Of potholes and corruption

9 02 2020

Tyres supplied, fitted and balanced – price is local money but US$ are accepted!

The road to my work is appalling. In the distant past, when it was in good repair, it was quite possible to go 80km/h along it. No longer. Some stretches are so bad that one needs to slow down to 20km/h or less, especially when it’s been raining which is not a lot this season.

The farming and residential community that resides along the road gets together on occasion and patches up the potholes, usually just with some gravel or clay that doesn’t stay there long but makes the drive a little less tedious. There’s also a fair-sized high density suburb (if one can call it that – it’s closer to the definition of a slum) but they contribute nothing and short of putting up a toll gate there’s no feasible way of getting contributions from the cars and minibuses that ply the route.

The potholes all take a toll on one’s vehicle’s tyres. Mine needed replacing after a mere 60,000km – the tyre man at the service station at the bottom of the road estimated they should have lasted at least 75,000 km if the roads were good. By the time I’d had two punctures in as many days I threw in the towel and went looking for new ones. They are all imported (at least for my pickup size which is pretty common) and foreign currency is something that Zimbabwe has very little of right now. Yes, fixing the road would probably have been cheaper in the long run but our government doesn’t think that far ahead and prefers to pilfer the national exchequer while it can.

The first outlet I tried quoted me $US190 per tyre despite it being illegal to sell anything in Zimbabwe for US dollars. Curiously this does not apply to the passport office which has been directed to ONLY charge in US dollars for urgent passport applications.

The second outlet also quoted in US dollars at $220 per tyre but said I could pay in the local dollars if I wanted to (they are clumsily known as RTGS dollars if electronic or bond notes if actual notes which the government tells us are they same value but they are not – confusing I know) so I opted for that. It didn’t take long and anyway, the company paid for it even if it was a bit expensive so I consoled myself that it was coming off the end-of-year tax bill.

Suddenly, just before Christmas, a road maintenance vehicle arrived on the road with workers and tarmac to patch the potholes. There was much excitement and speculation on the local community WhatsApp group as to who was behind it. Perhaps it was a wealthy resident who’d finally got fed up with the dismal state of the surface?

The answer, which emerged the following day, was typically Zimbabwean. E D Mnangagwa, the country’s president, has a son who was getting married that weekend at a local resort that specializes in weddings and upmarket events. Of course he couldn’t be allowed to drive up a severely potholed road. We didn’t complain too much but the patching was superficial and will not last very long.

This week a post appeared on the community WhatsApp group; someone had sourced ready-to-use tarmac patching bags and would we like to buy 20 for US$380? There were a lot of pledges made and we have yet to see the product which is apparently made in South Korea but we are assured it will appear. I am really not sure how many potholes each pack will patch but I am reasonably certain it won’t be enough.

We had a meeting last year with a local opposition MP for a neighbouring ward and some engineers from the city council. They admitted that parts of the road were beyond simple repair and would have to be completely rebuilt. I mention that he is an opposition MP as we wouldn’t have bothered engagingly with a ruling party MP. It turned out there was little he could do. The engineers informed us that the road was earmarked for repair; “It’s in the top three but we don’t know when work will start on it and funds have been set aside”. Nothing has happened and we are not surprised. Zimbabwe is ranked 158th out of 180 countries by Transparency International in their corruption index – there are more important things on which to spend the public funds, even if it would save money in the long run.

A less direct method of measuring corruption in a country is to look for the proportion of luxury to ordinary cars on the road and it’s very evidently high. Last October on the way back from a vet in another suburb both Marianne and I spotted a new white Lamborghini sports car and I’m told there’s another yellow one about apparently belonging to the son of one of the vice-presidents. Then in December last year a Bugatti Chiron was spotted on the streets of Harare. It is apparently the world’s fastest production car and one of the most expensive at some US$3.4 million. This in a country that cannot afford the most basic of medical supplies to keep the government hospitals open. Yes, we are corrupt! The owner of the car has yet to be identified but I am reasonably certain he won’t be driving it up the road to my work anytime soon.

I call it home

2 11 2012

I know when I am back in Harare from a visit to Johannesburg when:

I get  to immigration control at the airport and signs are in English and  Chinese.

The person  assisting me offers to push my wheelchair to the long-stay car park.

There are only 2 car parks – the long-stay and short-stay and I can look across the short-stay to the long-stay. They are all on the same level unlike Jo’burg which has multiple levels of parked  cars.

There are no lit signs telling me how many parking bays are vacant. I can see how many parking bays are vacant!

The attendant at the long-stay park asks how my trip was and really means it.

Not only are traffic lights working on my drive back across town – they are ALL working!

I also notice where there are working street lights.

It is impossible to miss all the potholes in the roads.

I go into DHL to pay for a parcel today and find out that it will take 3 to 5 working days to deliver from the airport to my office which is a 35 minute drive.

This is Zimbabwe and I call it home!

All is NOT lost (yet)!

10 03 2012

There is a joke doing the rounds of town. How do you tell if a driver is drunk in Harare? He/she is driving in a straight line! It refers to the appalling potholes in the roads. Churchill Road past the University is particularly bad and I cannot see how it can be effectively repaired without resurfacing the entire road. One can only guess what it is costing the country in damaged vehicle suspension and bent wheel rims. No sooner than one has had the steering re-aligned than it needs to be done again. You get to know where the really bad potholes are – the rim benders. It is a constant remider of the state of the country.

Yesterday I received a parcel slip in my post box. I needed to pay a dollar to get a parcel from Sybille in France. Somewhat irked to be paying the postal service ANYTHING I went up to the counter. A large and battered box duly appeared with a piece of paper attached.

Notice of a parcel found open

The box had been found open, the contents inspected and then the box resealed – I didn’t begrudge the dollar!  In a government company extraordinarily badly paid they could have easily pocketed the contents and thrown the box in the rubbish bin. It was nice to know that this level of honesty still exists.

Two weeks ago I was chatting to a shoulder specialist surgeon who comes up here on a regular basis from Cape Town. Basil V is Zimbabwean born and loves coming back here. Not only does he do a bit of consulting but he also does some lecturing at the School of Medicine at the local university. He said that yes, the S of M is struggling to get lecturers but he really likes lecturing here – the students are SO receptive and very grateful for his work. He told me that when he was registering with the Medical Council the lady who works there told him that around 40 returning doctors applied for registration last year. Now THAT is good news!