Panic attack

1 09 2015
FinGaz front page

FinGaz front page

This is the Financial Gazette front page from last Thursday. It represents a major shift of attitude in the government.

Up until now it has been very difficult to get rid of staff without paying a massive (read punitive from the employer’s point of view) retrenchment package. For example, if I were to lay off any staff it would have cost me 6 months notice, 2 months payment for every year employed and one month re-location package. Scenarios for a layoff would have included a takeover of my business by anyone with the correct contacts. As I only rent the premises and have little in the way of assets it would have effectively wiped out the company.

The labour law to which the paper refers changes a lot of that. Now it is only necessary to give 3 months notice. While I have not read the new legislation it is fairly obvious why it has come about. The government wants to lay off a lot of the civil servants which it can no longer afford to pay. Already a substantial number from the state controlled ZBC (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Company) have gone. Rather than simply not pay them and get lumped with the bill later it has changed the law to suit itself. Interestingly there are a number of parties involved who are ready to challenge the legislation. Good luck to them! It is more than a little ironic that this is the government that introduced the heavily workforce biased legislation in the first place to gain the support of the working class.

The labour legislation, as it was, was deeply unattractive to would-be investors. Also unattractive is the current indigenisation policy, embedded in law, whereby companies must be at least 51% owned by indigenous Zimbabweans. While it was never completely clear what indigenous meant I knew that as a Zimbabwe born white I was not included. The reality was that the government (and those with the correct contacts) were after the bigger more profitable companies.  So does the second tier title on the front page of the paper represent an about-turn by the government? Well, if one cares to read a bit further the answer is not quite so obvious as the title implies. Elsewhere in the international press there does seem to bit a bit of a charm offensive by the President, Robert Mugabe, to woo investors from the West. This really does represent a huge change of attitude.

Up until now the West has been the cause of a lot of our problems, according to the government owned media. Our biggest creditor at the moment is China who has been very generous with loans. When things really started to go pear-shaped last year the finance minister went begging to them but came back empty-handed. So to go begging to our former nemesis, on whom our woes were blamed for imposing sanctions, really is a change of attitude. It shows just how deep the financial crisis is.

It is well known that the police have been told to go out and collect their own wages so we are used to being endlessly stopped for both real and imagined traffic violations but last week it really was a frenzy. Even the ZBC got in on the act stopping vehicles to check if they had valid radio receiver licences. Perhaps it was a fear of being laid off under the new legislation or perhaps they were actually getting their notice payments. This week has so far been eerily quiet. Maybe it will all start again towards the end of the month when pay day looms.





The curse of good health

13 08 2015

My uncle turns 93 or maybe it’s 92 this year. Mentally he’s very sharp but physically he’s frail. Last year he decided he’d had enough of life and decided to end it on his terms. He failed and now he’s condemned to a old age home in rural England, waiting to serve his time amongst the old, frail and demented.

I went to visit him the week before last whilst on an infrequent trip to a family gathering and the wedding of a young friend. We don’t get together much; my brother lives in the UK, my sister in north-western USA and I’m in Zimbabwe. It was my brother’s 60th birthday last weekend and I’d said to my sister-in-law that I’d come over for it if he promised to have a party.

wedding cake

Lucy and Will’s big day

It was pure luck that Lucy was getting married the weekend before and well, I probably won’t see Ant again.

The UK is unlike Zimbabwe in many ways;
Clean
Organised
Good roads
Horrendously heavy traffic but a noticeable absence of bad drivers (ok so it wasn’t a dangerous breach but it’s still a red light!)
Crowded
Green (Zim is very dry right now
In short – First World!

So whilst in London we did the tourist thing, the Science Museum to get my dose of science.

tower bridge

Tower Bridge on the Thames

Dining hall 2

Dining hall at the old Naval Academy.

Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark

A Thames river cruise to the Cutty Sark and checked out the amazing dining hall at the old Naval Academy. Zimbabwe does not have recorded history going  back that far and we don’t have a navy either. We do however have better weather than the UK though on this trip it wasn’t bad, choosing to rain just when I chose to do some serious photography.

Getting back to Harare we encountered some decidedly Third World air service with all the luggage being left in Johannesburg because there was no Jet A1 fuel in Harare. Well, that was the official story. It is certainly symptomatic of the state of the economy here and meant that we had to go back to the airport the next day to collect our luggage (don’t they deliver it elsewhere?). So my Saturday visit to the Gallery Delta had to wait a week.

The current exhibition there is From Line to Form where Wallen Mapondera’s string picture Everyone is a Vendor neatly caught the dire state of the economy; we just don’t produce much anymore.

Everyone is a vendor

Everyone is a vendor

Not at all like the market we visited in the curiously named Bury St Edmond where it was very hip to buy local produce. Not sure if these tomatoes were local but they are certainly better quality than the ones we get here!

Good quality produce

Good quality produce

When I left Ant I shook his hand. His grip was firm by any standard. He just laughed when I mentioned it. Handshake strength is one of the criteria used to asses old people’s health. I winced inwardly at the irony of it.





This is George

3 08 2015
George the paragliding giraffe

George the paragliding giraffe

This is George; possibly the most well flown paragliding giraffe in the world. He’s been cold in the Owens Valley in California where he survived without oxygen at 4800m ASL and descended under a reserve parachute there too (without complaining or injury). He’s been hot in Porterville South Africa and didn’t need a drink even in +40ºC heat. He’s charmed his way through customs in the USA whilst I was failing to do so and got compliments in broken English on the takeoffs at Annecy, the paragliding Mecca, in France. The weekend of Africa Day he finally got his paragliding fix at World’s View, Nyanga, after a break of almost 2 years. It’s been a long time.

The state of paragliding in Zimbabwe strongly reflects the state of the economy. Flat in a word. There were all of 2 of us pilots on the takeoff that weekend up at World’s View. In the heyday of paragliding there would have been at least half a dozen and we’d think nothing of leaving early on a Saturday, flying hopefully that afternoon and then on Sunday and driving back on Sunday night. Wouldn’t do that now; the fuel is too expensive and the roads far too dangerous to drive at night. The main road going east from Harare to Mutare and the Mozambique border is actually not too bad. I’m talking of the surface not what drives on it. Most of last year it was being resurfaced by a South African company (I know that because the traffic control at the various detours was far too organised for a Zimbabwean company). How it was paid for I have no idea as the government was only slightly less broke then than it is now. There was talk in the papers last week of lots of civil servants being retrenched. Actually the headline said “Fired” which implies there will be no retrenchment package.

The road from Troutbeck Hotel up to World’s View was also being resurfaced when we were up there. No small deal that either as a LARGE and very new looking bulldozer was moving substantial quantities of boulders and earth and a grader was tidying up after it. Now I’ve been going up that road irregularly for the last 50 years that I can remember and it has never looked so grand! Almost 3 lanes in places. Again, who is paying for it? Nobody I’ve spoken to seems to know the answer which makes me a bit suspicious. This usually means a Fat Cat has told someone to get on with it as he (or she, but usually it’s a he) has designs on some property in the vicinity and wants easy access.

Africa Day, for the ill informed, celebrates the formation of the African Union as one of the children on the landing field informed us. Our esteemed president, Robert Mugabe, is the current chairman of the AU. I’m not really sure what the AU actually does. Once upon a time the late Colonel Gaddafi proposed forming a United States of Africa. As delusional as it is grand i.e. very. The week of Africa Day there was a summit in South Africa which the rather odious president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir attended. He is wanted to answer to charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. Amnesty International wasted no time in filing for his arrest. The South African judiciary deliberated and deliberated and by the time a ruling announcing that the said president of Sudan could be arrested he’d been flown out of the country. How convenient for all involved. The judiciary upheld South Africa’s law abiding image and the AU got to give the finger to the West.

I’ve had another trip to the Nyanga area a month ago. The top photo of George was taken at the edge of the Honde Valley where we once had a great takeoff. You might imagine that George is looking a bit glum as the takeoff behind him is submerged in over a meter of grass and is therefore not useable. This was where we used to be based for the annual Zimbabwe Paragliding Open competition. One year we had over 35 competitors. This year there were 3 of us.

We did fly the following day from World’s View which was convenient given that we’d rented a cottage 500m away. It was not great flying by World’s View standards (usually it’s relatively easy to get 500m above takeoff) as it was heavily inverted and so we were limited to about 150m above takeoff. But it was hard work and good practice and George enjoyed it as you can see by the gilt in his eye.

A happy giraffe!

A happy giraffe!





A tentative start

27 06 2015

It was not very well attended but Geoff, who is naturally optimistic, said “Yes, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen something like this and that is good news”.

I had to agree. It was not a big agricultural machinery show by any standards but it was most certainly a start.  The really big combines were privately owned and on loan for the show. There were some very high tech irrigation systems and all nature of sprayers including a Brazilian made battery powered knapsack sprayer that caught my fancy. But who has the money to afford these systems and where are the farms that need them? Mostly gone in the chaos that peaked in the early part of the century when government backed “war vets” evicted most of the white commercial farmers. And the country is very nearly broke.

It continues in a smaller way today. I was chatting to the owner of a smaller nursery near Karoi in the north west of the country. She and her husband rented a farm and co-existed with 7 small scale farmers. A year ago they were kicked off the farm and today there is only one small scale farmer left and very little evidence that it was ever a productive farm.

So will there be another farming equipment show next year? I cannot answer that but a lot of people are hoping there will be and it will be bigger.

 

show

Not a big show but a start.

local spuds

Local ingenuity – a potato lifter. Not high tech but it works.

high sprayer

Now that’s what I call a tall sprayer!

demonstration

Field demonstrations

big combine

A combine harvester worthy of any first world farm. This one was on loan for the show.

diesel pump

A diesel powered pump. Useful when the power is unreliable

centre pivot

High tech irrigation system

big john deere

One careful owner.

banners

Well, the advertising banner industry seems to be healthy!





Dissing the ZRP – part 2

27 06 2015

Today, on my way into Borrowdale, I was once again stopped by the police. It is a straight piece of road near my work so I couldn’t have done anything untoward.

“Good morning sir, how are you?”

“Cold” it IS winter.

“We are just checking two things this morning, your horn and your hand brake.”

I sound the horn. I pull on the hand  brake thinking he is going to try pushing the car.

“Please put your foot on the clutch. Ah, yes, that’s nice, you may go.”

What? This is a level piece of road!

“Don’t you want to push the car to test the handbrake ?” It’s a Land Cruiser, good luck mate.

“No, there is a slope here, you may go.”

OK, whatever, looks dead level to me!

For a contrasting encounter, please see the previous post.





Dissing the ZRP (Zimbabwe Republic Police)

24 06 2015

Driving out of town this morning I had to make a decision; gym or go home and try out my shoulder on the rowing machine. It has been giving trouble lately and I had a sneeky suspicion that it was due to the gym workout. I knew if I went to they gym I wouldn’t be able to resist doing more exercise than using the rowing machine there and I wanted to isolate the problem. So home it was. An unfortunate decision.

The police were at the Groombridge intersection on College Road waiting to catch those not stopping at the stop sign. I made a point of stopping and then they waved me over.

Bullshit! I thought.

“Did you see the stop sign?” the officer asked.

“Yes, and I stopped at it!”  I replied heatedly.

I realised that I was trapped. My word against his. I had no witnesses and he knew it. I couldn’t lose my temper, I couldn’t accuse him of lying. So I launched into full-blown psychological warfare.

“You know this means that I can never help any ZRP officer I see needing help?”

“You must not say that, you made a mistake” he countered.

“No I did not, I know when my vehicle is stopped now I insist you write me a ticket” I demanded.

“I need the money” he asked.

“You must find the change” (usually a problem) I replied and unfortunately pulled out a $50 note instead of a $100. Damn for making his life easier.

He duly found the change for the $20 fine and passed the form over for signing. I scrawled something that did not resemble my signature (like it was going to make a difference!).

“How can I respect the ZRP now?” I asked.

“But you must not say that” he replied looking genuinely hurt – or so I fancied.

I drove off resisting the temptation to spin the wheels.

The above exchange is heavily abridged. It went back and forth for about 10 minutes.

The ZRP attract much contempt for their complete lack of professionalism. They have been told to collect their own wages as the government is broke so the emphasis is on easy fine collection and real traffic policing, such as catching motorists driving dangerously, is neglected. How they will ever gain a measure of respect with the general public is difficult to see.

There are another 2 police who man a very informal road “block” on the road into town. I see them there most days. I am hoping they will pull me over as there have to be at least 3 police officers at any official road block so I can legally tell them to get lost. We’ll see!





Scruffs dog show (by VAWZ)

14 06 2015

Amidst all the chaos that is the Zimbabwean economy we have normal dog shows. Or in this case a dog show for non-show dogs. Scruffs. Well, that requirement was not enforced so everyone had a great time and lots of prizes were given out all as a fund raiser for Veterinarians for Animal Welfare in Zimbabwe (VAWZ) who do an amazing job of getting out into the rural areas, mainly, to keep an eye on animal welfare and educate people in how to look after their animals.

Just a small selection of photos I took. Fancy dress, nicest eyes, waggiest tail etc…








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