NSSA and wasted time

22 04 2013

One of the larger and newer buildings in Harare is the National Social Security (pronounced NaSSA) building. It was built in the Zim dollar days so they were making a fair bit of money then. This was not difficult given that it is compulsory to give 3% of the labour force’s salary, matched by 3% from the company, in one’s employ to NSSA on a monthly basis and in those days we had a reasonably robust economy.  So given the vastly reduced income base now that there is some 90% unemployment in the country, one could forgive NSSA being overly keen to ensure that dues are paid.  But I was more than a little annoyed last week to get a phone call from one of the NSSA inspectors requesting to see the wage returns.

“Is that Mr Roberts? This is Brian from NSSA, I need to inspect your returns”.

“But I had an audit last year in December, why do you want to see them again?”

“We are doing them every 3 months. When will you be back in the office?”

I said that he would just have to wait the 2 hours or so that I was going to be in town.

On getting back to the office I produced the required documentation.

“Why are you doing inspections every 3 months?”

“It’s our policy” (meaning there is nothing I can do about it).

“Why not do it every 6 months or a year and save on time, travel and costs?”

“You will have to ask my superiors that”.

This was a blind ally so I tried a bit of information gathering instead.

“How many of you do this in Harare?”


“And do you do anything else?”

“No, this is what we do”

This sounded like a job from hell so I persisted; “How many customers do you have to see a day?”

“Oh, about 10 to 15”

“And how long have you been doing this?”

“Two years” and Brian rolled his eyes.

I was beginning to quite like this guy despite the annoyance I felt at the incredible waste of resources used in the quarterly visits. NSSA does actually pay out pensions to retired and widowed people so I guess it does fill a function. Fortunately as I am over 50 I am exempt from having to pay dues. In the past some high-profile politically “connected” farmers have point-blank refused to pay the dues and so far as I know were never brought to book. I should have put this to Brian but I had other more pressing issues to deal with.

“So I guess I will see you or a colleague in another 3 months time to look at another 3 pieces of paper”.

“Yes”, he replied, giving me a wan smile and clumped down the stairs on his way to another appointment.

Beans best before

21 10 2012

One can always get a different perspective on life from the vantage point of the toilet. I could see the remains of 2 cases of cans of beans under the spare bed in the spare room. They have been there a long time. I guess I bought them in 2008 when doing a shopping run to Johannesburg. That was the year of the crash of the Zimbabwe dollar. Food shortages abounded. The supermarket shelves were full  of very little spread out to make it look like a lot. All manner of people were selling basic and not so basic foodstuffs from their garages and charging illegally in hard currency. People coming back from the UK brought food and bread back in their luggage. Said a UK customs official to someone I know on seeing the bread in her hand luggage;  “Going back to Zimbabwe are we madam?”.

If you were down in Jo’burg it was possible to go and buy in bulk at the Woodmead Makro wholesale warehouse in the north. I did a pallet shop and ran out of money before the pallet was up to full height so it was rather expensive on the transport but I got it back to Harare with a transport company offering a specific service. Most of it was used long ago but being single I don’t go through a lot of food and the South African supermarket chains could land produce here much cheaper than the individual could once the US dollar became the currency of choice in 2009. So I rather forgot about it until just now.

The best before date on the baked beans is October last year and on the butter beans is a month ago and there is no rust on any of the cans so the contents are definitely worth investigating. This IS Zimbabwe and we don’t just throw away food because it has passed its best before date!

I do still occasionally come across wads of totally useless Zimbabwe dollars stashed away at the back of a cupboard or secreted in a suitcase. The best before dates on those was pretty much the day after I stored them (there was no point in banking them as there were limits on withdrawing cash and they devalued too fast) and no, they have no other use that even I can think of.



Where have all the skills gone?

28 06 2012

For 20 minutes I sat and watched an abortive attempt to tow a heavy steel structure across the car park of the engineering works that specialised in welding. They were using a thoroughly inadequate chain which kept breaking and it was getting boring so I decided to go and see what was happening with the coffee pot. I’d bought it at the gym coffee shop towards the end of last year because it seemed easier to use than the espresso pot that was probably older than me and, despite being very expensive, I thought it had to last a long time as it was made of stainless steel. I’d never been over-impressed with the marketing guff on the side of the box; “The Signature Collection is 100% craftsmen made because objects that are made by craftsmen resonate with emotion. Pick one up and you can sense the time and effort invested in its creation“. It felt to me distinctly machine mass-made to me but what the hell, it was a Nick Munro design (whoever he is if indeed he exists) so it had to be good. Then last week the spout began to leak and lo, with minimal effort, it came right off! Some craftsmanship this was but having paid $60 for it I thought it worth getting fixed.

They still hadn’t managed to get the gas lit so with an increasing sense of foreboding I decided to hang around and watch. Eventually things started to happen but it seemed to take an awful long time to merely re-attach a spout. The welder then made off with the pot and my concern turned distinctly nasty when a stub of a file was found and the inside of the pot attacked. I asked for it back, told the foreman I wasn’t paying and made off with the pot and my money nearly and hour after arriving.

It’s well know of course that skilled artisans are in short supply worldwide. Zimbabwe is no exception. In the dark days of the Zimbabwe dollar’s plunge in 2007/8, large numbers of professionals and artisans left for more stable and better paid jobs elsewhere. It was at that time that I had my Land Cruiser engine rebuilt at a machine shop in Harare. All seemed well but after 2000km it self-destructed and I opened the engine to find all 6 liners (hard metal sleeves in the cylinders) broken. I found out later that the original owner had sold up, emigrated to Australia and then sponsored all his best machinists to go over from Zimbabwe and join his new business. As I had done the re-assembly of the engine I was advised that I could not try to pin culpability on the machine shop even though it was obviously their error. Quite how they’d managed a blunder of that magnitude nobody could really tell me.

On a far larger scale the commercial farmers who were kicked off their farms in the land grab in this country took their hard-earned skills to the Middle East, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Iraq, West Africa and even Russia amongst other places. Zimbabwe is not an easy country to farm and we are now paying dearly for these skill losses.

As for my coffee pot I will have to see if the mess can be cleaned up (he even managed to BURN THROUGH THE SPOUT!) enough to make it useable. So it’s back to the old espresso pot (on the right in the photo) which although more fiddly to use does, in my opinion, make better coffee. Who knows, it might really have been put together by real craftsmen all those years ago when they weren’t in such short supply!


At the limit of the lift

24 01 2012

“The lift is full!” several people chorused. That did not deter the small guy waiting outside.

“There is a space!” he said and dived into the nearly solid crowd, somehow finding a space behind my left elbow.

“Just as well he is small” I reflected as I counted 15 people now in the lift. Just above the levels selector buttons there was a notice that prominently stated that the capacity of the lift was 13 people and 900kg. I had been going up and down in the lift as I sought to clear up the mess that is my company tax file in the ZIMRA (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) building that is Kurima House in the CBD of Harare today. Of course there must be a safety factor built-in on top of the limit but the manner in which the doors had to be forced apart on the ground floor did not give me a lot of faith that the lift was well maintained. The rest of the building has been refitted in the last 3 years following the US dollarisation of the economy so I guess that at least some of my tax dollars are being well used. I don’t begrudge them that; the building was pretty disgusting in the Zimbabwe dollar days.

My business there took 2 full hours and I got back to my pickup just as my parking time was expiring. The road was now packed with double-parked vehicles which seems to indicate that quite a lot of Zimbabweans are  paying their taxes. But I do have my doubts that those who really need to pay taxes,  the fat cats, actually are doing so.