Red taped and bound

18 08 2011

The calendar on the door is given out by the Zimbabwe Government.  I am vaguely surprised for a moment that they are splurging on calendars, then the surprise passes. The government is not known for its fiscal common sense. It is not an inspiring calendar, the logo is a large diamond whose irony is not lost on me given the plundering of the diamond fields at Marange in the east of the country. Inside the diamond are two scenes; one of a tobacco floor sale somewhere, the other of some sort of nondescript industrial production line. The diamond, at least that’s what it looks like, has far too many facets. The Zimbabwe Coat of Arms is below the diamond. It has a few similarities to the old Rhodesian one; the sable antelopes have been replaced by kudu. The red socialist star behind the Zimbabwe bird is even more ironic than the diamond. Zimbabwe dabbled with socialism in the 1980s and then discovered that it was an expensive proposition and then decided to charge for education and healthcare. The government sponsored press still refers to various dignitaries in the ruling ZANU-PF party as “Comrade” so-and-so (shortened to “Cde”) but none of the other papers do. Behind the shield is a badza (hoe) and an AK47. I am only aware of one other country that honours this ubiquitous weapon in this way and Mozambique is seriously contemplating removing it from it’s coat of arms. I move my attention back to the woman behind the desk. She is as cross-eyed as anyone I have ever seen. In fact she is spectacularly cross-eyed. I didn’t think it was possible to have TWO cross-eyes but that is the distinct impression I get. She is holding up a cell phone in front of her but neither eye is focussed on it. Another woman wanders in and plugs a laptop into the laser printer and prints off some documents. A tinny radio is playing repetitive local music. Maybe it’s a CD on the computer. Eventually Dr M comes out of his office. He is smartly dressed in a dark suit and has dark rimmed glasses. He looks very businesslike and efficient and out of context with the rest of his office.

“How can I help you?” he asks.
“I need to get authorization from you for a customer of mine who wants to export some tomato seedlings to Botswana” I  reply.
“You will need his import permit to see that we can comply with the phytosanitary requirements”.
“I have done that and Plant Protection at Mazowe say it’s not a problem but I was sent here by Ministry of Agriculture” I say holding up the note of requirements from the Ministry of Agriculture. He glances at the note looking a bit puzzled.
“But this is for seed” he says. “You are exporting seedlings. This should be straightforward. You don’t need anything from me, they are confused over there. I am sorry for your wasted time” and he is off down the corridor on other business.

A customer in Botswana was referred to me by another nursery in Bulawayo that did not have space for his order. I was rather sceptical at first as to why someone in Botswana would want to come to Harare to get seedlings but business is business and I duly verified that we could meet the phytosanitary requirements to export tomato seedlings. Now the seedlings are nearly ready to go and it’s time to get the paperwork in order.

“So what do I need to export seedlings?” I ask the bank official.
He looks a bit puzzled and gives it some thought.
“A CD1?” I prompt him. I am guessing. It’s been some 20 years since I was directly involved in exporting flowers and I don’t even know if that form still exists from then.
“No” he replies “but you will need a CD3”.  “And do you have an OSEP number?”.
I have no idea what that is and say so.

A few days later I am back at the bank without the mysterious OSEP number. This time they are better prepared and after a short wait in the office of the customer relations manager I am presented with a sheaf of papers that need to be filled in. I get back to my pickup and flip through the papers. It is a formidable list. I need amongst other things; police clearance for both directors (including two full sets of finger-prints), proof of residence for both directors, a listing of who owns what shares, a CR14 from the registrar of companies (oops, my other director died last year and I have not renewed the CR14 and appointed another director), tax clearance, certified copies of the directors’ ID documents etc. Nope, it’s definitely time to give someone who knows about this sort of thing a call.

“Hold on please, I’ll pass you over to Charles” the secretary at the freight forwading company that I have used in the past tells me.
I explain what I want to do.
“So how much is the consignment worth?” Charles asks me.
“About 600 dollars” I reply.
“Well, if it’s less than 500 the exporter does not need to fill in a CD1” he says. “All he needs is a commercial invoice. Can you not make it less than 500 dollars?”.
“I suppose I can” I reply,  thank him and hang up. This is certainly much simpler. All I need to do now is get the phytosanitary certificate (certificate of plant good health) and an export permit.

“Ah” says the helpful official at the Ministry of Agriculture where I have arrived to see about getting an export permit. “You need a phytosanitary certificate and a letter of approval from Seed Services at Research and Specialist Services”.
“But they are seedlings, not seed” I explain.
“Yes, but you still need approval” he replies.

A short while later I am Seed Services, not at all sure how much sense I will get out of them at 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.
“Hello” I greet the clerk, “how are you doing?”.
“Fine” he replies, “how are you?”.
I reply in the affirmative. I don’t really care how he is and I doubt if he cares how I am but it is customary to greet people in this way in Zimbabwe. Sometimes, just for entertainment, I say something like “awful” just to see if anyone notices. Often they don’t.
“How can I help?” he asks.
I tell him and he passes me forms for seed importation.
“No, I am exporting seedlings” I emphasize and he passes me forms for seed exportation.
“You need to fill them out in triplicate” he tells me. “One set for each variety”.
I look rather blankly at the two forms I have been given.
“Ah, we are short of forms so you need to have those copied” he explains, a little embarrassed.

Back at the pickup I have a closer look at the forms. It is very clear they are for seed exportation, not live plant material. A technician in a white lab coat wanders over to see what I am doing. He is munching on a mielie (corn) cob and has bits of the kernels on his chin. He is eager to help. I explain what I want to do.
“No, no, those are for exporting seed. Go and see Dr M in the next block of offices”. He takes the blank forms from me. “We are short of these” he explains.

There is a woman slouched in a chair at the reception, suckling a bottle of water. “Fill in the book” she says, pushing a register book at me. She goes back to suckling and slurping and watches as I fill it in in my worst possible handwriting. I sign with a scrawl that does not even vaguely resemble my signature. “Down the corridor, turn left to room 21” she waves vaguely.

I walk into Dr M’s office, sit in a chair near the door and contemplate the calendar on the door opposite.

On the way back home I wonder why there is so much confusion over seeds and seedlings. My staff use the same Shona word for both; mbeyu, but everyone I have spoken to this afternoon spoke good English.




2 responses

18 08 2011
Big Blister

Not sure I can make a diplomatic comment here, so that’s all I’ll say…. But perhaps I will print it off for the WA Dept Ag!

18 08 2011

You can title it: “I used to work here!”

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