Rumours, myths and legends

11 06 2007

I heard a rumour on Saturday that one of the cell phone companies, Econet, had suspended all services out of the country because it could not source the foreign currency to pay for them. This was supported by the assertion that the lady in question had texted here daughter in the UK and got no reply and could not dial either. I was skeptical and immediately texted my brother in the UK who replied wondering what I was up to. Later in the day I called my uncle too and got through easily. So much for that one but it does bear a bit of analysis:

1. Econet HAS stated that it is struggling to get the foreign currency to pay for international communications and has applied to the government to be allowed to charge in US dollars. The government refused it (it also sets the rates at which all calls are made which makes Zimbabwe one of the cheapest places on the planet for cell phone calls).
2. Cell phone calls  are notoriously difficult within the country.
3. The lady in question was having difficulty getting through to her daughter (I did venture that maybe the daughter did not want to talk to her).

So it had all the ingredients of plausibility, but that’s about all.

Up until now the area in which I live has been relatively unaffected by all the power cuts plaguing the rest of Harare. That changed this weekend with 9 hours a day without power and it has also been off since five this morning – 11 hours and counting. It is a double irritant because my house is dependent on power for the water pressure so now power frequently means no water though if the tank is full enough I do get a trickle. So when there is power I have to remember to fill up the bath with cold water (the hot is gravity fed from the tank in the roof) or wait for the hot water to cool down. It is already getting tiring.

I was chatting to Austin at the gym at lunchtime as he took advantage of a brief supply of water at the gym to get a shower. I mentioned that I’d heard that Zimbabwe has lost its right to refine gold and export to the international market because they’d fallen below the threshold of 25t per year. In fact, talking to someone I know in the gold business, Zimbabwe has only exported (legally) 700kg so far this year. This means that Zimbabwe has to pay South Africa a commission to market its gold. Well, maybe that explains some of the luxury vehicles around town. Austin replied that it was more to do with the Marange diamonds that are being plundered in Manicaland. I have mentioned them in an earlier blog but Austin filled me in on few details.

Some 35 years or so ago, de Beers, the diamond mining conglomerate, staked the Marange claims but decided not to mine them as it was not in their marketing plan for Africa. In those days de Beers had total control of the world’s diamond market. When the claims lapsed recently, a Zimbabwean businessman noticed and got them reclaimed using a British company. They then announced their plans and all and sundry descended on the area to help themselves. They were removed after some time and the government now mines the diamonds. I say “government” but precious little, if any, of the estimated US$1bn has found its way back into the Zimbabwean economy. The claims are incredibly rich in mostly industrial diamonds but according to the friend of Austin’s who is an executive with the aforementioned British based company, there are a lot of gem quality stones close to the surface that are easily retrieved using no more than a bucket. Now wouldn’t it be nice if they just decided to give a little bit to the electricity supply authority to do some maintenance so that we could have a few less blackouts? No, maybe not, the greed is total. De Beers has not of course totally disappeared from the scene. Concerned that the diamonds pouring out of the ground might depress the market somewhat, they are buying them up (probably at a reduced rate in return for no questions asked) and they do need to maintain the myth that diamonds are rare. And to further the tragedy, this largesse will only encourage those extremely fat cats at the top to stay there as long as possible; after all, why would they want to return to any semblance of law and order with all that unspendable wealth to be had?

Oh, about the legends; sorry, I couldn’t think of any.



2 responses

11 06 2007
Big Blister

Where is marange?

11 06 2007

Marange is about 20km south of Mutare on the Birchenough Bridge road.

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