Restoration and order

16 07 2016
Appropriate slogan

Appropriate slogan

This slogan on the back of a school  bus that I spotted in the industrial sites on Tuesday was strangely appropriate for this last week.

On Monday, Pastor Evan Mawarire, the face behind #Thisflag, released a video clip announcing that the police were requesting to interview him the following day and that the proposed stay-away for Wednesday and Thursday may or may not succeed. He was duly arrested the following day and charged with inciting public violence and disturbing the peace. Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean expert on constitutional law who is based in the UK, found it an odd charge given that Pastor Evan (as he is known) has consistently called for peaceful shows of displeasure.

I had to take a trip to the other side of the airport on Tuesday – a route that is normally fraught with police roadblocks. There was only one by the Groombridge shopping centre on College Road. It’s a favorite due to the nature of the stop street and the left turn where motorists are tempted to creep forward over the delimiting line in order to see oncoming traffic. So where were the others? Preparing for the next day’s stay-away?

Meanwhile Grace Mugabe, the president’s wife, took off for Singapore for a bit of shopping in a safer environment. She may also have been celebrating an award given her earlier by the ZNCC (Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce); the “Outstanding Value Investment Addition Award in recognition of the massive work she has done at (her) Gushungu Dairy and her children’s home in Mazowe”. Given that the aforementioned dairy is a massive cash sink, Dr Mugabe as she is referred to in The Herald article, must have been celebrating this extraordinary display of lèche derrière/brown-nosing. Or maybe she was feeling uneasy in the increasingly vitriolic atmosphere of the social media which was actually working sans VPN this time around. Yes, she apparently did get a PhD, in 3 months, at the local University of Zimbabwe. Her thesis is apparently no longer in the library.

Wednesday’s stay away dawned peacefully and not as well observed as last week.  Pastor Evan’s trial was scheduled for the afternoon and a massive crowd congregated peacefully at the court in Rotten Row together with a large number of lawyers who volunteered their services. The police had changed the charges to something more akin to sedition. Their error as the magistrate threw the case out as it was successfully argued that Pastor Evan could not have had a fair trial under these conditions. The crowd celebrated  peacefully and a new hero was born. Social media speculated that the post of Prosecutor General would soon be vacant and someone suggested Alex Magaisa who said it wasn’t his forté; he “would get bored dealing with criminals”. The Zimbabwe situation finally makes the South African news headlines. Only on Thursday do we get on BBC.

The police searched Pastor Evan’s house looking for a police “button” (they meant baton) and helmet. Ridicule followed and a picture was posted of someone looking for the missing “button” at the back of a sofa. A sharp-eyed and clear-memoried person noted that this was not even an original idea as Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition MDC party had had exactly the same charge leveled at him some 10 years ago (a photo of the actual charge was produced). Nothing suspicious was found at Pastor Evan’s house.

On Thursday evening I received an email from an acquaintance saying that the Ministry of Defense had grounded all UAVs (drones in most people’s lexicon). No reason was given and the Civil Aviation Authority couldn’t clarify this. Was someone panicking and why? I have 3 multicopters of which 2 can be considered toys. The third is looking for work to pay for itself! I guess it may have to wait a while.

A drone's eye view of the farm where I live

A drone’s eye view of the farm where I live

Friday and I’m looking for wages for a week’s time. I have worked out that if my application to one bank to withdraw cash en masse fails I’ll have to go the multi-account withdrawal route. In all I have 3 accounts; 1 personal and 2 corporate. By moving money around I can withdraw $800 per day – $300 each from the corporate accounts and $200 from my personal. I put the application in anyway and the clerk drops a broad hint that those accounts that receive cash receive more favorable consideration to withdraw it. I point out that putting money in merely to withdraw it later is pointless, expensive and anyway, can I trust the bank to give it back? My cash takings have plummeted by 70% in June over May.  I withdraw the $300 anyway and the teller laughs when I point out, loudly, that his drawer is full of cash. It’s not as much as it looks he says. When I ask if he has plenty of South African rand he says no, that’s also restricted to $300 equivalent per day.

Although Pastor Evan claims no political affiliation his demands to government have broad appeal.

  1. Pay civil servants on time
  2. Reduce roadblocks and stop officers harassing people for cash
  3. President Robert Mugabe should fire and prosecute corrupt officials
  4. Plans to introduce bond notes to ease a cash shortage should be abandoned
  5. Remove a recent ban on imported goods.

It’s notable that the Reserve Bank already seems to be back-tracking on the bond notes. They were supposed to be releasing $200m of them in October. Now that’s been pushed back to December. Today’s press notes that the Government is still behind on last month’s wages. President Mugabe is joining his wife in Singapore and the cops were out in force yesterday. The ban on importing basic goods looks like a bad idea and probably unenforceable. And government corruption? Yes.

According to the newspapers...

According to the newspapers…





Passing on the knowledge

9 10 2015

Every year at about this time in October the local University of Zimbabwe 2nd year agriculture students come on a tour of my nursery. Every year I give them what is by now a well-rehearsed talk. Sometimes it’s an interactive visit that I enjoy with a lot of pertinent questions. Sometimes I could be talking to a herd of mombes (cattle in the vernacular). Last Monday I was starting to despair; I just could not get more than single sentence answers and discussion was just not going to happen. Then somebody did it.

We were standing at the tobacco ponds where tobacco seedlings are grown in polystyrene trays floating on a shallow pond containing fertilizer. Did I take notice of the regulations concerning planting dates of the seedlings? For a moment I was incensed but I very quickly realised that it was a serious question. So after a “I cannot believe you asked that” response (that the lecturer chaperoning the students found very funny) I told them why the regulations existed and why flouting them was a very bad idea no just from the legal consequences point of view. It’s all about pest carry over for the non-scientific; separating sequential crops with a fallow period breaks the pest/disease cycle. Tobacco crops in Zimbabwe must be destroyed by the first of May, new plantings can only be sown from the 1st of June and seedlings planted out from the 1st of September. There are numerous examples of how pests have been introduced into the country by people ignoring phytosanitary requirements. But why was the question asked in the first place?

Sadly corruption is pervasive in Zimbabwe. Earlier this week the Swedish Ambassador expressed frustration with the level of corruption in the NGO sector. Now that is something coming from the Swedes who have a history of being very helpful to Zimbabwe. We are in the current financial mess in no small part due to financial mismanagement and corruption and when the people see the top echelons misbehaving they must assume that it is OK to do the same; Zimbabwe is very much a patriarchal society. Why would my nursery not also be cutting corners? Yes, I have seen these corners cut by farmers who should know much better.

Towards the end of the tour I pre-empted a question that I was hoping to be asked; do we take students on attachment? We do but few are enthusiastic once I tell them that we don’t pay them. Once in a while I am pleasantly surprised and for those I make an exception and at least pay their transport as they are genuinely useful. Moses is one. A student in last year’s batch he worked for at least 6 weeks going around all three nurseries on the premises. He even came back in his vacation.

One morning soon after starting his attachment he approached me as I was taking measurements from the tobacco ponds.

“Morning sir” he said.

“Morning Noah” I replied, genuinely having forgotten his name.

“Actually it’s Moses, sir” came the reply.

I liked that. Not so much in awe of me that he cannot express an opinion. He is also very ambitious and hopes one day to become a member of the Royal Horticultural Society. So he almost certainly will not stay in Zimbabwe along with so many others who are fed up with the mismanagement and corruption. Our loss.

“I knew it was something biblical” I replied, and he laughed..





Negotiating the fine – part II

11 11 2012

It was an odd place to have a road block – on a  relatively quiet road on the way to the gym. The police also seemed a bit edgy, nervous almost. And there were no senior cops around either which made me more than a little suspicious.

“You are not displaying your insurance disc” one policeman said.

“I don’t have to” I replied.

“Yes you do” came the answer.

“Then please show me the legislation” I countered. I was well within my rights.

The document was sourced and he pointed to the relevant paragraph which clearly stated that along with a driver’s licence it was only necessary to show proof of insurance at a police station within 7 days of being asked to do so. I pointed to the sentence that said this.

“No, but we need to fine you” the cop replied purposely missing the point.

“OK” I said, staying calm and very polite, “but I need to get myself a copy of this document so that I can check it up for myself”.

“You will need to go to the government printer” was the reply.

“Of course I will, but I need to copy down the title of this document so I know which one to ask for” I said still being reasonable.

I duly copied down the details of the relevant act. “How much is the fine?”

“Five dollars” he replied.

“Please show me the schedule of the fines” I asked, dragging out the process as long as I could. Five dollars, this was definitely odd. The standard fine for just about any sort of infringement is $20. Well, that’s not what the law says but what the cops ask for knowing that most people will rather pay than challenge it in court. The fine schedule was produced and the fine was indeed $5 though how this tied in with the production of the evidence of insurance at the police station was not at all clear. “Here” I said holding up a $10 note, “I will need some change and a receipt”.

“You may go” the policeman said. “No need to pay the fine”.

I did as I was told and drove off to the gym. I came back along the same route later confident that they would be gone and they were. Maybe I got off because I stuck to my rights and they got concerned with all the questions that I was asking. I did notice that another driver on the other side of the road was paying but then they do tend to be harder on women. Cleaning up the corruption is this country is going to be one very tall order – assuming that the political process ever gets that far.





Enforcing corruption

18 02 2009

Having dinner with friends on Monday night one of the other guests commented that the “dollarization” of the economy was just enforcing corruption. The previous week he’d had the electricity cut off for non-payment so he did what we all do. On arriving at the utility’s offices he was ushered in ahead of the queue and a solution was quickly found. For $20 and a lift to his property the power was soon restored. ZESA, the utility, has to accept Zim dollars. As a result the person in the office (others were still on strike) was being paid in local dollars and earning the equivalent $1 a month. No surprise then that he was keen enough to go to work and spot those coming in who were willing to “make a plan”. We were all sympathetic.