Surviving Makombe

20 07 2014

I lost my wallet about 5 weeks ago. Stupid really. I think I left it on top of the Land Cruiser and drove off. It’s not the first time I’ve done this but in the past it’s been walking sticks or a diary or two and I usually got them back though I wouldn’t have been too upset at losing a diary. But losing my wallet, now that’s a different matter. Driver’s licence, ID card not to mention money. I really didn’t expect to get the money or the wallet back but I was hoping to get the driver’s licence and ID. Of course I drove along the route to the microlight club but nobody waved me down and yes, they do all know me around here. I had to dig out my old driver’s licence – my very first with me looking the 16 years. It’s a bit tatty and broken in half but nothing a bit of new laminating couldn’t fix and it’s passed the test with the police a few times now albeit with a fair bit of amusement at my evident youth.

You can get a driver's licence at 16 in Zimbabwe.

You can get a driver’s licence at 16 in Zimbabwe.

Replacing an ID card is more of a challenge. The Makombe Building is where it all happens along with the passport office on Herbert Chitepo Road just on the edge of the Harare CBD. I don’t have fond memories of the place. I cased the joint on a couple of occasions when I had to visit a surgeon whose rooms are opposite it. It was as bad as I’d feared; chaotic. A seething mass of people and touts. Not somewhere I’d willingly go and spend a few hours. I should explain that ID cards are essential in Zimbabwe. Started by the Rhodesian government they were the concept was embraced by the Zimbabwean one to the extent that it is a legal requirement to carry some sort of identification. A passport will do but of course nobody wants to carry one of those. I don’t really mind and they are quite useful in ensuring that I get parcels at the post office that are mine – or ensuring that nobody else gets my parcels.

The official at the sub-office at Mount Pleasant shopping centre suggested I try the Market Square office in the Kopje area of town. I drove past and just kept on going. Dante would have been impressed; queues of people with glazed, hopeless, bovine looks, rubbish, touts and minibuses. There had to be a better way.

Shelton knew a friend who’d replaced his lost card at a sub-branch of the National Registration department at KG6 barracks and there were few if any queues. The last time I’d been at KG6 was when I’d been caught with an untidy trunk at an army inspection and had to do a day of filing when I should have been on R&R. It seemed like a good opportunity to see what it was like now.

The military policeman at the barracks gate stopped me and asked what I wanted. I was at the wrong gate but he offered to get the ID card for me (for a fee no doubt). This rather defeated the object of the trip and I didn’t see how I could get another card without being there myself so I politely refused.

There was precious little going on inside the building. The room I was sent to had sheets of very large ID card negatives on the table and piles of very old computer printouts on the shelves. A strange unidentifiable piece of apparatus lay on the floor. An older man looked at my passport and birth certificate and shuffled over to a computer terminal. Brushing aside debris he pulled out the keyboard and typed in my ID details. It was all there, this was looking really promising. Sadly the official said I had to go to the Makombe building as they couldn’t replace ID cards on these premises. Catching the horrified look on my face he said he’d give me a letter to speed things up so duly armed I set off for the Makombe Building on Herbert Chitepo Road.

I was lucky to find a car park close to the gate. Locking the car and nodding to the car “attendant” who promised to look after my vehicle I made my way to the entrance. I paused, took in the chaotic scene and taking a deep breath resigned myself to my fate.

Two hours and six offices later I had my new ID card. I’d been fully digitised, avoided two marriage proposals (no thanks, I don’t need help to spend my money) and hopefully got a bit of business. I’d gleaned that the new offices next door that had been vacant for the last 6 years or so were not about to be occupied anytime soon and the authorities were instead refurbishing “this dump”. With the exception of the photocopier operator I’d confirmed that most Zimbabweans are friendly and have a sense of humour. But I knew that already.


Fully digitized

Fully digitized

Just the normal

29 06 2014

Once in a while it’s nice to report on the normal and eschew the title of this blog; Zimbabwe Absurdity. This Scruffs dog show was organised as a fund raiser by VAWZ – a local animal welfare organisation. It was well attended and full of fun with categories as “The dog with the waggiest tail” and of course “The dog the most like its handler” amongst others.

It’s the small things

28 06 2014

I felt absurdly pleased with myself. A whole $100 in NEW dollar bills! Now THAT was something to feel good about. But it had taken a bit of doing.

Dollar notes in Zimbabwe (the US type, our dollars disappeared towards the end of 2008 in a deluge of hyper inflation) are notoriously dirty and not that easy to come by. I keep the worst to give to the toll gates who cannot refuse them and really don’t have the time to quibble either. So when I find a source of them I exploit it. Like my local pharmacy where I deliberately hand over larger notes than necessary to get clean dollars back. Then I started to get suspicious; the pharmacy ALWAYS seemed to have new dollar notes.

Karyn looked slightly embarrassed “We get them from CBZ”.

“But also bank there and I can never get them”.

Now she looked a lot more embarrassed “Actually we don’t even bank there, we just go and get the change at lunch time”.

I pounced on this clue and called in to get the wages in the afternoon after gym. The teller gave me my breakdown but had only a few $5 notes.

“You can give me all the smaller stuff in ones if you like” I added helpfully (and hopefully).

She pulled out a bundle of truly revolting notes. I made a face.

“I will see what else we have” she said and went off and came back with a bundle of new $1s. Delighted I gathered up the stack of notes and asked for a rubber band (rekken in local lingo).

“Are you always needing new notes?” she asked.

“Oh yes please!” I responded. And another bundle of new dollar notes magically appeared.

Suddenly the afternoon looked really good.


I love the web address!

I love the web address!

Crisp and clean - not for long!

Crisp and clean – not for long!

Hung out to dry

5 06 2014

My friend Gary once commented to me that hell was being born and animal in Mozambique. He should know as he spent 8 years there, 5 of them living in close contact with the local community near Gorongoza. He saw bushbuck with their one front leg purposely broken so that they could not run away and stayed fresh for the pot. At least in Zimbabwe we have an active ZNSPCA and various other animal welfare organizations that strive to look after the lot of those of our 4 and 2 footed friends that cannot speak for themselves. But that doesn’t mean that abuses don’t occur of course. I have seen puppies for sale (though not recently) and 2 weeks ago saw a puppy in a cardboard box in the industrial sites crying for attention and being shouted at to shut up. It was moved before I could take a photo. Yes, some rural dogs I see are reasonably well-looked after but I would hesitate to say this is the norm.

So it’s pleasing when a local artist, Wallen Mapondera, takes up the cause and puts on an exhibition at the Gallery Delta in town. Not all art, is of course, created to be sold. My favorite piece is Friends for Sale but it is not art I could live with. Look closely at the picture and you can see that the SPCA has taken the first puppy.

The images are all taken, with permission, from the exhibition pamphlet. The exhibition was sponsored by the Swiss Embassy in Harare and opened by the ambassador, His Excellency Mr Luciano Lavizzari.

HIFA 2014 – Day 6

6 05 2014

HIFA is now over of course. My internet did not work for a full 3 days which is why these posts are late. It took an hour on the phone to a support centre and the good fortune to be chatting to a technician who actually did know what he was talking about to sort it out. It’s still erratic but at least it is working.

I thought the programme this year was good. I only saw 2 plays that I thought were sub-standard but that is the nature of arts festivals. I cannot answer the question as to which was my favorite show but I did really enjoy the acoustic guitarists, all of whom were exceptional in their own way. It is of course common knowledge by now that the government blocked the visas of the South African pop group Freshly Ground who were due to play at the closing ceremony on this last day sponsored by Old Mutual, an insurance company. This was apparently over a song that the group released some years back that mocked the president of Zimbabwe (see this link). In true HIFA fashion a plan was made, another German group stepped up to the stage along with a host of other international artistes and the show went on!

I did not attend the final closing but did get to see a few other things. First on the list was the local National Ballet production – the Breakthrough. A real crowd pleaser with a bit of contemporary ballet and just about every other genre of dance one could think of. It purported to show how all these other styles developed from classical ballet but I wouldn’t vouch for the accuracy of that. The crowd didn’t mind and it was well attended on both days.


It was with more than a bit of trepidation that I made my way to the finals of The Trash Queen fashion show but it was not at all what I thought it would be. Participants had to design and make a fashion attire from trash. Any sort of trash would do – air filter, bubble wrap, CDs and loads of other rubbish was used. Participants were individuals and self-help groups, remand centre children and local schools. Fun!

Right after the fashion show I moved nearly next door to hear a South African group John Wizards (apparently named after a band member). They seemed pretty chilled. And the music?  It sounded like it came from Cape Town. Afro something or other. Not my taste.


Then it was time to go home, exercise and feed the dogs and come back to REPS theatre for Bend it Like Beauty with Ben Voss posing as a Zulu woman who succeeds in insulting just about everyone. Very funny but he had to excise rather a lot of political material and as a result I recognized a lot of stuff from a previous show a few years back. Freedom of speech is enshrined in our constitution but does not apply to everybody. I did not take photos – there are only so many photos one can take of a comedian on stage and anyway, I wanted a break!

HIFA 2014 – Day 5

6 05 2014

Day 5, the penultimate day of HIFA 2014 was sponsored by Coca-cola. I started off slow with the Spoken Word programme because it was next to the next venue I wanted to go to. It’s been going quite a few years and can be very entertaining. Not everyone spoke (poetry usually) but the youngster in the photo had an amazing voice. He is a protege of Oliver Mutukudzi’s centre for aspiring musicians in Norton to the west of Harare.

Zimboita is an Italian/Zimbabwean music group (Zimbo + Ita-lian – get it?) fronted by local drummer/percussionist Blessing Chimanga who proved himself quite the entertainer. It’s difficult to describe the style – Afro/rock/blues perhaps? It went down very well!

Maneli Jamal is an acoustic guitarist of Iranian descent who has spent most of his life on the move. Canada is finally where he finds himself at home. Entirely self-taught he is a virtuoso player and well worth going to see. A very different style of music to the other 2 acoustic guitarists who came to HIFA this year.

Attachded was a circus show presented by Swedish Cultural Council and the Embassy of Sweden. Starring a very big man (who looked like his ancestors must have been Viking raiders) and a very small man they did the best they could with what few props had made it to Zimbabwe. The rest were still in a box in Stockholm! In true HIFA style lots of other artistes helped out and we had other circus performers, trapeze artistes from Belgium (les Cliquets), a local poet and one of the Opera singers and a comedienne compere who did her bit to make the audience squirm (apparently to lose weight). It had all been put together in the previous 12 hours and was good fun.

HIFA 2014 – Day 4

5 05 2014

Friday was Day 4, also known as Golden Pilsner Day (a local brand of beer). I re-attended the DFC Baobab Shadows to get some photos that had eluded me the first time around. That done I watched Short & Sweet, a series of 5 short plays by local writers (though one was actually impromptu). Coming Out by Blessing Hungwe about a son’s clash with his father was excellent. What are the Odds was a bit Monty Pythonesque but not bad. I did not care for City Angel or A Woman Called Carol about a prostitute and social mores respectively. The World Ten Minutes at a Time was an impromptu show by Kevin Hansen and 3 others. Genuinely funny, it went down well.

I Wish Her Well by Norwegian contemporary dance theatre Panta Rei was beautifully danced at REPS. In two acts, it told the stories of 4 women closely related to the dancers in the first act and the second act was based on the diaries of a teenage woman now 82.

Any Other World was a dance production by local (and new) 8 Count Dance Company. Colourful, energetic and fun! They won a NAMA (National Association of Music and Arts) award earlier this year.


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