conference, however hard and businesslike it may have been, an this personal, conciliatory note.
In his talks in Monrovia, the mining engineer met with good will and open-mindedness towards the Bong project from every government agency. Whenever there was a pause in the negotiations he would drive up to Zaweah Camp. The drive itself was an adventure along the last twenty miles which were passable only by jeep and during the rainy season might take a whole day. But it was even more exciting to wonder what the men up there would have to tell him about the latest happenings, because normally the car came down to Monrovia only at weekends, bringing sometimes one of the engineers, sometimes only the weekly report.
This time there was another exciting story. The night before last, one of the German engineers had had a narrow escape. Some time before he had been given a young mungo which was tame by now and spent the nights in a cage in the engineer's room. Roused from his sleep by the little creature's excited chatter and scratching, he turned an his flashlight and went to look at the cage. By chance his glance fell an the wall behind his bed and discovered a dark band that had not been there before. The stripe extended - and moved! Driver ants an the march! Under the jaws of these dangerous insects there is no hope for any living creature that does not escape in time. A sleeping human is quite defenseless; the ants will make short shrift of him, leaving behind, within minutes, a skeleton. Incidentally, this method was formerly a death penalty in Africa.
The little mungo, unconscious hero of the day, was duly admired, his feat being celebrated over drinks that night. Meanwhile, discussions had been going an about ways and means of improving the adult education scheme. For while the workers' children's morning lessons were proceeding without a hitch in the open palaver hall, teaching the men in the evening was a different matter. There was no way of preventing crowds of women and children hanging over the railing, commenting the goings an with shouts and loud laughter.
The principal person of these discussions was Moses, the young teacher who had been lent us, at first provisionally, by Grandma Miller of the Lutheran mission station an St Paul River. Eventually it was decided that classes must be given in a separate building. That meant a school would have to be constructed outside the camp, a plan which sounded grander than it was, for the new school would just be a roof an supports, at least to start with, with a couple of forms in its shelter. Further, lessons should no longer take place in the evening when the men were tired. The outcome was a „bush school“ in the midst of the forest, an the slope near the core of the prospecting work - where the new camp was to go up - with classes every morning for the first hour of the paid shift. That was the really important innovation, marking a big step towards a new social policy which did not immediately meet with universal approval in the country.
Thus, the foundations had been laid for the Bong's comprehensive education system. Within a few short years, it comprised normal primary and secondary classes for more than thousand youngsters, along with tuition in practically every skilled job for many hundreds of adolescents and adults in the vocational training centre, adult classes and on-the-job training. However, by that time the palm-thatched huts had Bone, replaced by modern concrete buildings, several of them with upper stories and most of them air-conditioned.
It is a point of interest that every mining company in Liberia more or less independently arrived at a similar system.
But back to the celebration party of the mungo beneath the paraffin lamps! It was no drinking orgy. The men were quiet and in a thoughtful mood, recalling a lot of things that had happened in those early years of life in the jungle. They had been deeply affected by the case of a worker who had delayed reporting a snake bite. When eventually he did, it was too Tate to establish the type of snake, and he had to be injected with a mixed serum instead of one of the special sera which the engineer kept ready in sterile syringes. The man had died an his way to the Firestone hospital.
Scarcely a day went by without the sighting of at least one of the many local species of snakes. Most species shied away from the worker's noise, because the work of Clearing and tree-cutting was carried out to the rhythm of song led by a foreman with the rest of the men joining in the Chorus. While this was going on, a snake might feel threatened and be driven to strike in seif-defence. There are some fascinating species, like the Green Mamba. About an inch thick and well over seven foot long, of emerald colour with black angular markings down the back, it is dangerous because its length enables it to strike from a considerable distance. More dangerous still is the Cassava snake, which is arm-thick, two to three foot long, with abstract markings in grey, pink, brown and black and a fist-sized, flattened broad head. Its special threat is that it will not flee when disturbed but curls up. If inadvertently touched in its concealed place, it will strike, its bite being particularly dreaded because of its two pairs of fangs with to different venoms.
As the men sat an talking, they recalled another accident. Over a period of several months, a surveyor from Düsseldorf had directed the measuring of prospecting trenches by a team of four Liberians under their foreman, Joseph. The surveyor spent practically all his time with his men, driving himself from sunrise to dusk and then continuing to evaluate his data until late at night, subsisting an nothing but fruit during the day, with just a bowl of Quaker oats and bread for supper. One day he was handing the clinometer to one of his assistants across a ten-foot-deep trench, and missed. The two men lost their balance, and while the surveyor was gripped by a fellow an his side, a third man reached out for the instrument, missed and tumbled into the trench with the other fellow an top of him. Luckily, they suffered nothing worse than bruises and abrasions and were able to go back to work after a week in the sick bay. How easily a fall might have endangered the surveyor's life, had not his men caught him in time, was brought home to everyone when only weeks after his return to Germany the news was received of his dead from lung cancer.
Another reminder of the tenuous strings binding man to life was the case of the project's chief geologist who also came from Düsseldorf. He had come out to Liberia a few months after the mining engineer's first ascent of the Zaweah to conduct his own investigation. His subsequent report confirmed the preliminary findings, just as the mining engineer had hoped of a specialist of the chief geologist's calibre who was familiar with nearly every known deposit of this type of Itabirite existing an earth. In the autumn of 1953 he had been reported missing in Labrador an one such exploratory trip for Itabirite, and was rescued literally at the last moment. The following year he made another prospecting trip to Goa in the mining engineer's company. While there, he celebrated the first birthday of his „second life“. To mark the occasion, the mining engineer placed a whisky bottle fitted with a baby's dummy an the birthday table; and in answering the toast, the geologist said that now that he realised how marvellous it was to be alive, he was almost grateful for that brush with death up there in Labrador. After only a few years during which he was able to hand down his great store of knowledge and experience to the students at the university where he was a professor, the chief geologist was felled by a treacherous disease to which he succumbed soon after returning from the last of many trips of exploration to foreign parts.
Then there was the president of the German Geological Institute, the boss, in a way, of all chief geologists, and the friend and sponsor of the Bong project. He did his best to aid the efforts of those people of the German industry and authorities who were anxious to introduce new methods of raw material supply better calculated to satisfy rising demands than the immediate post-war policy of short-term buying in foreign markets which could not be influenced. Although his tragic death in a traffic accident occurred before he could fulfil his great task, it is to be hoped that the people in charge have learned a lesson from his example. This far-sighted man had been among the very who even twenty years ago anticipated the need of coordinating government planning and the economy. While others were taken by surprise, he had predicted the doubling of the world crude steel production during the last decade.
Life in the jungle tended to make the Europeans feel cut off from the world at large. It was a reassuring thought that the Firestone hospital was there in case of emergencies. Help was available both day and night in not-too-distant Harbel from people who knew their job and went about it quietly with kindness and skill. Unqualified praise is due to them all, whether Liberian, European or American. One also had good reason to be grateful to a good many people in the country - the men and women of the government agencies, schools and churches, the many personal friends and various embassies - for their readiness to render assistance to the men in the remote forests of the Bong Range.
The German Embassy was generally less forthcoming, in line with the particular rules of the German Foreign Service and indeed, the German government system which regards representatives of the industry primarily as agents of special interest groups to favour which would be inconceivable. That such remoteness need not be universal, though, is shown by experience in other, comparable industrial countries, as well as by the fifth German Ambassador in Bong history whose friendly approach was surely due not alone to his training as an economist.
As the sun rose the next morning, the men were once more tramping through the undergrowth, this time to a small waterfall half-way to the village of Bargoletta which has since been covered by the settling pond of the concentrator installation, which stretches across valleys and hills in an expanse that will some day rival the larger dam lakes of Europe. A new camp would rise here to house the Swedish drilling crew and their assistants when they began the scheduled ore drilling operations on the mountain. The waterfall would yield drinking water from its source a little higher up the slope and furnish a swimming pool. Then, after the Swedes would leave the engineers' camp could be moved down here where it would be closer to the centre of operations once it could be reached by a path.
Near-by, at the side of another stream, a second workers' camp would be erected as soon as the capacity of Camp 1, which was limited by its supply of drinking water, would be exhausted. The second camp would house some fifty men and their families. It was arranged for the men to live with their families wherever possible, if only to cut down an the number of „woman palavers“. New workers easily became involved with the women of the neighbouring hamlets, the attraction being the very newness of the men and perhaps even more their supply of ready cash. Inevitably, the Clan Chief Courts heard ever more cases to which defendants not only took their witnesses; the Company as well had to be represented so that the most could be made of the „show“. The practice was an expensive one in both money and man-hours. The locally fixed fine for a single case of adultery was then $ 10, which went to the husband as „compensation“, fines rising proportionately with the offence. Taken together with court fees, it was sometimes more than the delinquent was able to pay especially when the case involved the wife of a chief. There often followed prolongued absence from work owing to forced labour or detention - more than once in the stocks. To avoid the loss of man-hours, there was nothing for the Company but to foot the bill, at least in part.
The third job of that day was the choice of a site for the new adult school in the forest off the new camp. When evening came, all three sites had been staked out and measured. Once the plans were drawn up building could begin within weeks; clearance and road-building could start at once.
It had been a good day's work, and the evening passed peacefully in preparations for the mining engineer's forthcoming talks with the Mine Office. Its official title was the Bureau of National Resources and Surveying; it was headed by an older brother of the Secretary of the Treasury, who in turn presided over the concession negotiations before the government board and was a formidable „opponent“. Of commanding stature, he was a man of profound education which he effectively brought to bear in driving a very hard bargain for Liberia and its people against the new group of German industrialists. The other side was represented by the mining engineer, a partner often obliged to bargain for cents, if the project was to be realised at all. Unlike a promoted, a person able to be generous with money supplied by others, he was accountable to his own company and consequently not easy to budge. No wonder then that the negotiations were difficult and tough.
The Treasury Secretary's elder brother, however, was a different kettle of fish. An unassuming, quiet-spoken man, he was a businesslike professional and every inch a patriot. Among friends or in the company of his very feminine life and his children, whom he guides as a wiser and older friend, he bubbles over with good fun and jokes. He has countless amusing stories to teil from the life of his family which has furnished several of the country's presidents and high officials. For a long time he was his government's only engineer; and he had presented Liberia an the building of the Free Port of Monrovia, financed by United States Lease and Lend. The life and soul of the geological government bureau, he knew his country as well as anyone; there is scarcely a village where he has not conducted geological field work. It was a delight to discuss with him the scenic beauties of Liberia's remoter regions which might easily rank among the world's famous tourist attractions, were they only more easily accessible. Liberia has waterfalls which cascade o thousand feet down forest gorges, it has jet-black, tree-bounded little lakes as smooth as glass which are sacred to the people of the scattered villages within walking distance. Indeed, the upper reaches of a stream above a village are often regarded as protected, along with the big catfish that live in them. Liberia's villages may appear as picturesque terraces of round huts atop a cone-shaped hill or consist of fort-like, tightly packed cubes in a river's loop, the palaver hall forming the centre of each. There invariably is an ancestral shrine which may be a miniature village in itself. However, those villages which have escaped disfigurement by corrugated tin roofs and prefabricated barns can only be reached by slogging single file for hours along dark, arboured paths, and are therefore unknown even to many Liberian City dwellers.
Between professionals there was a way of solving any problem. And so the Director of the Liberian Mining Bureau readily granted the mining engineer's request for an African counterpart to assist the first German engineer expected to arrive in May 1958 to begin on-the-spot exploration. Despite his bureau's limited staff, he detailed one of his own assistants of many years for the job, a man who later did a lot to making work an the Zaweah smooth and effective.
Another high official was the Mining Bureau's Deputy Director, who later succeeded to the directorship and who also sits an the technical commission of the Bong Mining Company. Between him and the mining engineer, a personal friendship developed after a joint climb of the Zaweah, the Deputy Director's first.
Founded an human relationships, work an the Bong project progressed speedily under the excellent cooperation of the Liberian government departments, even if not fast enough for some of the driving forces. When the mining engineer revisited Liberia after a period away from the country, it could be announced that FINSIDER, the big Italian steel group which is for the most part state-owned, had been gained as a partner in the Bong project. Since 1955 these two important European groups have managed a joint mine in India to supply iron ore to the Italian and German steel industries both of which are largely dependent an foreign raw material. The mining engineer, who Gould at times be drastic in his actions, held that it was sometimes possible to encourage one potential partner by the interest of another. On the practical side, the introduction of this new partner who had not so far been connected with the concessionaire proper - the Liberian-German DELIMCO whose German portion was the sole property of the Ruhr steelworks backing the Gewerkschaft-Exploration - raised quite a few problems of company law and finance. However, the Liberian partners were most understanding so that the rather complicated establishment of the financing- and management-company, the Bong Mining Co., along with the required inter-company agreements, such as the assignment agreement, was concluded to the satisfaction of all parties. In this successful conclusion, the harmonious co-operation described here deserved a large share of the credit.
In the interests of expanding African-European partnership this further step toward internationalism was an essential one. It will subsequently be shown how a combination of German and Italian training methods can help in this.
Properly speaking, did the challenge of the mine not really begin until the inception of partnership. Hopefully, this mine could show a way to collaboration between the African states and the industrial countries, a genuine co-operation between equals in that equality has not been limited to the economic sphere but also encompassed a mutual respect for national peculiarities and cultural backgrounds; above all, a mutual understanding of the legacies of the past which helped to form the ways of life of the present, in this particular case those of Germany and Liberia. We Germans, for example, must recognize our misconception of a black Africa lacking in culture. Ever since Frobenius - if not before - we should have known better, and should also know the purpose of the more or less deliberate misrepresentations, which was to justify colonial rule and the slave trade. Only a philosophy reducing some to the status of cattle could reconcile Christian consciences to the mass sale of one's fellow creatures, as well as to the amassing of fortunes from that sale. If we Christians found numerous willing accomplices among non Christians, that does not absolve us of our guilt at all.
Frobenius' (1873-1938) views are increasingly confirmed by new finds in black Africa, enabling modern archaeologists to prove the high culture and civilisation enjoyed by the African states over many centuries before any standards even remotely equalling theirs were attained in central Europe. These recent findings have been evaluated in Old Africa Rediscovered by Basil Davidson (Gollancz) of 1962, and in other, later works proving that remnants of this high civilisation lasted into the 19th century; indeed, the sculpture of several tribes, some of them Liberian, as well furnishes continued evidence of the cultures once flourishing across the African continent.
What matters now is to relieve the African peoples of the outside pressure arresting their development in civilisation and technology alike, for that pressure has only been removed in recent times and not yet in all regions. It is up to us to guide black Africa into a new development phase and bring it up to the Standard of the industrial countries. It goes without saying that in this effort one cannot link up with the stage where development was cut off hundreds of years ago, nor is it necessary if we allow ourselves to be guided by Frobenius. In his famous work, The Cultural History of Africa, he amply demonstrated that the culture of the African Negro has an original value of its own, in no way falling short of the most glorious cultures in world history. He further demonstrated that the African Negro donates an essential building block to the creation of the universal culture to come in which Liberia will certainly have its own role to play.
Exactly there lies a tremendous opportunity for turning an old handicap - this comparative „backwardness“ - to advantageous and perhaps vital effect an the dehumanized mass society of the west. For, unlike the soulless control of society in the advanced countries - and that includes the socialist countries - a healthy individualism serving the needs of man has been preserved in Africa. This individualism may be the very factor preventing at the last moment the complete loss of individual dignity in the total society.
In Africa, society still means to a large degree the ties of the individual to other individuals, a fulfilment of life by the exercise of compassion, consideration and even love, as well as human pleasures like music and dance, all of which make life worth living in the true companionship of others. By contrast, society in the west is a well-oiled mechanism for the isolation of the individual, despite all its apparent pressure to level up and „keep up with the Joneses“. For natural individualism this society substitutes cold egocentrism, forcing an its members its institutionalised behaviour devoid of any trace of humour, always a mark of a superior being. Instead of life's original meaning, which is a harmonious community, western society elevates selfishness to a substitute religion, and is the more dangerous for being recognized for what it is by a mere minority which cannot escape being oppressed and defamed in such a society.
Who in Europe still knows how to smile that special smile which neither patronises nor condescends, is neither sarcastic nor sceptical and is in fact a smile which does not erect barriers? In Africa that certain smile is still around, an active smile of amusement at one's own absurdity, even if most Europeans fail to understand it or misread it, which may have grave consequences. A case in point is the young German craftsman who loses his temper with his Liberian assistant because the latter is unable to understand directions which seem self-explanatory to the German whose own training never presented similar difficulties since he and his fellow apprentices have lived in a technological environment all their lives. This young man, fresh from his own training, is now expected to train another, in a foreign country, a foreign language and without any qualifications for teaching. No wonder that his impatience is compounded by the Liberian's smile. Yet the Liberian smiles both to ask for understanding for his position and to express surprise at the other chap's excitement. It must be remembered that the German, too, labours under many stresses; he speaks only the most primitive English, has no teaching experience, subconsciously strives for efficiency and is moreover wary from the heat and humidity. Hardly realising all these factors, he will erupt with helpless fury - another stress - letting off steam by a familiar reaction, 'bloody fool, and insolent as well!' If no Liberian or European superior is present at this point to interfere, anything may happen; it is no exaggeration to say that the ensuing clash may leave at least one of the antagonists with his faith in manking shattered.
It is a point of interest that this kind of trouble rarely occurs among the Italians and Spaniards working an the Bong project. Perhaps the explanation is that these nations have not been corrupted by the material pressures of modern society to the same extent as the Germans. Consequently the question arises of whether the Italian training system for skilled workers and technicians might not be better suited to the purpose. Doubtless, though, efforts should be made from the European side to work for a more thorough internationalism like that successfully applied in Bomi Hills.
One cannot overemphasize the need for a speedy expansion of the training scheme for skilled workers in a country like Liberia. At the graduation ceremony of the Booker Washington Institute - Liberia's oldest vocational training centre - the mining engineer was asked to give the formal address, a great honour indeed, since the previous year the speech hat been made by President Tubman; and no German had ever spoken in the Liberian-American institute. In the course of his speech, the mining engineer had this to say:
„... President Tubman in his address of last year emphasized the importance of vocational education as the bedrock of Liberian national development. The BWI has been identified and credited with playing a leading role in providing the nation with skilled Liberians and a more enlightened public. Over the years, it has produced a corps of men and women who form the backbone of any nation, the middle class Population ...
Those of us in the know, considering our long association with Liberia, are happy to vouch that for a long time your Government has been pursuing programmes for industrialisation. Serious efforts have consistently been made to establish large and small industries. The main purpose is to promote economic growth and enhance the living conditions of the people. But how can this be achieved if Liberia has to look elsewhere for trained technicians and skilled manpower? The more so since industrialisation has become the capstone of a successful development effort. The deficit of skills is bound to impede development even with the grandest industrialisation programmes. And so, Liberia moves steadily into the industrial age. I believe it would be a tragic mistake if she did not stake stock of her capacities and capabilities and did something about decreasing the deficit of skilled manpower essential to industry. It is in this area that vocational and technical training's contribution to economic progress becomes more apparent. There are several factors by which the economic growth of any nation may be seriously hampered, one of them, of course, is the importation of skilled labour...
More advanced nations, recognizing the importance of vocational and technical training to economic progress and the well-being of their people, took appropriate steps to ensure the progress and prosperity they enjoy today. If it served them well, the developing nations must accept the same or even more. Fortunately, the developing countries of Africa are rich in natural resources which a number of developed nations do not have ...
Another area which deserves some consideration might be the creation of an autonomous national vocational training commission. Bearing in mind the fact that I am an authority in such matters, I would also venture to suggest that the Commission by composed of representatives of Government, Business and Industry and Training Institutions and Centres. It would be charged with the responsibilities of formulating vocational training policies, standardizing training programmes, formulating and codifying regulations and requirements for certificate-bearing skilled workers, standardizing wages for various trades in keeping with levels of training, and lastly, formulating ways and means by which business and industry can subsidise nationwide training efforts ...“
The training facilities run by the big concessionaires thus far have been an essential component of the country's education system, and did pioneering work in their early impact, but now they must be expanded by the concerted effort of both government and private agencies.
As the Bong project drew ever closer to completion, it became an increasingly integrated part of Liberian life in many areas, not least in the area of human relations and friendships. It had begun with the Bong mine's first „landlord“, a senator and son of a chief, who always had a friendly word or small gift ready for white visitors to his idyllic island in the St. Paul's River, which could be reached only by canoe. He still plays an active role in the Bong's life as sponsor of the most varied events.
For years only men had worked an the Bong proper and for the Bong in Monrovia, one exception the mining engineer's Duesseldorf secretary who kindly acted as resident manage in the Bong's Monrovia office for a few months in 1959. But as the number of women gradually rose, conditions subtly changed, life becoming more pleasant for the human touch the girls provided. The first secretary of the Bong married the first permanent German staff geologist. There have been several marriages between Liberians and Germans since, the ratio of the sexes and nations being roughly equal. For the time being, this blending of the races is only to be welcomed; what problems it may produce - that too is part of the challenge of the mine. In any case, such problems will have to be faced generally; they will doubtless be solved eventually in the course of mankind's future development.
Meanwhile, work was steadily progressing both an the Zaweah and below, even if the green light for the final development was still far off. The business basis was just not very attractive, and, in the opinion of some, quite inadequate. And even when the carefully detailed calculations of several years finally showed some profitability, however slight, our worries were far from over. The Edgar Kaiser people of Oakland had offered generous assistance in those calculations, consulting, checking and generally proving good friends.
The next difficult stage was the effort to attract capital, since the means at the disposal of the German steelworks, rebuilt from scratch after the war with foreign credits, were naturally limited and indeed quite inadequate. Nor were the Italian steelworks in a better position. At the same time, chances for reinvestment - to be used for the necessary credits - in the major money markets, such as the U. S. A. were steadily deteriorating. The outcome was a series of anxiety-ridden and sometimes rather dramatic sessions in Duesseldorf with the steel bosses and their experts, but above all with the Gewerkschaft Exploration which bore the brunt of the work and responsibility and is still bearing it. Initially, the company consisted of only a handful of first-rate people, each of them a capable, original-minded specialist, doing excellent work. On his protracted absences, the mining engineer could rely implicitly an his first deputy who has remained his closest assistant to this day. He ran the office while the other man was travelling all over the world in pursuit of various projects in addition to the Bong. That well over 90 per cent of these projects never became practical business propositions is a different matter which need not concern us here.
Eventually, the financing of the project was being ensured step by step. The first job done was the dredging of the harbour in Monrovia and the construction of the mining company's harbour installations and pier, justified in any case in a thriving free port, the only one an Africa's West Coast. This operation had been preceded by a series of difficult talks in New York, during which the mining engineer sat stolidly confronting hosts of Americans who curiously enough retained the right to every decision even after the harbour had been completed for fifteen years or more. There followed the building of a pilot testing plant, more or less by coincidence in the Salzgitter region; and the construction of a railway along the St Paul's River. Other operations carried out were the extension of the living quarters, the construction of the power station and the concentrator. With the haulage roads finished as well - and in surface mining they have the width of motorways - there finally came the great day, November 12, 1965, when President Tubman pressed a button and thereby put in motion the whole miracle of what was at least for the present the most up-to-date mining installation.
The day began with the President riding up to the Bong on the new ore railway opening up that region of Liberia. At the site he was welcomed by the gentlemen of the steelworks who had come over from Germany and Italy respectively for the occasion. A service followed in the open shell of the church which was still unfinished because the managers had justly given priority to the mining installations. Anyway, what better way can there be of paying homage to the Lord than under the open sky arching blue in the golden light of the hot African sun above those congregated an the mountain! To the mining engineer it would have been inconceivable for the Bong Company to claim the right of being a complete community without a church of its own. What presumption to credit human brains alone for everything that had been created and achieved! And it was particularly gratifying that this impressive, modern church, open to all Christian denominations - a unique innovation in Liberia - had been designed by Liberian architects and built by a Liberian firm with Liberian labour and German financial support. The Regional Church of Westphalia had raised the funds and also assumed sponsorship of this young congregation in Liberia.
A short drive took the President to the Hill-Top, the summit of the ore mountain which, divested of its protective forest belt, rose bare and crimson to the sky, affording a clear view of the bustling life an its slopes and the thousands of dwellings at its foot in an area that had been deserted before. Then followed the dedication ceremony proper.
At the concentrator site, by the side of the crude-ore towers, a large sun-roof had been erected, and under its shelter a large crowd of guests stood assembled. In addition to the Vice President, the Speaker, the Chief Justice and the entire Cabinet, those present included nearly every member of the legislature, the ambassadors, the German Government's special envoy, and everyone of rank in Liberian life and industry, as well as many others who had come here to attend the opening of the mine. In fact, most countries an earth had contributed in some way to the construction and equipment of the venture. National and business interests had been disregarded in the effort to acquire machinery and implements, instruments, materials and tools. The only criteria had been reliability, serviceability and value for money; and a number of directors of the supplier firms had accepted the invitation to attend the ceremony.
The mining engineer's speech was one List of acknowledgment to the President and Government of Liberia, to the early pioneers, both European and African, to the General Manager, who throughout the construction period had firmly held uncounted strings in his capable hands. The speech paid tribute to the leading figures of the German and Italian steel industries for investing their money out of faith in the people of the Bong, and to the director of the Gewerkschaft Exploration for throwing all caution to the Winds in assuming responsibility for these investments - no light responsibility in view of the fact that the industry had lost its foreign possessions in two world wars. The mining engineer conveyed his thanks to his assistants and colleagues in Germany and at the pit, many of whom had made notable contributions while remaining modestly in the background. Thousands of human destinies had been linked to the Bong; to many of those who were being thanked that day the mine had become the adventure of a lifetime, which would never lose its hold an them. The President accepted the traditional present from the Bong, by Liberian custom a white chicken and a bowl of rice standing for the agricultural produce of the interior and called „the white heart“. Since the product of the Bong's innermost interior is hard, silver-grey and black-banded iron ore, a large black bowl had been cut from it to represent the „white heart“.
When the President pressed the Button releasing a big blast down the length of the upper ridge lying spread out before those present, his action set in motion a complex chain of technical processes. After the blasting of the 50 foot benches, into which the blast holes have been drilled by the biggest electric drilling machines ever used in West Africa, 6 to 10 yard shovels dig into the broken ore and load it an 45 ton or 100 ton trucks which transport it along the motorway-sized haulage roads to the gyratory crushers. After being broken down from often cupboard size to fist size, the crude ore moves down a 540 foot conveyor belt to the storage bins of the concentrator, which hold from 8 to 3000 tons. These in turn feed eight large cascade mills grinding the ore down to less than 1 mm grain under a stream of water. The slurry is pumped to Humphrey’s spiral separators, there separated into rich concentrate and low-grade middlings which, after regrinding in ball mills, are separated on magnetic separators into rich concentrate and tailings. Before the clear water of these tailings flows into the river, it forms a large lake transforming the countryside.
This process, which is of course much more complex than can here be described, turns the poor ore of the Bong into an iron ore concentrate of well over 65 per cent Fe which is transported via storage and loading bins over the 50-mile railway to the Free Port of Monrovia. There it is loaded an ore ships of which even 80,000 BRT vessels can be serviced after the recent further dredging of the harbour basin. The sirens' dialogue between the ore carrier and the tugboat towing her out into the open seas sounds the closing note to the Bong people's responsibility for the product they so laboriously wrest from the Zaweah virgin forest. But there is no end to their responsibility for the human fates bound up with and determined by the mountain.
Hard though this new life in the tropic rain forest may seem to the European once the thrill of his novel experience - the challenge of the mine - has worn off and his life is ruled by the ordinary working day, he nonetheless lives in a familiar urban environment. Not so the African. To many Africans the move to the town, made necessary by industrialisation, constitutes a drastic clash between their traditional way of life and the totally different anonymous Western life style. They must adapt and adapt fast, a process which may spell trouble in its coercion to an individual deprived of the shelter of his intimately known village. No one can foresee the outcome for the individual caught in this contrast of systems, an the one hand the traditional African, an the other the dehumanized world of Western city- and business-life. The result may be intensified rootlessness and alienation with their full range of inherent dangers, among them refuge to the old deities - though these no longer exert the Same power over the uprooted individual - or to alien ideologies. In many African countries there is consequently an increased danger of a new kind of colonialism based an Eastern ideology. Little material aid though Russia extends to Africa - for well over 90 per cent is granted by Western countries and given with no political ties attached - the cleverer are the Eastern governments, above all those of the Soviet Union, China and East Germany, at exploiting existing discontent in the build-up of political positions in Africa, needless to say, for the ultimate goal of gaining military-political bases.
However, even in Liberia the dangers of industrialisation ought not to be overlooked. Once an individual abandons his admittedly often lowly but sheltered existence to be swallowed by the anonymity of industrial life, his soul is in jeopardy. He finds himself confronted by unexpected problems which may lead, among other things, to frustration and mental and physical failure with all their consequences.
This is where the Europeans must assume responsibility. It is their duty to guide their African fellow beings through the difficult stage of transition. In view of their technological superiority, that is surely not asking too muck. Moreover, the European ought to realize that in the process of transforming traditional standards to the Standards of modern economy, he is not the only dispenser of benefit. If he is at all capable of appreciating the remarkable human values of the Africans arising from their still closer ties to original and genuine humanity, he will have plenty to gain from the exchange. Regarded from this angle as well, the challenge of the mine may be called a real partnership. On the practical side, the painful process can be mitigated by speedy replacement of the Europeans in the venture by Liberians, that speed being dictated by the pace of expanding existing training programmes. It is true that in this there are natural limitations, yet within them the replacement process must be developed and accelerated despite the attendant risks. What has already been achieved should encourage further systematic development and continuation. And it should be clearly understood that until its final conclusion, the challenge of the mine goes on for all concerned in it.



added by: Robert W. Kranz (02-Jan-2003)