The party is over

23 11 2017

Bob’s birthday celebratory billboard. I had designs on this one but was beaten to it. His glasses are just still visible top right.

It’s been an extraordinary week. Robert Mugabe resigned his presidency at the last moment as a multi-party committee was discussing reasons for his impeachment. Jubilation ran rampant through the country and, here in Harare, people partied for 24 hours straight. They had good reason to – Mugabe had ruled with an iron fist for 37 years and for many people he was the only president they’d known. He tolerated no dissent within or without the party and opponents were eliminated (the Heroes Day public holiday honours list ceased to be shown when it became apparent just how bad drivers many of his opponents were) and freedom of speech existed only in the national constitution. In the end his extreme age and increasingly poor judgement gave his recently fired vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, reason to move against him with the assistance of the army who mounted a non-coup (see previous post) and he buckled under the pressure.

Mnangagwa, sometimes known as The Crocodile or just ED, will be sworn in tomorrow as the new president of Zimbabwe. It will be his job to resuscitate the comatose Zimbabwe economy and hopefully bring back a semblance of compliance with the constitution. The first obstacle is a general election that must be held in the first 6 months of next year and already there is speculation about how free and fair it will be for Mnangagwa is the chairman of ZANU-PF, the ruling party that Mugabe claimed as his own over the last 37 years. To assume that the ruling party has any intention of playing free and fair given that they beat and cheated their way to victory in 2008 and 2013 would be naive indeed. The generals who concocted the non-coup that forced Mugabe out will also want their piece of the pie (statesmen they are not) and rewards for the considerable risks they took. We might have decapitated the monster and found a new head but it’s still the same body. A cynical friend commentated that we are just swapping one group of mbhavha (thieves) for another.

One thing the ruling party will need to remember is that the people of Zimbabwe tasted the power of free speech and expression and may not be so subservient as in the past. The street protests of the past Saturday and Tuesday were unprecedented in our history and amazingly peaceful. As one wag put it; “Only in Zimbabwe does the crime rate go down when the crowds protest and the police are locked up” (the military have made sure that the ubiquitous police roadblocks have been absent over the past week). There were no reports of violence or looting – remarkable considering that the crowds in Harare numbered well into the 100,000s. It was of course expedient for the non-coup plotters to approve of the demonstrations to show the world (we were immensely popular on the news channels for the last 10 days) that the population supported them and the social media was completely unfettered. Will this practice continue or will we suffer the same fate as the Egyptian Arab spring of the past where ex-military types are common in the government?

Now that the headaches have faded and sobriety of body and spirit have returned, Zimbabweans are starting to question just how sincere Mnangagwa is. He’s certainly making all the right sounds; “rebuilding” and “servant of the people” appear in the same paragraph but then Mugabe started out well in the 1980s too.

As I was about to leave work this morning a customer walked in. We followed the customary Zimbabwe greeting;

“Good morning, how are you?” he asked.

“I’m fine and how are you?”.

“Oh, so-so” he replied.

“Only so-so? Why is that? Were you just testing to see if I was listening?” I asked surprised.

“No” he responded with a mirthless laugh, “we must be careful we are not getting into more trouble”.

The party is over.





Urban wildlife

23 09 2016

wildlife-urbanWhile out running the dogs this morning we spotted these two reed buck (a type of antelope). While there are only two in this picture another three were lying nearby, apparently unconcerned about our presence. And yes, that’s the outskirts of Harare in the background – to the south.

When I first moved onto this farm 12 years ago there were an estimated 70 reed buck on the property. We saw a total of eight this morning. Of course there will be others but certainly not close to the 70 of not so long ago. The rest? They’ve been poached.

The fence around the farm, once electrified, is now rather porous. Depending on the route we take we bump into a school boy off to school on his bicycle. Where exactly the school is I don’t know but he gets to the fence, climbs through, and then pulls his bicycle after him. Nope, it’s certainly not electrified now!

On the right of the photo are some houses which now extend all up the western boundary of ART Farm. A lot are incomplete but nevertheless they have inhabitants and they’d be unlikely to pass up an opportunity for a bit of fresh meat. On the eastern boundary is another farm once inhabited by a good customer of mine. He was kicked off by a Connected Person (about as connected as one can get in this country) some four or five years ago. At the time his farm was replete with duiker (another smaller antelope than the one pictured) to the extent he was getting fed up with them eating his cabbages. Well, that’s what he said but I could tell he was also rather fond of them. At the time his electric fence worked well so the duiker had a great excuse not to go anywhere else and so they proliferated. The fence most likely doesn’t work now and I haven’t seen a duiker for a long time (though they’re mostly nocturnal I did see them occasionally during the day).

So the reed buck can only go north now. That’s a problem because there are a lot of mesh fences to the north which are supposed to protect the research section of ART (that’s Agricultural Research Trust), and while certainly not impenetrable, they are a definite obstacle. From the food aspect they don’t need to go anywhere for the moment. There are a number of cattle on the farm and they have plenty to eat so by extension so do the buck but the encroachment of Harare, pretty much stalled as a result of the appalling economic environment, is inevitable and then their future will be questionable.

A bit more flexible are the two jackal we occasionally see. They are usually on the boundary of the grassy vlei (wetland) area where they most likely have a den. Zak likes to chase them but they see him coming a long way off and are much more nimble and cunning – the fox of Africa. They are hugely adaptable. There is one that has lived on a nearby golf course for some time now. Again it is conveniently trapped by an electric fence but the course is bounded by a rubbish tip so there is no shortage of rats and other vermin for it to eat. The club gate is just a boom gate so it could, if it wanted to, get out.

rubbishThe rubbish tip is itself a supporter of wildlife. Apart from the obvious rats there are crows, egrets and maribou storks. The latter can often be spotted in huge wheeling flocks soaring majestically amidst plastic bags lifted in the thermals generated by the rotting garbage. I don’t suspect they mind to much but to me the tip is a hideous eyesore that I pass everyday. And that’s before it rains and the whole area smells like vomit.

The maribous are scavengers and attracted to whatever they can find – there was once a sack of offal spilt at the traffic lights on Harare drive and Alpes Road on the way to the tip, so I guess there’s plenty of other pickings to attract them.

And where there’s vermin there are predators. Snakes, long-crested eagles and others. I know the incidents of cobra bites on dogs has gone way up over the past years as uncollected garbage in the suburbs attracts all manner of opportunists.

Zak sees off the local maribou storks

Zak sees off the local maribou storks

I have to admit the maribou stork is not the prettiest bird around but they are master pilots and I love to stop and watch them soar. So, in a way, rubbish can be a benefit but I do wish they’d move the tip somewhere else!

 





Ballet

2 08 2016

There are consequences of an economy in a tailspin. One of the first sectors to feel the pinch is the arts and dance is no exception.

bb8

Symmetry

As a trustee of the Dance Trust of Zimbabwe I am all too aware of the impact of the imploding economy on our ability to remain viable. Two weeks ago at a board meeting I expressed concern that I had bought 10% of the tickets (8) for the gala performance of the upcoming Ballet Bouquet dance show.

Synchronicity

Synchronicity

The Ballet Bouquet is the idea of Cape Town City Ballet choreographer Robin van Wyk. In the CTCB off-season (winter) he stages ballets in the smaller cities in the sub-region using dancers of all ages and capabilities. Senior dancers from the CTCB help bring a bit of glamour!

The fairy princess from the Nutcracker

The fairy princess from the Nutcracker

Robin came up to Harare to choreograph the pieces and then local teachers rehearsed the dancers until last week when Robin returned with the senior dancers and saw to it that the locals were up to his demanding standard.

The show consisted of a 45 minute adaptation of the Nutcracker and then after the interval there were several pieces from other well-known ballets. Yes, the Nutcracker is traditionally a Christmas ballet but in this case the theme was “Christmas in July” and the 450 orphans and disadvantaged children who attended the dress rehearsal each received a small gift.

Principal CTCB ballerina Angela Hanford shows how it's done!

Principal CTCB ballerina Angela Hanford shows how it’s done!

Six shows were staged over 4 days and with full houses for 4 shows and some 80% capacity for the other two the Dance Trust of Zimbabwe can survive for a little longer.





Polo

19 07 2016

poloponyThere I was, this last Sunday, photographing polo whilst Zimbabwe “burned”. To be sure it most certainly was not the polo of Jilly Cooper novels; helicopters, luxury cars and champagne were not evident and I saw ponies leaving the venue in plain old farmers’ trucks open to the weather.

The polo grounds just outside Harare are, like the rest of the country, not up to their former glory and I do have to wonder how they keep going. The venue is hired out to social events at other times of the year but the grounds are still up to hosting an international event as was happening on Sunday. How do they do it? There was no entrance fee and it was not well advertised on the social media. But for just over an hour that afternoon we could forget about the “imminent collapse” of the country and watch a game that most of the people I chatted to knew little about.

The match was billed as an international between Zimbabwe and South Africa. Nobody I chatted to knew if it was THE South African team. They didn’t look very good and the Zimbabwe team dominated them. It was bitterly cold but I guess the ponies didn’t mind.

 





Checking the box

13 01 2016

I went and saw the latest Star Wars movie last night (I have already forgotten the full title). It was a box checking exercise and besides, I had to see what the hype was about. Ok, I also need to admit it was the first Star Wars movie I’d seen. Yes, ever! I think the first one came out when I was at university and even then I was only vaguely interested despite the ground breaking special effects of the day. It was probably well after the release of the movie elsewhere in the world – those being the days of apartheid in South Africa where I was studying at the time. Well, there were no sanctions on films one just had to accept you were not going to be the first to see anything!

Last night was, I think, the last night of showing at the local cinemas. This run had started a month ago and I had a sneaking suspicion that it was about to end. Hey, do the maths, pretty good huh? We started showing it on the 14th December last year which must have been pretty close to the worldwide release. Unlike South Africa all those years ago Zimbabwe (contrary to what our politicians liked to claim until very recently) is not under any sort of sanctions. Maybe it’s also due to us using the US dollar so we can actually pay for things if we have the money, something most people in this country are struggling to find these days.

Well last night there was no shortage of money in evidence. I mean I actually had to walk some 200m from where I’d parked to the cinemas (last time I went I got a park as close as one could possibly park). The place was buzzing. I’d rather hoped with schools just starting their new term the place would be quiet. Nope, no chance of that. It was teeming with the youth. There are pubs, restaurants and a supermarket at that end of Borrowdale village shopping centre (yes, the supermarket was open at 7.30 p.m. – how times have changed) and of course I bumped into someone I knew. Harare is like that. A city by name but an oversize town by nature. Debbi from the gym had just been to see another movie with her family. Her eldest son Mike has just finished his medical degree in Johannesburg and is waiting for a placement for his internship. As he is not South African he has to wait for a placement; they have one for him but they don’t know where.

The movie theatres are pretty modern. Actually they have only been open about a year so one should expect this but in Zimbabwe one should not expect anything of this nature given the state of the economy (a lot of government employees were only paid for December end of last week). There are six small ones in the modern format. The ticket cost $5 (half price Tuesday) and the 3D glasses $1. Ok, another admission – this was my first 3D movie! I settled into my seat a few minutes into the movie and put on the glasses.

Two hours later I was not entirely sure that all the hype had been justified. The special effects had been good but then I’d been expecting that. The bizarre characters were certainly imaginative but there are some things that were bothersome. I mean, they had light speed capable craft right? That is serious tech (even if impossible by Einstein’s theory) but they still managed to miss most of the time in the dog fights. I don’t know what they were shooting at each other (balls of light things) but they only seemed to go in straight lines. The one set of missiles that did actually track the goodies also missed! And they actually had non-robotic/computer pilots. Not very good. The main character, the kick-ass chick (and boy could she kick) looked like she could have done with a few visits to the gym before hand. I WAS pleased that she was not drop-dead gorgeous but just sort of normal in a Hollywood sense. There were lots of characters from the original movie there too. Harrison Ford was looking his age as was Princess Leia (whoever she is). The former got stuck with a light sabre which is a truly stupid piece of high tech for waging hand to hand combat (get the contradiction?) so we won’t be seeing him again. The rest of it was of course left wide open for yet another sequel/prequel/something-quel. We left with Luke Skywalker (in a hoodie – I bet he has tatts he’s hiding) looking decidedly uncomfortable about accepting his old light sabre from the kick-ass chick. No doubt he was thinking he’s in for another epic.

And the 3D? Well on one occasion I took my glasses off to see if they were clean because background lights in the movie were more than a bit fuzzy but all was clean. So I think tech has a way to go on that one though I do admit that a couple of times I almost ducked as fighters “flew overhead” so I’ll keep the 3D glasses for another occasion. I’m not at all sure it will be for the next issue of Star Wars though. Been there, done that, checked the box.

The rain had reduced to a light shower by the time I walked out and the carpark was quiet. It seems that Zimbabweans go to bed early during the week. My evening’s entertainment had cost $6 plus a bit of fuel. Not bad – about a day’s wage for the average horticultural labourer in Zimbabwe. Well, for those lucky enough to be employed.

 





The advantages of differently-abled

25 02 2015

Some years back, whilst working in the U.K., I noticed that the word “disabled” was out of fashion. One, and that included me, was “differently-abled”. Hopelessly PC of course and complete nonsense. Differently abled implies that the person afflicted has abilities that others might desire. Right. Hands up all those who might want to fall over more easily. But that’s in the real world. Zimbabwe of course is in another world where these rules don’t always apply and having a disability CAN actually be advantageous.

My Zimbabwe passport expires in April and I’d been procrastinating getting it renewed. It’s been 10 years since I’d jumped through hoops and endured the queues at Makombe Building but things have slowed down a bit at work, my presence is not constantly required there and really I’d run out of excuses. All attempts to download the renewal form on the internet had failed (I’d enlisted the help of others too) and noting that they were open on Saturdays and also having heard that Saturdays were not that chaotic, decided to give it a go. It was inauspicious.

Parking on the street and getting the usual “I’ll look after your car boss” from a hawker of passport folders, I walked in. Having ascertained that Room 3 was the place to buy an application form I discovered that there was no queue. I also discovered that I couldn’t in fact buy a form ($3) until I’d had all my other identification documents certified (birth certificate and National ID) and those offices were closed on a Saturday. I’d have to wait until Monday and come back or get the form from a sub-office in Mount Pleasant (a suburb closer to where I live).

Monday found me at the sub-office in Mount Pleasant. Unfortunately I needed the original of my birth certificate and my ID to purchase the renewal form. Yes, if the internet download site had been working I could have done it for free without any documents! But nobody could tell me why it was not working. I returned later in the week and got the form but ascertained that I needed a new computerised birth certificate and that would require a visit to Market Square in the CBD of Harare. Now I have driven past Market Square and it is straight out of Dante’s Inferno, but with Zimbabwean flavour. Rubbish, touts and endless queues dominate the scenery. I shuddered, was there perhaps another way? Of course there was! An official offered for the princely some of $20 to acquire it for me. It was a no-brainer as the Americans call it. I paid and collected later the next day.

Back to the Makombe building later the next week I mentally fortified myself for long queues and delays. I was pleasantly disappointed. Fast tracked through the first queue due to my disability and not actually finding any other queues to jump, I soon found myself back at Room 3. No, I did not need to buy an application form. But how much did I want to pay for the passport? What, I have a choice? Of course there is a choice; $50 for 6 weeks, $250 for 3 days or $350 for the same day! No, 2 weeks is not an option. Not at all stupid are the Registrar General’s office. They know which option most people are going to opt for and yes, I paid the $250. After only an hour in the Makombe building I walked out assured that my passport would be ready on Monday.

I told the story to Shelton (en Francais). He was more than a bit cynical and told me he knew someone who paid the $250 and it took 4 weeks. In fact another friend who’d paid the $53 ($3 for the form) got it in 2 weeks. I settled down to wait but with a bit of hope as I’d been pleasantly surprised at how well things had gone. It had not been the Makombe building of old.

Yesterday I got a SMS – my passport was ready! Fortuitously I needed to go into town so enlisted the use of a driver from the National Ballet office – parking can be chaotic in that part of town. The parking was easy, the queue formidable and no officials around to fast track me. I guess I will go back this Saturday.





Nostalgia

14 02 2015
A Ford Capri still looking good after some 40 years!

A Ford Capri still looking good after some 40 years!

When I was 15 I really wanted one of these; a Ford Capri. Of course the really hot one was a Ford Capri Piranha (no, I cannot remember what was special about that model but they were the hot car of the time). I didn’t even know anyone who had one but I did draw one, from a magazine, for an art project. I was inordinately please that a friend could actually recognize what sort of car it was but of course the shape was very distinctive.

This one was parked outside an auto spares and accessories shop that has recently opened on 2nd Street and Churchill roads near the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. I was actually looking for office chairs which are sold in the same complex but I had to walk through the auto accessories outlet to get there. I was impressed; it could have been an outlet anywhere in the first world. Whoever had put the money in had put in a lot of money and thought. I’m not so sure they are going to get it back – it was not well patronized. It was even worse in the office chairs shop. I was the only person there. Sadly this is a common story in the country these days as the economy continues to stumble. Daniel, one of my customers, told me this week that he was talking to a friend’s wife whilst she was having her hair done in a hair salon that could seat 8 people. In the hour and a half that he was there (he can talk a lot) nobody walked in. Not good.

Whoever owns this car cannot be too concerned with shortage of money. It was in superb condition, though the colour scheme is not original and they certainly didn’t have magnesium (“mag”) wheel rims in those days. What he does for spares I cannot think. Still, it was nice to see a piece of nostalgia from my youth still looking good after some 40 years!





In and around town

16 12 2014

I had to admit it was an inauspicious start; a minibus reversing into the intersection of Quorn and The Chase just where some new, but yet to be activated, traffic lights have been erected. I did the right thing; swore under my breath and obligingly went around. It wasn’t really worth getting too hot under the collar. I have seen the minibuses commit much worse of course. A U turn on the pedestrian crossing at Borrowdale Village to pick up customers. Stopping on pedestrian crossings to oblige customers. Reversing flat out up major roads and of course stopping on the corner of Lomagundi Road and King George Road necessitating hard braking or a swerve of faith into the right lane and just hope there is no traffic behind you.

The police love minibuses of course because they can always find something wrong on the vehicle necessitating a juicy fine. I have only once seen a vehicle pulled over for a driving offense and that was a woman who was chatting on her cellphone at an intersection. Easy prey. But get out on the road and fine a few for dangerous driving?  No, that’s far too much like hard work. Much easier to set up a road block and pounce there.

The traffic was backed up at the intersection of King George and Churchill (good British names for roads in a former colony) roads. An accident was not what I needed to come across right now. I checked out the possibility of a U turn of my own but they were just painting road markings and the delay was minimal. But why were they painting road markings when so many of Harare’s roads are disintegrating by the day? A question of finances perhaps – painting is much cheaper than fixing of course and we all know the City Council is broke or very nearly so.

They were packing up the tents on the open ground opposite the showgrounds where the annual ZANU-PF congress had been held the previous week. Schools had closed early for the Christmas holidays in case there were issues with violence but in the end there was just an awful lot of hot air but not enough to break the drought that is starting to squeeze the nation. It would have been an interesting sight in a heavy downpour; enough red mud to stick a tank and not a tar road in sight. I did notice Dr Joshua Nkomo Way meandering dustily across the open area but try as I might couldn’t see Dr Grace Mugabe Way. I’d actually met someone who’d gone to the local university library and asked to see her thesis but alas, it was apparently not available.

An hour or so’s business in the Coventry Road area and I was ready to tackle the back route to the heavy industrial sites to check out a container that I was hoping to buy to store the coir pith used at the nursery. Thank you Google Maps for changing the interface so that I cannot operate it! Well, at least the map worked OK but getting to see the section that I wanted and negotiating the traffic was a little tricky.

Kambuzuma Road is in pretty good condition and the traffic was just slow enough that I could relax a bit and check out the scenery. About 2km to the north a spectacular fountain of water was jetting a good 20m into the air. A burst main no doubt. Great to know that the council was wasting water just as a drought seemed to be getting into swing.

The container yard was sizable, bore the name of a well-known freight company, and a lot of containers had not been moved in years. I was approached by the contact man who cautioned me not to mention that I was buying the container but looking to rent it in order that I didn’t have to pay storage fees. Alarm bells went off in my mind. My scepticism must have shown because he assured me that I’d still get the “papers”. Right. The container was not in great shape and I also suspected that it was smaller than the one used to import the coir. It also turned out that the “owner” wanted far too much for it (negotiable of course) so I made my excuses and left.

The water fountain was still spectacular on the route back; millions of litres of water now down the stream. The city council might not have enough money to fix water mains and repair roads but there’s plenty of evidence of money elsewhere. Turning into Harare Drive from the old Bulawayo road I noticed a considerable number (no time to count – there were minibuses to avoid) of suburban houses springing up to the north-west of the intersection. All at the same stage it could only have been a development project. But where had the money come from in a nation that is importing coins from South Africa to alleviate the change situation?

Back down Lomagundi Road to see Marianne for lunch and past a number of used vehicle lots. In fact lots of lots. One impressively packed with used UK lorries which even if they cost say £10,000 a piece amounted to perhaps £200,000. Oh, and add on the duty and transport please. Well, maybe not all the duty. There are often ways around paying all the duty but only for those with “contacts”. It’s negotiable if you know what I mean.

 





First Street

24 09 2014

Once upon a time the First Street shopping mall was a very fashionable part of town. Youngsters would go there and parade – boys strutting, talking and laughing loudly to impress the girls. It was quite the place to shop too; the place to be to sell fashion, or shoes, or hi-fi or furniture. That was long ago.

Now it is dirty with buckled pavements and old water bottles lying around. Tops are missing of street drains and the holes must be circumnavigated with care. Luxury shopping? Not if you want cheap Chinese fake leather belts, car cellphone chargers or no name brand long toed shoes. Or any of the other bric-a-brac commonly being sold on the streets of Harare.

The local idiot stopped washing a car with a tub of filthy water from the gutter and tried  to sell me the cheap Chinese watch pinned to his trousers. I pointed out that I had a very good Swiss watch that was much better than his Chinese one. The argument only ended when the parking meter attendant agreed that Swiss watches were always better than Chinese ones.

Negotiating my way down the pavement past the vendors tables I crossed the First Street mall and smiled inwardly at the controversy that had been caused by paving it in to make it possibly Harare’s first pedestrian mall. So far as I could see the glamour shops were gone, the wares in the current outlets looking tired and lonely supplanting quality with quantity. Perhaps that was an ice cream stain near the pile of bricks in the middle, a child dropping its long dreamed of Saturday treat. Perhaps it was just spilt white paint.

The Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) was on the 3rd floor of a bank building opposite where I’d parked. The offices were plush and had a lot of chrome and granite in evidence for a government office. The lady at the Min of Ag (Ministry of Agriculture) building had said that now I had to be a member of the AMA to import coir for my nursery, just about $100 for a year she’d said. It turned out to be $500 and it was not exactly clear what I’d get for it. Well, the bureaucrat I spoke to certainly was eating some pretty impressive food but she claimed it was just leftovers from the board meeting currently in full swing. Having paid the $500 to the finance division I went back to get my membership. No, I was emphatically told, I had to go back on the 1st of October as it was only valid from then. I tried to reason that I could just have an invalid membership until then met with blind unreasonableness. No, and that was it.

The local idiot was back smearing filthy water over a slightly more dirty car. Negotiating the traffic I had to do a U turn at the end of first street were it was blocked of for “traffic works”. It will take a lot more than that to restore the pedestrian mall to a shade of its former glory.

 





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.