Panic attack

1 09 2015
FinGaz front page

FinGaz front page

This is the Financial Gazette front page from last Thursday. It represents a major shift of attitude in the government.

Up until now it has been very difficult to get rid of staff without paying a massive (read punitive from the employer’s point of view) retrenchment package. For example, if I were to lay off any staff it would have cost me 6 months notice, 2 months payment for every year employed and one month re-location package. Scenarios for a layoff would have included a takeover of my business by anyone with the correct contacts. As I only rent the premises and have little in the way of assets it would have effectively wiped out the company.

The labour law to which the paper refers changes a lot of that. Now it is only necessary to give 3 months notice. While I have not read the new legislation it is fairly obvious why it has come about. The government wants to lay off a lot of the civil servants which it can no longer afford to pay. Already a substantial number from the state controlled ZBC (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Company) have gone. Rather than simply not pay them and get lumped with the bill later it has changed the law to suit itself. Interestingly there are a number of parties involved who are ready to challenge the legislation. Good luck to them! It is more than a little ironic that this is the government that introduced the heavily workforce biased legislation in the first place to gain the support of the working class.

The labour legislation, as it was, was deeply unattractive to would-be investors. Also unattractive is the current indigenisation policy, embedded in law, whereby companies must be at least 51% owned by indigenous Zimbabweans. While it was never completely clear what indigenous meant I knew that as a Zimbabwe born white I was not included. The reality was that the government (and those with the correct contacts) were after the bigger more profitable companies.  So does the second tier title on the front page of the paper represent an about-turn by the government? Well, if one cares to read a bit further the answer is not quite so obvious as the title implies. Elsewhere in the international press there does seem to bit a bit of a charm offensive by the President, Robert Mugabe, to woo investors from the West. This really does represent a huge change of attitude.

Up until now the West has been the cause of a lot of our problems, according to the government owned media. Our biggest creditor at the moment is China who has been very generous with loans. When things really started to go pear-shaped last year the finance minister went begging to them but came back empty-handed. So to go begging to our former nemesis, on whom our woes were blamed for imposing sanctions, really is a change of attitude. It shows just how deep the financial crisis is.

It is well known that the police have been told to go out and collect their own wages so we are used to being endlessly stopped for both real and imagined traffic violations but last week it really was a frenzy. Even the ZBC got in on the act stopping vehicles to check if they had valid radio receiver licences. Perhaps it was a fear of being laid off under the new legislation or perhaps they were actually getting their notice payments. This week has so far been eerily quiet. Maybe it will all start again towards the end of the month when pay day looms.

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.


Counterfeit cops

24 03 2014

Thursday, 11h20 and I am driving north along Golden Stairs road to go to Bob’s engineering shop to get some minor welding done on the battery bracket of my Land Cruiser. The lights on The Chase are green, I don’t need to slow down. A police marked BMW pulls out of a slip road after I pass and rolls slowly down the road behind me, holding up the traffic. I watch it in the rear view mirror and wonder how they have already managed to get only one headlight working. In nearly 40 years of driving I have always had two working headlights.

I turn left into Prices Road and slow down for the speed humps. A car tries to pass me, hooting. I ignore it. He can wait until the road is wider. He tries again so I think the twit can pass; it’s safer that way, so I ease over. He draws alongside. Hoots again and I see two policemen in the unmarked car. They tell me to pull over. I know I have done nothing wrong so am already suspicious.

“Why didn’t you pull over?” they demand.

“You are in an unmarked car and how am I supposed to see you are wearing uniforms in my rear view mirror.” I get a good look at them. One is wearing the brown police uniform with cap and yellow traffic vest. The other, with noticeably protruding teeth is in the grey uniform of a junior constable.

“You went through a red light back there”.

“No I did not” I retort as the blood pressure rises.

“We saw you go through” they reply.

“Well that is indeed surprising as the MARKED police BMW at the lights did not stop me”.

“So what colour was the light then?”

Now this is a really stupid question having just told me I went through a red light. “Green. Look, if you have a problem with this we can go and discuss it at Marlborough police station” I retort, my patience wearing thin. The effect of this challenge is immediate.

“Well, we are just letting you go with a warning then”.

What is this? A WARNING for going through a red light? I drive off slowly and remember the car registration plate; ADG3020. I recount the story to Bob when I get there and he tells me of a near identical incident he had near the Mukuvisi Woodlands game park on the way to the airport. He also stood his ground and they gave up.

On the way back to work I call in at the Marlborough police station and report the incident. The woman officer is quite excited and pleased I got down the registration number but I tell her it has almost certainly changed already.

Were they ordinary criminals in stolen police uniforms or genuine police trying their luck? Shelton told me I did well to get their number plate but cautioned against getting aggressive when I suggested I should have just run them off the road. He said one cannot be sure they wouldn’t pull a weapon out. When using the local minibuses he never gets in one unless there are other people in it or he recognizes the tout or the driver. It seems Harare is not as safe as it used to be.

On justice and honesty

23 01 2014

Trevor is my insurance broker. He’s a big man, loves to talk and laugh but occasionally has a serious story to tell. Yesterday when paying my annual insurance premium he entertained me with a couple of stories.

“You like justice to be done?” he started and without waiting for my reply launched into his tale.

A client of his has a 17 year old daughter who was attacked by 3 dogs recently  whilst out walking one afternoon. They rushed out of a gate left open and attacked making quite a mess of the girl’s leg before she managed to beat them off. A report was made to the police and the order given for the dogs to be destroyed (there was a history of other attacks) which was done.

The case was far from over and the lawyer for the owner of the dogs suggested a meeting between the girl’s father and the member-in-charge of the police station handling the case. This was arranged and at the meeting the lawyer proposed some sort of financial compensation instead of taking the case to court. Much to his surprise the member-in-charge said he would prefer it to go to court to which the father agreed after a moment’s thought.

A year’s jail term was handed out, suspended on condition that the accused never owned dogs again and some community service was added on top. The police station where the case was reported made use of the community service.

“So what do you think”, asked Trevor. “There’s still some hope left” he added referring to the continual corrupt dealings of the police that have left more than a few of us disillusioned.

“Trevor, the cynic in me is awakened” I replied without pause. “If the owner of the dogs had been someone of note, with the right connections, do you really think it would have got this far?”. He had to admit that it was very unlikely that it would have.

“Then how about this” Trevor continued, clearly unfazed. “I’ve just got back from seeing my folks in Cape Town. My mom and dad are in their 80s in a retirement complex in Fishhoek and my mom spends her days knitting and watching bad South African TV. My dad is more than a bit conservative and has no time for TV so I decided to wait until they went away for a short while, get the TV installed with a subscription for a year and make it fait accompli”.

The manager of the complex was contacted, an installer recommended and met. Trevor had misgivings about the character who was recommended but in the excitement of doing something worthwhile for his mother and circumventing his domineering father, chose to ignore the alarm bells. He handed over the cash together with enough for the year’s subscription and the equivalent of $100 to sweeten the deal. The satellite TV was duly installed but the year’s subscription ran out after a month. Fortunately Trevor’s older brother was going to Cape Town so he went and put the fear of God into the installer and another 6 months subscription was suddenly paid. Excuses were made about the remaining 6. So Trevor asked if I knew of anyone going to Cape Town who could help out. I didn’t but recommended my cousin who is  huge and does go there to see his daughter.

“So I was telling this story to my golf buddies the other day” ended Trevor “and they couldn’t believe how dishonest the installer had been. But then they are Zimbabwean. The one South African who was playing with us couldn’t believe how naive I’d  been to hand over cash to someone I didn’t know with just a handshake to seal the deal”.

Indeed, how bad are things getting when one cannot trust complete strangers!


The election part 1 – all calm

31 07 2013
All is calm above World's View in Nyanga

All is calm above World’s View in Nyanga

I resolved as I climbed the steps into the Nyanga Police Station not to ask if we could paraglide but simply to state that that’s what we’d come to do.

The female constable was clearly uncertain about this paragliding thing even after I’d shown her a photo on my cellphone. “I have to call my boss” she replied. Her boss, the duty sergeant, was completely uninterested. Clearly, with an impending general election, he had more important things on his mind. Anyway, he knew about paragliding and that we’d been coming to this premier site at World’s View for as long as he’d been at Nyanga.

The flight was uneventful, and not the best conditions that this area can deliver, but after a long break from thermic flying I wasn’t complaining and I got in a nice hour in punchy, small thermals that still managed to lift me 400m above takeoff before high cloud stopped play.

I got chatting to a couple of well-spoken youngsters on the landing field.

“Where is your Robert cap” I asked one, referring to the profusion of the yellow caps in the area with a picture of Robert Mugabe on them.

“In my house” he waved vaguely in a northerly direction. “Anyway, you don’t have to wear them”.

“Are you going to vote?” his friend asked me.

“Of course, but it’s my secret who for”.

“That is obvious” he countered.

“No it’s not, I might decide Robert is my friend”.

They found this hugely funny.

We’d been in the area a few days and I’d been concerned about a paragliding trip this close to the election on the 31st July. The last election in 2008 had been marked by a lot of violence but this time around all seemed quiet. I’d seen a number of ZANU-PF (Mugabe’s party) vehicles giving out caps and T-shirts and putting up posters and even a few vehicles from the opposition MDC (Move for Democratic Change). The visit to the police station was merely a courtesy to cover ourselves just in case someone accused us of spying (seriously!). In the past they did ask us not to fly over the police station and of course I ended up in a thermal for some 10 minutes directly over it but high enough to escape notice.

Today was voting day. I was in no rush as I rather thought I’d avoid those who thought that it would be necessary to get to the polling stations early. Leaving the house just after 11 I visited the first polling station in my area only to find that I was registered for another ward. There wasn’t even a queue. At the correct polling station there were 2 queues of some 30 people each. Policemen and observers lounged in the sun and one waved me to the front of the queue. 5 minutes later I was out my duty done and I was back home by 12.

Duty done!

Duty done!

So whom did I vote for? Well, that’s my secret but as I was at school for one of the councillors, it wasn’t just a vote for president, he got my X. Now it’s time to get on with this day off and hang out the washing and start pruning the roses.

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.

I AM the police!

28 04 2012

“Do you know someone with a forklift for hire?” I asked Herbert over the phone.

“Yes”, said Herbert, “I’ll get back to you with prices”.

He duly did and they weren’t cheap but the container of coir from India had come through from the port in Beira a lot quicker than I’d expected so I had no chance to shop around. I agreed and waited for the container to arrive which it did around 9 a.m. on Friday. By 10 a.m. there was still no sign of the forklift so I got back to Herbert who was as puzzled as I was. A bit of phoning around and we managed to contact the forklift driver but then lost the signal. I started to wonder if they were lost, it doesn’t take THAT long to get out from the industrial sites. By 11 I was distinctly annoyed and wondering if there was an alternative way to offload the container. I got another phone number off Herbert and managed to contact the driver’s assistant. They were some 2km down the road so would be here shortly. It was a noisy phone call with what sounded like a very noisy gearbox in the background. It really didn’t sound good. 10 minutes later they were still not in sight. I wondered about the gearbox sound and then the penny dropped; they were driving the forklift on the road – I’ve heard them and they make that sort of sound. I couldn’t believe it but shortly a small blue forklift appeared on the road to the nursery. They really had driven across town in a forklift!

The offloading process soon started and it became clear they were ill-equipped to get 1 tonne pallets of coir out of the back of a container on a big truck. I was asked if I could find a trolley jack that could fit under a pallet. An hour later I had to give up – they were all too big. I decided to let my blood pressure drop and went off to have lunch. I got back and they’d refined the system a little and were making better progress so were finished by 3 p.m. I paid the assistant and turned to the driver.

“You are going to be back in town in peak traffic on a Friday afternoon”.

“It’s not a problem” he replied, unfazed.

“But what about the police roadblocks?” I asked.

“I AM the police” he said, getting onto the driver’s seat, “so they just let me through”.

Policing amber

5 04 2012

The local police are on a money-making drive. They especially like hanging around traffic lights, called robots in this country, catching drivers running the lights. That in itself is not a big deal except they are looking for drivers going through amber lights – which is not illegal! Then they use a tactic of intimidation and the public’s lack of legal knowledge and a reluctance to go to court to issue a spot, i.e. on-the-spot*, fine of $20.

I was caught recently and even if I wanted to I could not have stopped in time for the light change – it would have left me smack in the middle of the intersection. The police were uninterested in discussing the issue and I realised arguing that an amber light was there to warn one of the impending change to red when of course one MUST stop was pointless. I did realise too late that their procedure was unusual. I was asked for my driver’s licence and then if I had $20 to pay the fine. They waited while I found the money before writing anything on the Admission of Guilt form.If it really was an offence to run an amber light why not just make out the fine form there and then?

I spent the rest of the day fuming and mentioned the incident to Gordon whilst paying my rent on the way home. He said “I refused and took it to court. I defended myself and won the case. It only cost me my time”. It does say very clearly on the top of the form that one has the right to be heard in court (see the highlighting in the image below) but I am sure that the vast majority of drivers know that paying $20 is much less hassle than having to go to court so the police take advantage of this. So next time I am not letting them get away with this!

*The spot fine system is under review as in the past one could pay within a certain time period at any police station. This would also presumably give the defendant time to research the legality of the “infringement”.

Admission of Guilt form. The highlighting is mine.

Nothing new, or, Whatever happened to Aiden Diggeden?

16 02 2012

The police are everywhere these days. I see them under the big tree on the way into town trapping those who are careless with their speed. Other favourite spots include stop streets and certain traffic lights that people like to run. Mini busses are favourite prey and in Mutare they even pay a “levy” of around $5 which ensures that they are not pulled over for other infringements. It’s all part of a strategy to self finance the police. Spot fines tend to be inflated as most people are unaware of what they should be so several of my friends carry a schedule of the gazetted fines just in case. My friend Gary was in the local post office in Borrowdale this week having come up to Harare so that June, his wife, could have an operation on her broken leg. He got chatting to a gentlemen in the queue who seemed to know a lot about the subject. He told Gary that the police would even go so far as to release prisoners to do certain “work” and then they police would get some extra income, the prisoner would get a cut and go back to jail.

I mentioned this to Derek who had been in the  (Zimbabwe used to be called Rhodesia) CID (Criminal Investigation Department) of the Rhodesian BSAP (British South Africa Police) for many years. “Oh that’s nothing new” he said. “In the 1960s there was a certain criminal called Aiden Diggeden who was something of a folk hero around here. He was in jail in Bulawayo while there was a wage train robbery and the investigating officer noticed that Diggeden’s fingerprints were at the crime scene. A bit of investigation revealed that one of the prison warders had been letting him out at night to go and commit crimes and they would share the takings”.

Helen, Derek’s wife, was in the same class as Aiden at Chaplin School near Gweru and she said that his career in crime started when his step-father would not give him pocket-money so he would commit petty crime to get himself and his friends sweets. On several occasions her father gave him pocket-money.

Diggeden was a natural athlete and escaped Rhodesia to South Africa where he qualified for the South African Olympic team as a gymnast. An off duty Rhodesian policeman on holiday in South Africa saw him in a press photo under another name so he was extradited back to Rhodesia. He used his athletic prowess on several occasions to escape jail and used to keep fit in his cell by running up the wall and somersaulting back onto his feet.

On a well-known occasion he and another prisoner broke out of the jail on Enterprise road. They had managed to smuggle in some pieces of hacksaw blade and fashioned them into crude tools by inserting the pieces into the end of an old ballpoint pen. This was used to cut through the bars from the outside and Diggeden wrote a letter to Helen to ask her for paints, presumably to hide where they’d been cutting. They also sawed the frame of the door into pieces and put them back so that they were not discovered. Strips of canvas were stolen out of the prison workshop where canvas bags were made and on the night of the escape ladders were fabricated from the canvas and pieces of door frame. The attempt ran into trouble when Diggeden’s accomplice fell and broke a leg so Diggeden picked him up and left him in the chapel and tried to escape along the prison walls wearing canvas shoes also fabricated from canvas scraps to protect his feet from the glass on the wall. By this time the alarm had been raised and Diggeden’s route was blocked. Climbing up to the eves of the prison roof he hung by his hands and moved along to a trapdoor and then swung up into the roof. He was eventually apprehended in a water tank in the roof where he’d been hiding for 3 days.

“Diggeden was eventually deported to the UK where he got into more trouble and was locked up in Wormwood Scrubs” continued Derek. “I also heard that he got involved in crime in Canada and South America. Last I heard he’d committed suicide after getting tired of a life of crime and incarceration, but I am not sure about when or where” Derek concluded.

Gun licences renewed

9 10 2011

“How may I help you?” the large and colourfully dressed lady behind the counter said without the usual “How are you?” pre-amble that is de rigueur in this part of the world.

“I have come to renew my gun licences” I replied, turning on the charm to her apparent lack thereof. “Should I have brought a finger-print form? It’s been a while since I have been here”.

“Have you been here before?” she replied.

“Yes, I renewed here last time.”

“No, just fill this in” and she slid a blue form over the counter to me and returned to her desk after waving me back to the bench where I’d been waiting.

I was in the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) at the Morris Depot Police Camp to get my gun licences renewed. They have to be renewed every 3 years in Zimbabwe and last time I’d forgotten all about it and had to go through quite a process, including a nominal fine, to get the licences. I had honestly forgotten whether I needed to have finger prints taken and was rather resigned to a long wait; time was when it took 6 weeks to process the forms. So I duly completed the form and handed back to the lady with the soon to expire licences.

“That will be $15” she said.

“I suppose it is not much good to ask for change”  I enquired with a smile. Silence. “Umm, can I give you $20?”.

“Yes, if you don’t mind not getting the $5 back” came the reply. I certainly was not winning this one so I dug around in my wallet and found the exact money.

I waited on the bench and contemplated the same posters from three years ago with the same spelling mistakes: “Ciggaretes are allowed in this office but may not be smoked”. “Oh well, this could take a while” I thought.

10 minutes passed and the large colourfully dressed lady got up from her desk and passed me the new licences. I’d heard that the process had got simpler but this was amazing!

“Thank you!” I beamed at her (maybe, just maybe she had a sense of humour hidden somewhere – I was not prepared to give up just yet).

“I will see you in three years time” she remarked.

“If we are still here” I quipped.

“Oh yes we will still be here!” she said with a ghost of a smile and added a folded application form to the newly completed licences.