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.


Scam humour

13 03 2016

scam letterI don’t often get snail mail letters from South Africa and thinking it may be for my landlord who’s company is also called Emerald Seedlings I opened it to find out whom it was for (very unlikely to be personal). It wasn’t.

scam letter_0001Now I’m sure that most of you have received this sort of scam letter before, by email. I should think I get about one a month.  They are deleted, often without being read (NEVER reply to these by the way). I’m told they are of Nigerian origin, usually. That this one came from South Africa, where there are lots of Nigerians, was a first as was the method of sending. It follows a fairly standard formula; a deceased estate that the sender has authority over which in a fit of huge generosity he wants to get rid of for what seems like very minor personal gain and somehow evade a bank audit in the process. Quaint English too. But what really is a give away in this letter is the sentence that states “…60% shall be for me for personal investment purposes in your country…”. I mean seriously, someone wants to invest in Zimbabwe?



An inspirational story – the Cold Fact

25 12 2013

I am not religious at all so this time of year is a bit lost on me. Actually I find it a bit tedious and find it a relief when it’s over – an excess of eating and false bonhomie and the original message of hope and inspiration long buried in commercialism. I heard the first Christmas Carols this year in a supermarket at the end of October. I do however like a truly inspirational story as much as anyone so last night made myself comfortable with a DVD “Searching for Sugar Man” – the story of the search for the artiste known just as Rodriguez who in my youth produced the iconic album Cold Fact that sank without trace in the USA but was a huge hit in this part of the world where it was seen as a touch provocative, anti-establishment, and a touchstone for anti-apartheid music in the Afrikaans language.

I suppose I was about 15 when I first heard Cold Fact. Tape cassettes were a new technology so it must have been what we called an LP (long playing vinyl record). We considered ourselves a bit rebellious just for listening to it with its shocking lyrics on I Wonder – “… I wonder how many times you’ve had sex and I wonder, do you know who’ll be next and I wonder…”. Well, shocking for that era. And the song about drugs – Sugar Man. I never owned the album, I wouldn’t have dared bring it home. I had already rocked the boat by being the first of my siblings to buy a pop album – the soundtrack to Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Radical stuff man! I am not sure I would really have appreciated the lyrics anyway, often a gritty synopsis of Rodriguez’s Detroit.

The Searching for Sugar Man documentary follows two South African fans as they search for their hero about whom next to nothing is known where Rodriguez’s two albums were a massive hit. They don’t even know if he is still alive as rumours abound about an onstage suicide. I remember being told that the artiste was an ex-convict who wrote his songs in jail. Rodriguez is alive and well and  has absolutely no idea that he is a superstar in this part of the world and has spent the last 30 years as a blue collar laborer in construction and renovation in his native Detroit.

The opening scenes of the first sell-out concert in Cape Town in 1998 are incredibly touching; a lot of the fans cannot believe it’s really their hero. Then the opening notes of I Wonder start and the crowd goes berserk. That Rodriguez, who is expecting a couple of thousand fans at most, walks calmly onto the stage in front of some 20,000 after a near 30 year hiatus and handles the concert with aplomb, is a tribute to the extraordinary quality of the man who remains remarkably humble to this day, still living in the run-down house in Detroit where he has spent the last 40 years.

The “Making of” section at the end of the documentary (which won an award at the 2012 Sundance Festival and later and Academy Award) is well worth a look – in itself an inspirational story of persistence from a first-time director who nearly didn’t get the film made at all. And the music; well, it’s timeless. Rodriguez is favorably compared to Bob Dylan in the documentary. In my opinion he is much better. I have never been a fan of Dylan whose nasal whining I find tedious no matter how good the lyrics. Rodriguez has great lyrics AND a clear voice. Here’s hoping he has found the recognition that he has so long deserved in the wider world.

Celebrating 33

17 04 2013

Tomorrow Zimbabwe will be 33. And there will be celebrations. Those cynical people who have never visited this amazing country may ask what we have to celebrate. I will answer them.

  • We have 3 big South African supermarket chains with outlets that would not look amiss in South Africa – spotting the Zimbabwean produce can be a challenge though.
  • We have  plenty of fuel at competitive prices.
  • We have the biggest fertilizer company in South Africa selling  their top quality fertilizer.
  • We  have manageable inflation. Officially it is 4.5% but it may be a little higher than that in reality.
  • 10% of the population is employed!
  • We have a stable currency (not our own) in the US dollar
  • We have the world’s best climate along with Malta.
  • We have been a democracy longer than South Africa. There is a slight financial problem in funding the next general election this year but we will make a plan for the shortfall of $100 million or so.

I mean really, with all this, who needs an economy?

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!

Printing real money?

24 01 2009

Some outlets in Zimbabwe are licenced to deal in forex (foreign currency). For them it’s been a boon and although they are pricey at least we have been able to get most things. The price they have to pay is a 7% levy on turnover to the revenue authority, and yes, they had to buy the licence too, often for as much as US$20,000. Now they might be a little worried. The government, in an attempt to placate the civil service, will start paying them in coupons redeemable at the aforementioned outlets. These companies will then be allowed to deduct the value of the coupons from the 7% levy. Does this mean that the government is effectively printing US dollars?

  • If there was enough US dollars coming in the government would be able to pay the civil servants itself.
  • Does this mean that the government does not trust its own collection system?
  • Are they just finding a cheaper way to administer their own wages?
  • I can promise you it will be abused!

The local press has been abuzz with the Reserve Bank governor’s plan to “randify” the economy i.e. link it to the S. African rand. I could never see this happening unless the South African REALLY wanted to devalue their currency though I was told today that it was scuppered by COSATU (Congress of South African Trades Union). They said only if Bob agrees and is seen to share power. That of course will not happen.

I heard most of this today at work from various customers. One said “I’d love to believe this but..” and then recounted how she’d heard that the army was “promising” a coup within the next month. It’s almost certainly just a pressure tactic – I really don’t’ think that even our army would advertise and impending coup!

Silly Season

30 12 2008

The Christmas/New Year period is often called the silly season in Zimbabwe. People get silly about it; pay ludicrous prices and behave badly. It seems that the silly price part of it has become pretty much embedded in people’s psyche. Yesterday I went in search of some pocket diaries (plain old paper type – we don’t have much use for PDAs here), desk planners and lawnmower blades though the lawn has probably got beyond even my appropriate technology robust mower. The desk planners were not available at any price but at the first outlet I tried they wanted US$55 for three of the diaries! I told them what I thought and declined. The second bookstore I went to had nothing much of anything spread out over a large area.

I did manage to buy three lawnmower blades for $3 each (probably worth about 50c) which was better than another hardware store that wanted $30 for a set with the bolts included. I got caught in a thunder shower for my pains and had to wade back to the pickup through 20cm of water. At least rain at this time of year is not cold. The power was off for the remainder of the day – it has been off more than on since the “Festive” season started. I guess that the lawn will just carry on growing for a bit.

I was chatting to one of my customers this morning and he mentioned that a friend of his had come back from South Africa just before Christmas. Stopping off to buy last minute items in Musina, the town just across the border in South Africa he was struck by how empty the shops all were; Zimbabweans had cleaned them out. I also know that a number of South African companies have set up warehouses in Louis Trichardt, a medium sized agricultural town 100km across the border and a popular shopping point for Zimbabweans. What incentive, my customer wondered, do they have for a resolution to the Zimbabwean crisis?