26 04 2012

The Zimbawe Air Force has one fast jet still operational. I know that because I saw it flying when I was at the Zimbabwe Orchid Society show a couple of weekends back. It is apparently an F7 of Chinese origin. I now have it on good authority from a pilot customer that the last remaining pilot capable of flying it has resigned. The Hawker Hawk jets are grounded due to a lack of spares because those horrible Brits won’t sell us the spares – it’s those pesky sanctions again. I do see the occasional Bell “Huey” helicopter around but it’s been a long time since I saw an Alouette in the sky (I should hope so, they are ancient!) and I never saw one of the Russian Hind-D helicopter gunships that were used in the DRC (which was Zaire). Do we even have ANY operational aircraft? Just as well no-one is interested in attacking us!

Keeping up with the competition can be exhausting in any economic climate. Zimbabwe of course has its own rules. My nearest competition is an Israeli-owned nursery down on Harare drive. How did they get to own property in Zimbabwe – they are hardly indigenous? Word had it (it was a while ago) that they sourced the fancy riot control vehicles with water cannons for the Zim police and were allowed to own property in return. Come to think of it I haven’t seen them around recently either. I’m sure it’s nothing to do with spares – business is business as far as the Israelis are concerned. It must be our non-existent credit rating. I digress. The nursery was set up originally for supplying rose cuttings to the region and very state-of-the-art it was too. Special plastic and automation to boot. That market collapsed with the world economic crisis so they diversified into seedlings, fertilizer and various implements – all rather pricey (their seedlings are nearly twice the price I charge). In the early days of the US dollar I used them quite a lot because they had what I wanted even though it was not that cheap. Now there are much cheaper fertilizers and plastic around and the other suppliers spell Zinc correctly on the bag; not Zunc! That always makes me suspicious. If they cannot spell correctly or at least get someone else to check the spelling what else have they got wrong? I found out from my new greenhouse sheeting supplier this week that they’d also given some of their rather nice erect-and-go greenhouses to a number of the “fat cats around town” in return for good publicity. That type of business ethics I do find bit dodgy. I do however still support the pita bread bakery on the premises – hey, it IS good pita bread!

Traffic in Harare has increased tremendously over the past 2 years. Driving skills have diminished proportionately. On Tuesday I was very nearly eradicated by a driver in the industrial sites. I was approaching Rotten Row on Coventry Road and fortunately slowing down for the T junction. A car came out of the Colcom complex on my right, drove straight across the front of my pickup and exited onto Rotten Row 4 lanes later! Luckily I saw him coming out of the corner of my eye and braked hard. I guess he missed me by about 50cm. Not a week seemingly goes by without news of yet another bus disaster and in 36 years of driving I have had my vehicle checked for roadworthiness only ONCE about 3 weeks ago on the road to the airport, near Mukuvisi Woodlands.

“Please put on your hand brake sir” said the policewoman. She then leaned rather pathetically on the door frame to check the hand brake, checked the lights and I was free to go. Admittedly most of the accidents seem to occur when minibus drivers deem themselves invincible (which is most of the time) and overtake into oncoming traffic. When are the police going to get serious about bad driving and unworthy vehicles? I guess it is not a lucrative as harassing drivers for going through amber lights and not stopping at stop streets.

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.