Licorice bootlaces

9 05 2013

I stuck my tongue out at the rear-view mirror; it wasn’t black like it should have been. I was only slightly disappointed. I’d found the licorice boot laces (they were more like ribbon cable than the knotted boot laces I remember from junior school) in, of all places the aquarium shop, and I was well pleased. The car in front of me pulled onto Harare Drive from Drew Road and was immediately pulled over by the police standing under the trees showing off their bright yellow traffic armbands. I made a show of stopping longer than necessary by the stop sign and then turned left as another car opposite me turned right and pushed ahead of me. I muttered a curse and then another as a policeman pulled me over.

“Who had right of way at that intersection?”

“I did because he was cutting across the line of traffic” I replied wondering if this was my provisional licence test over again.

“But he was already in the intersection”.

“How do you know where the intersection is if there are no white lines marking it?”. I was not going to be bullied in this one.

“But you did not stop at the stop sign”. A change of direction, if you will.

“Yes I did, you were not watching”

“I need to see your licence”.

I passed it over knowing that I could not now just drive off.

“If you want to challenge this then we will have to go to court”.

“No problem”. Now I was committed.

“I will go and get an officer to come with you to the traffic centre”. He was giving me a chance to back out and pay a fine.

“Please do”. I dug in my heels and he wandered off to his colleagues.

I really was prepared to go to court over this. Whilst I was not at all sure if the white  line was necessary I thought I could at least get a story out of this and if I really dug in I could call his bluff as I was pretty sure he did not want to go to court and answer awkward questions. I phoned my insurance broker to see if he knew and watched the cops in the rear view mirror. Trevor couldn’t help so I settled down to wait. The police were chatting amongst themselves, wasting my time – I suspected. Finally another strolled over.

“What happened there, why didn’t you stop behind the stop sign?”

“I did. I could see you here with your yellow arm bands. Why would I not stop? I know this is your favorite spot. You need to hide a bit better”.

He seemed to find this hugely funny.

“Here is your licence, you can go” he said, passing it over.

“While you are here”, I replied as he turned to go, “what about the white lines, aren’t there supposed to be white lines?”

“Yes, there are. But they are difficult to find in Zimbabwe these days”.

Notes on dealing with the police in these situations:

– always be polite

– never lose your cool

– be committed!

– know your rights.

Stop signs are there to tell you to stop. The solid white line marks where you have to stop not the sign. The white line MUST be there!

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?

The referendum – to vote or not

14 03 2013

Referenda (that’s plural of referendum)  are rare in Zimbabwe, unlike in Switzerland where they are distinctly popular. So Saturday’s referendum to accept or discard the new draft constitution should be a big deal but I am predicting the turnout will be poor.

All three of the major political parties have endorsed the draft constitution and are pushing for a yes vote so it’s pretty much fait accompli. I have had a look at the document (easily available online) but at some 88 pages of a pdf file have just cherry-picked the more pertinent points.

Despite being born here I have no birthright to Zimbabwe citizenship:

Chapter 3. Section 36

  1. Persons are Zimbabwean citizens by birth if they are born in Zimbabwe and, when they are born:
    1. either their mother or their father was a Zimbabwean citizen; or
    2. any of their grandparents was a Zimbabwean citizen by birth or descent.

    As both my parents were British I don’t qualify so I have to look under Section 38.

2. Any person who has been continuously and lawfully resident in Zimbabwe for at least ten years, whether before or after the effective date, and who satisfies the conditions prescribed by an Act of Parliament, is entitled, on application, to be registered as a Zimbabwean citizen.

Which seems to indicate that I have to apply! As I already am a citizen under the previous constitution this might not actually apply but I find it amazing that I cannot be a citizen by birth. There cannot be too many countries in the world where this applies.

The death penalty still stands which it did not in a previous version (it has been a long and tortuous path to this version).

Chapter 4. Section 48. Right to life

  1. Every person has the right to life.
  2. A law may permit the death penalty to be imposed only on a person convicted of murder committed in aggravating circumstances, and:
    1. the law must permit the court a discretion whether or not to impose the penalty;
    2. the penalty may be carried out only in accordance with a final judgment of a competent court;
    3. the penalty must not be imposed on a person:the penalty must not be imposed or carried out on a woman;  and
      1. who was less than twenty-one years old when the offence was committed;  or
      2. who is more than seventy years old;
    4. the penalty must not be imposed or carried out on a woman;  and
    5. the person sentenced must have a right to seek pardon or commutation of the penalty from the President.

    I do find it bizarre that the death penalty cannot be carried out on a woman – surely this is preferential treatment and not “equality”.

Under section 72. Rights to Agricultural Land:

  1. Where agricultural land, or any right or interest in such land, is required for a public purpose, including:
    1. settlement for agricultural or other purposes;
    2. land reorganisation, forestry, environmental conservation or the utilisation of wild life or other natural resources; or
    3. the relocation of persons dispossessed as a result of the utilisation of land for a purpose referred to in subparagraph (a) or (b);

    the land, right or interest may be compulsorily acquired by the State by notice published in the Gazette identifying the land, right or interest, whereupon the land, right or interest vests in the State with full title with effect from the date of publication of the notice.

  2. Where agricultural land, or any right or interest in such land, is compulsorily acquired for a purpose referred to in subsection (2):All agricultural land which:
    1. no compensation is payable in respect of its acquisition, except for improvements effected on it before its acquisition;
    2. no person may apply to court for the determination of any question relating to compensation, except for compensation for improvements effected on the land before its acquisition, and no court may entertain any such application; and
    3. the acquisition may not be challenged on the ground that it was discriminatory in contravention of section 56.
    1. was itemised in Schedule 7 to the former Constitution; or
    2. before the effective date, was identified in terms of section 16B(2)(a)(ii) or (iii) of the former Constitution;

    continues to be vested in the State, and no compensation is payable in respect of its acquisition except for improvements effected on it before its acquisition.

The government can still compulsorily acquire agricultural land (not urban). This is by any standard non-democratic and contrary to Chapter 1, Section 3 – Founding Values and Principles:

2. The principles of good governance, which bind the State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level, include:

  1. a multi-party democratic political system;

If this all seems heavy going – it is, so check out a summary at the kubatana website.

It is worth noting that this draft constitution has only been available to the general public without access to the internet (most of Zimbabwe) for 3 weeks when it was published as a supplement to The Herald newspaper. This is not nearly enough time to analyse and digest it to any significant degree so I must conclude that the government has a vested interest in rushing it through. Why are the other political parties, who were at the end of last year very much against this constitution, now supporting it? I have no idea what sort of deal has been cut behind closed doors to prompt this sort of U-turn.

When I dropped Shelton off at the University of Zimbabwe I asked him if he was going to vote. He paused and then said; “No. It’s fait accompli and I suspect most people will boycott it. It is very flawed”.

Will I vote? No, I don’t think so. I agree that it is fait accompli and the best way of registering my displeasure is to contribute to what I hope will be a dismal turnout.

P.S. It is now Saturday, the day of the referendum. David Colthart, the minister of Education, Arts and Culture, has just been quoted on the BBC. He said we really have no choice for if we don’t accept this less-than-perfect constitution we will revert to the truly odious previous (i.e. the current) one. David  Colthart is a lawyer by training, a constitutional lawyer no less. So I guess he has a point.  It was also remarked on the same program that adoption of the new constitution is no guarantee that it will be respected by the powers   that be.


Relics – an old tractor and the CFU

13 02 2013

Agriculture House is situated on Marlborough Drive in the suburb of the same name on the north-west of Harare. It was once the home of the Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU), the union that in its day represented the majority of commercial farmers in Zimbabwe. It was a powerful organisation that was a thorn in the side of the government for many years. But that was a long time ago and today my footsteps echoed in the large, silent entrance hall where I’d come on anything but agricultural business. I walked around the tractor on the plinth and up the stairs to a long, dark corridor.

Yes, that is 1917 on the front of this old Fordson tractor!

Yes, that is 1917 on the front of this old Fordson tractor!

Finding the door I needed I knocked and entered. I’d come to collect a tripod mount that I’d ordered from the UK through a small company based in the building. I got chatting to the woman who’d served me. It seemed that the CFU had sold the building some months previously and now it was now administered by a government company that let out offices to anyone who had need of them. This was not a new development – the CFU had the same practice when it was there but it had been busy and bustling then.

Once the farm invasions had started the CFU membership dried up and it became a relic of its former glory. I’d been a member through my company but got fed-up with the lack of service and did not bother to renew my membership some 8 years ago. At one stage it had a very good technology section that in itself made membership worthwhile but when I phoned the Agricultural Labour Bureau up with a labour problem and was referred to the National Employment Council (a refereeing body between employer and employee) I realized it was time to go.

Walking out of the sprawling complex I wondered why the tractor had not been taken. It has 1917 on the front so it might be worth something. Now it was also just a relic of a bygone era when Zimbabwe’s agriculture industry had held the region’s respect for its farming skills and exports.

Rural visit

7 02 2013

“They didn’t pay their electricity bill” Archie replied to my question as to why the Mhangura mine had closed. I thought there may be a bit more to it than that but there was no doubt as to the impact the collapse of this copper mine in northern Zimbabwe had on the town of the same name. I’d picked up my guide, Archie, at the local GMB (Grain Marketing Board depot) for the trip into the surrounding farming area to see a customer who had problems with some seedlings he’d collected.  The GMB, once a cornerstone of the nation’s agricultural economy, was now very run down and the signpost was a hand-painted piece of metal propped up by stones at the side of the road.

It had been a long trip out of Harare on the road north-west of the capital towards Lake Kariba but I’d been interested to take a trip back to the area where I’d worked on returning from my travels abroad in 1990. Turning off at the township and GMB depot of Lions’ Den (yes, there really were lots of lions here in the early part of the 20th century!) I got onto the very quiet Mhangura road and put my foot down – there was little to miss apart from the occasional herd of cattle being driven along the side of the road. The rains had been late coming to this part of the country but the crops were still dismal – small, yellow and very uneven. This was a far cry from the area I’d known 20 years ago when the area was populated by mainly white commercial farmers.

I wasn't going fast when I took this - promise!

Long, straight and uncongested – I wasn’t going fast when I took this – promise!

Having picked up Archie we made our way east towards the Raffingora area and got chatting. Of Zambian descent he’d grown up in Harare and worked for a while as a farm manager for a number of black farmers but got fed up being given half the inputs he needed and then told to “make a plan” so he’d set himself up as a commodity broker. He didn’t go back to Zambia much but said if things got much worse in Zimbabwe he might have to.  We bumped and crashed along a truly appalling road that had clearly not seen any official maintenance for quite some time. The countryside was still beautiful despite the collapsed tobacco barns, power cables lying in the fields and the dismal maize crops clearly not suited to being grown in an area once famed for its tobacco.

It took the better part of an hour to do the 20 or so km to the customer’s farm. I dropped off Archie at the rather decrepit farm workshop area (clearly there was protocol involved here as he was definitely not invited to accompany us) and went with the farmer to the lands. Also of Zambian extraction he was an engineer by training but preferred to be a farmer. The cabbages were not in good condition, largely due to unsuitable soils so I dispensed what advice I could before collecting Archie and making our way back to Mhangura.

The bush was looking good, much better than the road!

The bush was looking good, much better than the road!

It was a long slow drive back to Harare along the congested Kariba road but I’d fuelled up with biltong from the renowned Lions’ Den Butchery which was just as good as I remembered from 20 years back. Getting back home I noticed a missed call on my cellphone from the farmer; he was just checking to see I’d got home safely. Clearly I’d made a good impression!

Whither the weather

15 01 2013

gwebiThis is the Gwebi River on the road into town this morning. From Friday to Monday 90mm of rain fell – not exceptional but still a lot. A customer who deals with small scale farmers in the Zambezi Valley area told me that the rivers up there are starting to flood. Again this is not that unusual for that area which, being a flood plain of a major river, does tend to be prone to flooding during times of heavy rainfall. Most of Zimbabwe is relatively steep so does not flood that often. A friend who lives in Mutare in the east of the country said they had 300mm of rain from Thursday night to Sunday night which is very damaging given that it is the first major rain they have experienced this season. So you may think we are having a good rainy season in Zimbabwe. Sadly this is not the case as the distribution in time and location has been highly inconsistent.

The first rain fell at my work on October 16th, 14mm. Not a lot but certainly useful if followed by more rain. But nothing over 5mm fell until 4th December when 12mm fell. This effectively marked the beginning of the season for us though it was 3 weeks later than it normally is. Elsewhere in the country they have been less lucky, especially in the south, south-east and west. In theses areas, although it is raining heavily now, there will be no meaningful crops this year.

This will be the third year in a row of erratic and patchy rains in Zimbabwe. I would be reluctant to say it is the result of climate change because it is probably within the natural variation but certainly, the regular daily thundershowers that I remember in my childhood appear to have gone.

The definition of poverty

29 08 2012

The definition of poverty varies from country to country. I have heard figures ranging from $1.25 to $3.00. The minimum wage for horticulture in Zimbabwe is $70 a month plus another $77 in allowances if the person lives off the property and has to use public transport to work (this does vary quite a bit). Of course you can pay more if you feel like it and there are stipulated job definitions and grades too. Agriculture uses a 26 working day month which means that my labour force earns around $5.65 a day so is well clear of the poverty line. This strikes me as unnecessarily complicated. I think the definition should be; can they afford to have and operate a cell phone?

The census

27 08 2012

It has been 10 years since the last  national census. They are still using teachers on holiday to get the statistics. The form they use has changed though. For the last census it was small and green, this year it is large and red. Like the last census I was impressed by the attitude of the official. He was on my doorstep yesterday morning at 7 a.m – no mean feat considering I live 5 km out of town and he would have had to walk the last 1.5 km from the tar road. He was also prepared for my response to “What ethnic group are you?”.

“African – I was born here, in Harare”.

“But where were your parents from?”

“The UK”.

“So you are European”.

This is actually more of an issue than most people might think. Despite having a Zimbabwean passport I am not considered “indigenous” the definition of which is (or was the last time I heard): anyone born in Zimbabwe after independence in April 1980 OR anyone born in the country before that date who by nature of their race was discriminated against. Yes, Rhodesia as Zimbabwe was then had racially biased laws. We thought that had all finished 32 years ago. Now not being indigenous has a number of disadvantages not least of which is the Indigenization Act under which those non-indigenous persons must cede at least 51% of their company’s shares to indigenous share holders within a year. The first time this was tabled limits were set on the value of companies so that those worth less than $50,000 were exempt. Now the limit for most companies has been set at $1. There are a few exceptions; arts companies have a lower limit of $500,000. Art is not a great way to make a living these days and I cannot think of any that have assets worth that amount. I can only assume that arts companies are not desirable!  Quite what this will do to foreign investment is not clear though it cannot be very attractive.

It is also not clear what will happen to the information gleaned from the census exercise and how much of the statistics will filter back to the general public. I can think that more than a few people will be interested to see how many Chinese are estimated to be in the country. I have heard a figure of about 30,000 which would make them the second biggest population group. I assume that they will not be classified indigenous!

Hope on Heroes’ Day

13 08 2012

It’s a public holiday today; Heroes’ Day when we are expected to remember the heroes who fought for Zimbabwe (against me) and are buried in Heroes’ Acre. From what I could see going into town precious few of Harare’s residents were giving the afore-mentioned heroes much thought as they participated in football clinics or just generally relaxed. It’s not that surprising – most Zimbabweans are too young to remember the war. I was on my way to a French lesson with Shelton. Half the way through there was a roar and we looked up to see a formation of 4 training jets go over on their way to the National Stadium where Bob was addressing the crowds. Shelton cynically commented (in French) that the crowds where mostly there to see the high profile football match after the ceremony.

It is true that we have little left to celebrate in Zimbabwe. The economy is in tatters and shows little sign of rejuvenation. We have extremely bad press worldwide and tourism is moribund despite the mostly friendly population and great weather. Then on the way back home I noticed a bundle of fibre optic cable casings lying on a manhole cover and thought; no, there IS still some hope! Somebody is still investing in Zimbabwe regardless of the apparently dismal future. Actually fibre optic cables have been going in all around town for at least the last 18 months but at least they are continuingto be put in.

Tech spaghetti too – I got some funny looks from passers by whilst photographing a pile of piping!

Tech Spaghetti – fibre optic cable casings

Appropriate technology

7 08 2012

I was in the local irrigation supplies outlet, and looking around whilst the connectors I’d wanted were sourced, when I noticed a rather natty water tank float gauge made in Australia. I didn’t ask how much it cost. I know the Zimbabwe version (on the right below) is much cheaper and spares are dead easy to find too.

Water tank float gauges on the local market