Engineering: Reflections on 31 years in Zimbabwean engineering

I was 41 years old then and am 72 now. The period since independence has been transformational for the engineering industry; from being cushioned, yet starved, by a central allocation of foreign currency, to fierce and unrelenting competition in a global market.

From a personal view, and for the company I was paid to manage, a close relationship with, first, the Eeaz and later Engineering, Iron and Steel Association of Zimbabwe (Eisaz), became an essential extra-mural part of the job.

This gradually extended to representing the engineering sector’s interests at the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries(CZI) and the Standards Association of Zimbabwe. Committee work at Eisaz  led to regional chairship and eventually a spell as president of the association. At CZI, I spent time with the mind–numbing title of chairman of the Industrial Associations’ chairmen’s committee.

Hallowed names in the industry became friends; Cochrane, Conolly, Craster, Irwin, Nimr and Chapman.They epitomised the strength and central role of engineering in the growth of Zimbabwe. Today the names sound different – Jokonya, Gurira, Kumwenda – but the same spirit glows.
And the tools of our trade have changed – from slide rule to Skype.

I recall a lunch in the works-canteen of GEC at Rugby in England when on my search for a technology partner for a large project at Almin to convert copper into semi-fabricated products. The managing director, having shown me the enormous steel castings of the frame of an extrusion press, slammed his fist on the table. The glasses (of water) jumped off the table as he shouted: “That’s man’s engineering!” Today the profession has nearly as many women as men, and that extrusion press, or one like it, is now sitting on deep foundations in Willowvale, Harare awaiting an upgrade.

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