A nice idea

3 02 2015

Towards the end of last year Zimbabwe was abuzz with the news that bond coins were going to be introduced. The news was not well received and, despite strong denial from the Reserve Bank, rumours abounded that it was an attempt by the government to reintroduce the Zimbabwe dollar. I had seen one or two but up until today had not actually received any as change.

Small change

Small change

Small change is in notoriously short supply in Zimbabwe. South African coins (2 RAND lower right) have been useful in that they are roughly 1/10 the value of a dollar (so the 2 RAND coin is valued at 20c) but obviously they have to be bought at least the face value plus some sort of commission. The bond coins, which are minted in South Africa, are pegged at equal to the US dollar though they have no value outside the country. They certainly cost less to produce than their face value. A nice idea and certainly preferable to receiving ball point pens or sweets as change which was the case. People receiving lots of coins, such as the mini bus drivers, can go and change the coins at the end of the day for paper money at a bank. Except, as Shelton tells me, most refuse to accept them.

The cats are out of the bag and breeding

22 01 2015


kitsiFirst there were 6 now they’re 4. Just like cats everywhere they breed. I saw the mother come through the nursery a couple of months ago and thought I would put up with her if she kept the rat population down. Then a couple of weeks ago Kari’s dog Max started and incessant barking and there were the kittens. Apparently Max wanted to play but the mother was having none of it and was not slow with showing her displeasure when I got too close.

This morning the mother brought back some sort of prey through the greenhouse and ate it under one of the seedling racks. I don’t think it was a rat, more like a lizard. I don’t keep a cat for this reason – because they kill just about anything though this cat did at least eat her prey.

The mother will have to be caught and sterilized. It should be an interesting exercise as she looks half wild. As to the kittens, who knows. Kari thinks she’ll take one but they are not exactly friendly. We’ll see. I grabbed this photo of these kittens sitting on the coir blocks where they spend most of the day.

Zimbabwe in 2015

2 01 2015

We can expect a lot of changes in 2015. President Robert Mugabe is looking increasingly frail and has all but named Emerson Munangagwa as his favored successor. The latter, Shelton tells me, would be entirely unacceptable to most of the inhabitants of Matabeleland. He should know, he grew up in Bulawayo.

The rains are ongoing, hopelessly late for a good harvest and completely unexpected in what was supposed to be a drought year. It’s wet enough that the caterpillars have a punk hair-do!

Even the caterpillars have a punk hair do

Even the caterpillars have a punk hair-do

The introduction of low denomination coins are NOT an attempt to re-introduce the Zimbabwe dollar.

The Zimbabwe economy is moving even slower than the snail below and has less sense of direction too.Who knows where it will be end of 2015?

I have a feeling 2015 will not be boring.

...even the snail has direction

…even the snail has direction

The owing circle

30 12 2014

Mr D is an old and reliable customer of mine. Yes, he sometimes owes me money but he always pays, eventually. That’s more than I can say for a number of other customers who start off well and then after a number of years just never return whilst owing money. My outstanding debtors list is depressingly long.

Mr D’s wife phoned yesterday – she was not happy. I have a large order of tomato seedlings for her husband that are ready to go and she had no way of paying for them. It transpired that she (I gather she is the money manager in the business) was owed some $100,000 by the Grain Marketing Board (the GMB is a government-owned parastatal) for maize delivered to them last year and a sizable amount by Olivine Industries for whom they’d grown a lot of tomatoes last year. While I wasn’t particularly interested in who owed Mrs D money I had to admit the reality of the situation; they weren’t able to pay me either. She had paid a 50% deposit on the order and I couldn’t realistically sell the tomatoes to another customer so I reluctantly said that she could collect the seedlings. I gave strict instructions to the clerk not to issue an invoice on the collection, just a delivery note, so that I did not have to pay tax on a transaction for which I’d received no money (the tax department always wins).

Driving home I reflected it was just as well that Olivine Industries did not take up on the quote I’d given them earlier in the year to grow a very large quantity of tomato seedlings. I also established that Mr D was not growing the current crop for Olivine either so I guess there is a realistic chance that I’ll get paid, eventually.

Smart phones, dim screens

18 12 2014

I was thinking just recently what a good phone my Sony Xperia Z1 has been. Not the latest and greatest for sure but reliable and very useful even in Zimbabwe’s increasingly wired environment. Absolutely not thanks on the latter to the government. I use WhatsApp all the time, the camera phone to capture Zak doing daft (and not so daft things) as well as problems in the nursery and when overseas the Maps app to find my way around. Maps also works pretty well in Harare too.

So it was with more than a touch of annoyance last night that I discovered that the screen had cracked in my pocket, no doubt caused by a large bunch of keys. The phone has become more than a touch erratic and sometimes I cannot even unlock the screen pattern. The Sony is not a popular brand here so screens are not available and it’s going to take a while to get another from Amazon. In the meantime I must either get another smart phone (limited choice here) or try and find the battery for my old Nokia which also has a broken screen but works just fine.

So when is someone going to invent a more durable smart phone screen, or have I missed the point?

In and around town

16 12 2014

I had to admit it was an inauspicious start; a minibus reversing into the intersection of Quorn and The Chase just where some new, but yet to be activated, traffic lights have been erected. I did the right thing; swore under my breath and obligingly went around. It wasn’t really worth getting too hot under the collar. I have seen the minibuses commit much worse of course. A U turn on the pedestrian crossing at Borrowdale Village to pick up customers. Stopping on pedestrian crossings to oblige customers. Reversing flat out up major roads and of course stopping on the corner of Lomagundi Road and King George Road necessitating hard braking or a swerve of faith into the right lane and just hope there is no traffic behind you.

The police love minibuses of course because they can always find something wrong on the vehicle necessitating a juicy fine. I have only once seen a vehicle pulled over for a driving offense and that was a woman who was chatting on her cellphone at an intersection. Easy prey. But get out on the road and fine a few for dangerous driving?  No, that’s far too much like hard work. Much easier to set up a road block and pounce there.

The traffic was backed up at the intersection of King George and Churchill (good British names for roads in a former colony) roads. An accident was not what I needed to come across right now. I checked out the possibility of a U turn of my own but they were just painting road markings and the delay was minimal. But why were they painting road markings when so many of Harare’s roads are disintegrating by the day? A question of finances perhaps – painting is much cheaper than fixing of course and we all know the City Council is broke or very nearly so.

They were packing up the tents on the open ground opposite the showgrounds where the annual ZANU-PF congress had been held the previous week. Schools had closed early for the Christmas holidays in case there were issues with violence but in the end there was just an awful lot of hot air but not enough to break the drought that is starting to squeeze the nation. It would have been an interesting sight in a heavy downpour; enough red mud to stick a tank and not a tar road in sight. I did notice Dr Joshua Nkomo Way meandering dustily across the open area but try as I might couldn’t see Dr Grace Mugabe Way. I’d actually met someone who’d gone to the local university library and asked to see her thesis but alas, it was apparently not available.

An hour or so’s business in the Coventry Road area and I was ready to tackle the back route to the heavy industrial sites to check out a container that I was hoping to buy to store the coir pith used at the nursery. Thank you Google Maps for changing the interface so that I cannot operate it! Well, at least the map worked OK but getting to see the section that I wanted and negotiating the traffic was a little tricky.

Kambuzuma Road is in pretty good condition and the traffic was just slow enough that I could relax a bit and check out the scenery. About 2km to the north a spectacular fountain of water was jetting a good 20m into the air. A burst main no doubt. Great to know that the council was wasting water just as a drought seemed to be getting into swing.

The container yard was sizable, bore the name of a well-known freight company, and a lot of containers had not been moved in years. I was approached by the contact man who cautioned me not to mention that I was buying the container but looking to rent it in order that I didn’t have to pay storage fees. Alarm bells went off in my mind. My scepticism must have shown because he assured me that I’d still get the “papers”. Right. The container was not in great shape and I also suspected that it was smaller than the one used to import the coir. It also turned out that the “owner” wanted far too much for it (negotiable of course) so I made my excuses and left.

The water fountain was still spectacular on the route back; millions of litres of water now down the stream. The city council might not have enough money to fix water mains and repair roads but there’s plenty of evidence of money elsewhere. Turning into Harare Drive from the old Bulawayo road I noticed a considerable number (no time to count – there were minibuses to avoid) of suburban houses springing up to the north-west of the intersection. All at the same stage it could only have been a development project. But where had the money come from in a nation that is importing coins from South Africa to alleviate the change situation?

Back down Lomagundi Road to see Marianne for lunch and past a number of used vehicle lots. In fact lots of lots. One impressively packed with used UK lorries which even if they cost say £10,000 a piece amounted to perhaps £200,000. Oh, and add on the duty and transport please. Well, maybe not all the duty. There are often ways around paying all the duty but only for those with “contacts”. It’s negotiable if you know what I mean.


First Street

24 09 2014

Once upon a time the First Street shopping mall was a very fashionable part of town. Youngsters would go there and parade – boys strutting, talking and laughing loudly to impress the girls. It was quite the place to shop too; the place to be to sell fashion, or shoes, or hi-fi or furniture. That was long ago.

Now it is dirty with buckled pavements and old water bottles lying around. Tops are missing of street drains and the holes must be circumnavigated with care. Luxury shopping? Not if you want cheap Chinese fake leather belts, car cellphone chargers or no name brand long toed shoes. Or any of the other bric-a-brac commonly being sold on the streets of Harare.

The local idiot stopped washing a car with a tub of filthy water from the gutter and tried  to sell me the cheap Chinese watch pinned to his trousers. I pointed out that I had a very good Swiss watch that was much better than his Chinese one. The argument only ended when the parking meter attendant agreed that Swiss watches were always better than Chinese ones.

Negotiating my way down the pavement past the vendors tables I crossed the First Street mall and smiled inwardly at the controversy that had been caused by paving it in to make it possibly Harare’s first pedestrian mall. So far as I could see the glamour shops were gone, the wares in the current outlets looking tired and lonely supplanting quality with quantity. Perhaps that was an ice cream stain near the pile of bricks in the middle, a child dropping its long dreamed of Saturday treat. Perhaps it was just spilt white paint.

The Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) was on the 3rd floor of a bank building opposite where I’d parked. The offices were plush and had a lot of chrome and granite in evidence for a government office. The lady at the Min of Ag (Ministry of Agriculture) building had said that now I had to be a member of the AMA to import coir for my nursery, just about $100 for a year she’d said. It turned out to be $500 and it was not exactly clear what I’d get for it. Well, the bureaucrat I spoke to certainly was eating some pretty impressive food but she claimed it was just leftovers from the board meeting currently in full swing. Having paid the $500 to the finance division I went back to get my membership. No, I was emphatically told, I had to go back on the 1st of October as it was only valid from then. I tried to reason that I could just have an invalid membership until then met with blind unreasonableness. No, and that was it.

The local idiot was back smearing filthy water over a slightly more dirty car. Negotiating the traffic I had to do a U turn at the end of first street were it was blocked of for “traffic works”. It will take a lot more than that to restore the pedestrian mall to a shade of its former glory.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 348 other followers