The Zimbabwe Visa Business Programme

8 02 2016
On the road to cheaper climes

On the road to cheaper climes

My German friends love southern Africa. They spend up to 9 months a year in the region traveling around in their large, well-equipped, overland vehicle. This time they only spent 2 weeks with me. Florian is a handy man and helped install the solar panels and power system while he was here.

Last Monday they borrowed a smaller vehicle from me and went into town to extend their tourist visa. They took the opportunity to inquire about visa costs and conditions.

A single entry visa is US$30 extendable for 6 months but only in 30 day periods. The first 2 periods of 30 days are covered by the initial fee thereafter it costs $20 per 30 days. Each renewal starts on the day it’s renewed i.e. one cannot renew in advance and it has to be done in person. After 6 months one has to spend at least 6 months outside the country. There are not, apparently, any concessions for pensioners.

For the road bound tourist there are more costs. A “carbon tax” and road fees are $30 for 2 months (depending on the size of the vehicle), all the usual insurance costs, a border-crossing fee of $10 and then a road tax of $10 per 100km.

Lots of countries have these sort of restrictions on tourist visas; apparently to discourage illegal employment. In Zimbabwe this ironic – we have 90% of the population lacking formal employment and a government that is broke by any definition and yet we are discouraging tourists from staying to spend their money!

Permanent residence costs a $100,000 investment and a local partner has to be involved. In the past the local partner had to hold at least 51% of the shares (seriously!) but this was not mentioned by the government official involved. Maybe she didn’t know if this was still the case (it seems to change on a monthly basis depending on which government official is being quoted) or maybe she was too embarrassed to say.

A pensioner visa exists for South Africa; $50 for 4 years! South Africa is also a lot cheaper in Zimbabwe at the moment. It’s not entirely due to their weak currency but also due to it being just, well, cheaper! So Ute and Florian and their little dog Tiga left this morning for an extended South African tour.

The local press is replete with reports of the drought and how local Zimbabweans are suffering. In masterstroke of irony, last week I received a request from the local branch of ZANU-PF (the ruling party) soliciting funds for Robert Mugabe’s birthday party later this month. That he should be having a massive birthday bash in the middle of a drought, that he has declared a national emergency, has not escaped the local press. Yes, suggestions have been made that the funds for the bash go to those who’d just like one square meal a day. Whether this comes to pass remains to be seen. It’s the first time I’ve had this request but in the past urban businesses have been squeezed – heavily.





The curse of good health

13 08 2015

My uncle turns 93 or maybe it’s 92 this year. Mentally he’s very sharp but physically he’s frail. Last year he decided he’d had enough of life and decided to end it on his terms. He failed and now he’s condemned to a old age home in rural England, waiting to serve his time amongst the old, frail and demented.

I went to visit him the week before last whilst on an infrequent trip to a family gathering and the wedding of a young friend. We don’t get together much; my brother lives in the UK, my sister in north-western USA and I’m in Zimbabwe. It was my brother’s 60th birthday last weekend and I’d said to my sister-in-law that I’d come over for it if he promised to have a party.

wedding cake

Lucy and Will’s big day

It was pure luck that Lucy was getting married the weekend before and well, I probably won’t see Ant again.

The UK is unlike Zimbabwe in many ways;
Clean
Organised
Good roads
Horrendously heavy traffic but a noticeable absence of bad drivers (ok so it wasn’t a dangerous breach but it’s still a red light!)
Crowded
Green (Zim is very dry right now
In short – First World!

So whilst in London we did the tourist thing, the Science Museum to get my dose of science.

tower bridge

Tower Bridge on the Thames

Dining hall 2

Dining hall at the old Naval Academy.

Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark

A Thames river cruise to the Cutty Sark and checked out the amazing dining hall at the old Naval Academy. Zimbabwe does not have recorded history going  back that far and we don’t have a navy either. We do however have better weather than the UK though on this trip it wasn’t bad, choosing to rain just when I chose to do some serious photography.

Getting back to Harare we encountered some decidedly Third World air service with all the luggage being left in Johannesburg because there was no Jet A1 fuel in Harare. Well, that was the official story. It is certainly symptomatic of the state of the economy here and meant that we had to go back to the airport the next day to collect our luggage (don’t they deliver it elsewhere?). So my Saturday visit to the Gallery Delta had to wait a week.

The current exhibition there is From Line to Form where Wallen Mapondera’s string picture Everyone is a Vendor neatly caught the dire state of the economy; we just don’t produce much anymore.

Everyone is a vendor

Everyone is a vendor

Not at all like the market we visited in the curiously named Bury St Edmond where it was very hip to buy local produce. Not sure if these tomatoes were local but they are certainly better quality than the ones we get here!

Good quality produce

Good quality produce

When I left Ant I shook his hand. His grip was firm by any standard. He just laughed when I mentioned it. Handshake strength is one of the criteria used to asses old people’s health. I winced inwardly at the irony of it.





Perspective

14 09 2014

We descended below the clouds some 20 minutes out of Harare airport. A bit of mental arithmetic made that some 100 km or so depending on the speed of the aircraft. I wasn’t in a window seat but had a reasonably clear view of the countryside and kept an eye open for irrigated crops, their intense green easy to spot at this time of year against the brown of the veld. Nothing. One or two old centre pivot irrigation fields were detectable by their characteristic circular pattern but now they were derelict. Plenty of dams though and they were mostly full in this, the dry season. Yes, I was definitely home.

congress

The keynote address at the first day of the International Horticultural Congress in Brisbane

The International Society of Horticultural Science holds a International Congress every 4 years in a different country.

This year it was in Brisbane, Australia and I decided it was time to go and see just where horticulture was going. It was impressively well organized in the modern conference centre on the south bank of the Brisbane River. More than 3000 delegates attended over the 5 days that it was run and the range of topics covered by the symposia necessitated a fair degree of choosiness. Presentations varied from excellent to hopelessly technical with a few mediocre thrown in for good measure. While I didn’t find anything directly relevant to my business it was worthwhile and my curiosity was well satisfied (or more precisely – saturated) by the end. The final dinner was a festive affair with a good band, dancers, magician and plenty to eat and drink. Rather depressingly I found myself to be of the average age – where was the future of horticulture which as one of the keynote speakers pointed out will be the future of feeding the world (horticulture is defined as being intensive agriculture)?

After the congress it was time to catch up with friends – some of whom I hadn’t seen for 25 years when I was last in Australia, doing the backpacker “thing”. I made some last minute changes to the itinerary and needing to book a flight to Canberra from Sydney I pulled out the smart phone in Brisbane airport and 3 hours later in Sydney got onto the plane to Canberra. Australia works. First world (not sure why I was expecting anything else but it really works). Of course first world functionality comes at a first world price and my friend Peter whom I visited in Orange (also in NSW) told me that Australia is now officially the world’s 4th most expensive country to live in. I can believe it. A small (by Harare standards) 3 bedroom house in Orange will go for some 5-600,000 Aus dollars and the gardens are miniscule! A meal for 3 of us at a good restaurant, though certainly unexceptional, in Brisbane cost $160 without alcohol. It would have been about $75 in Harare. It’s all to do with high labour costs I am told. That and the vast mining industry that powers the Australian economy.

Pasture land around Orange

Pasture land around Orange

That is not to say that agriculture is insignificant either. Australia has some 13 million ha of wheat production, mostly for export. Zimbabwe was once self sufficient in wheat and exported maize. Now we import both. Unlike Australia where most extensive agriculture is going the corporate farming route with vast tracts of land being farmed, Zimbabwe is heavily reliant on the small scale producers. The mostly white commercial farmers were kicked off their land in the early 2000s – hence the idle dams and land that I saw coming into Harare. In Australia most extensive agriculture relies on rain whereas in Zimbabwe irrigation is essential, especially for winter/dry season production.

canola fields

Canola (oilseed rape) near Orange, NSW

Oilseed rape (Canola) was abundant in the short trip we did around Orange, again mostly farmed by corporate organisations. This is not a crop we grow in Zimbabwe and unlike Zimbabwe, most states in Australia have embraced GMO crops. With labour costs that high GM farming is very attractive (most of the GM crops we saw were of the Roundup Ready® variety – i.e. weeds can be controlled by herbicide sprayed over the crop but the crop is unaffected). GMOs are banned in Zimbabwe though I know that they are imported illegally from South Africa where they are commonly grown.

Back in Queensland with another friend also called Peter we did the rounds of the farming area. The soil is much more fertile in the Darling Downs region than in most of Australia and it is used to the maximum. Again, mostly without irrigation and the maximum use of mechanization to keep labour costs down.

A few people at the congress in Brisbane asked me how many staff I employed. 14 labourers, 2 foremen and 8 contract labour. They looked stunned especially when I explained the size of the nursery. A nursery of similar size in Australia would employ perhaps 4 people. We are still third world here.

Being driven back home from the airport I couldn’t help but compare the filth of the Harare streets with the immaculate ones of Brisbane. BrizVegas, as the locals like to call it, is spotless. Like any modern, first world city, there is also lots to do there. There are two art galleries, a library that offers evening courses in, amongst other things, film making and of course lots of shows that are booked out months in advance. We don’t get much in the way of quality international entertainment here in Harare except perhaps for HIFA (Harare International Festival of the Arts) once a year and it’s relatively easy to get tickets there.

Brisbane from the river - there's real money here!

Brisbane from the river – there’s real money here!

BrisVegas from the south bank of the Brisbane River

BrisVegas from the south bank of the Brisbane River

A sculpture at the Gallery of Modern Art. I got this one, a lot was less comprehensible.

A sculpture at the Gallery of Modern Art. I got this one, a lot was less comprehensible.

Back home the dogs were ecstatic, the lawn was dead from lack of water (it regrows in the rains), there was dust everywhere and the nursery was just fine. It had been good to get a perspective on the real world out there but it was also great to be home.

 





Back to Mana Pools

9 04 2014

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been to Mana Pools Game Reserve on the north-western border of Zimbabwe. It is perhaps one of the better known game parks in the country and is very popular “in season” which is usually taken to be June through to the end of September after which it gets too hot for most people. Situated in the Zambezi Valley it can easily get into the mid 40 degrees (Celcius). This time of year it gets into the mid 30s during the day and can be humid to boot and the bush is relatively lush after the rains. There is water everywhere so the game is more widely dispersed than in the dry season when it congregates at the pans and the Zambezi River. But it’s still worth a visit and is far from over-crowded as we discovered this last weekend.





Bee season

13 08 2013

I got in late last night from a successful day’s flying in the Zambezi Valley. 7.5 hours driving 1h40 flying, 1100m height gains but no big distance. That is a successful day for a paraglider pilot, especially one who doesn’t get much opportunity to fly these days.

landed

It’s easy to be a celebrity in the Zambezi Valley (near Muzarabani)

day end

Day’s end – the crowd moves off one by one

 

Richard and Craig offloaded the wings, commented on the bees in the dining room and left. I didn’t bother investigating further; there are often bees swarming in my chimney, especially at this time of year and they get trapped inside the lounge. No big deal, I’d get the vacuum cleaner out in the morning and suck them up.

This morning I walked into the lounge and discovered a swarm of bees had moved in during the day. There’s not a lot I can do at this stage except leave the windows open and hope they move off to a better location. In the meantime I think I’ll go somewhere else while they make up their mind!

Not a pretty sight early in the morning!

Not a pretty sight early in the morning!





Some things we do better!

6 01 2013

Cape Town is a well-run city. It’s clean, the roads are good and things, well, just work! It goes therefore that it’s a great place to go on holiday to get away from the pressures of working and living in Zimbabwe. The weather is also good at this time of year as it is a Mediterranean climate. The team this time was the same as in 2011r; myself, June and Gary though their eldest son Stewart couldn’t get away from where he works in Sierra-Leone. Two weeks went fast, a reliable sign of a good holiday, and now I am back in the contrasting weather and countryside outside Harare.

It’s all too easy to resign ourselves that South Africa does just about everything better than us – their economy is easily the biggest in Africa. So I was rather pleased to find out from a customer yesterday that there is something we do better. Some friends of his also went to South Africa over Christmas and New Year but they chose to drive. The main border post at Beit Bridge through which they had to pass is not for the faint-hearted even at the best of times when queues can be daunting. Over the holiday periods things can get extreme. They took 12.5 minutes to cross out of the Zimbabwe border post and 2 hours to get into South Africa. Coming back saw them waiting 8 hours on the South African side and 1 hour on the Zimbabwean side where the officials were efficient, friendly and everything was well-organized. Yes! That’s one for the books!





A trail of plastic and paper

28 10 2012

I have issues with plastic bags that are given out with just about every purchase in Zimbabwe (supermarkets, to their everlasting credit, are the exception to this statement – they charge for theirs). Harare is no longer the clean city that it was in the ’80s and early ’90s and I drive past a  rubbish tip on the way home from town; plastic bags litter the fences, trees and the farm fields surrounding it. It is especially bad when the wind is south-east and when it rains there is a distinct vomit-like smell from the dump. So when the teller at the bank told me that they were no longer accepting personal withdraws on paper slips from the beginning of next year I did a silent mental cheer. Only debit cards will be allowed. I suspect this has more to do with reducing their workload than saving the environment, but it’s a start.

The attitude at the local hardware store that afternoon was a little different.

“I don’t want a plastic bag thank you”.

“Are you sure?” the shop assistant asked dubiously. EVERYBODY takes plastic bags if they are GIVEN them.

“Yes, I am quite sure” I insisted.

“Will you be able to get your stuff to the car?” he persisted. The car was right outside the shop door so I stood my ground.

The next stop was  to pay for some air tickets to Cape Town over Christmas and New Year. The money was counted and I watched incredulously as the agent printed out the tickets; two pages for each! E-tickets no less!

“Oh, would you have preferred it as an email?” she asked when I remarked on the irony of e-tickets using so much paper.

“It’s a bit late for that” I muttered picking up the sheaf of papers.

It’s not just Zimbabwe that has trouble adapting to the electronic age. Earlier this month at London Gatwick airport in the UK I was checking in at the Emirates counter. I was very pleased with myself having done a check-in online and got my 2D bar code on my new smart phone. But nobody wanted to see it – they wanted to see the  e-ticket on paper!