Bob’s Day

1 03 2018

Last Wednesday was officially a public holiday; The Robert Mugabe Youth Day. Up until the soft coup last year that saw Mugabe forced to resign as Zimbabwe’s president it was his official birthday but not actually a holiday. There was inevitably an extravagant bash somewhere in the country and business’s were browbeaten/intimidated into donating cash or kind (i.e. cattle) for the party. One year there was a particularly tasteless version where a sycophant donated elephant meat. This year I got a letter from the local branch of ZANU-PF on my desk asking for cash or kind for a party for the ZANU-PF Youth Wing. It went straight into the bin. I should have kept it as in a delightful twist of irony it was addressed to “Comrade Robert” and it would have enhanced this blog.  Last week I got a phone call from the author following up on why she hadn’t heard from me or received anything. I rather brusquely told her I didn’t support ZANU-PF.

In the past I might not have been so quick to dismiss her or at least been a little more polite. As a white commercial farmer I have always been a bit of a soft target for such requests – they know we feel vulnerable and easy to squeeze for cash. I rather doubt that it would have made the slightest difference – if they’d decided to evict me then they’d have just gone ahead and done so whether or not I’d supported their celebrations. Independence Day I did usually give something, the logic being that it was a national celebration. The money was still going to a function organized by ZANU-PF and quite possibly into someone’s pocket rather than the intended purpose. I was always assured that a receipt would be given though of course there are official receipts and others and who was I to know the difference. Quite frequently there were thank you letters which did rather surprise me.

I have just been watching a clip of Trevor Noah, the South African comedian, mocking the fall of Jacob Zuma – the disgraced South African president. The fall of Zuma was in no small way a result of a fiercely independent and critical press, a robust constitution and independent judiciary. We have seen a lot more of the critical press in Zimbabwe since Emmerson Mnangagwa took power in the aforementioned soft coup in November. Whilst they have not been directly critical of him there is most certainly an atmosphere of “we can say what we want” and other politicians have been heavily criticized. When Mugabe was in power this was not the case. People were jailed for criticising or mocking him even though a decision by the Constitutional Court, the highest in the land, stated that it was not illegal. Mugabe was the law. Zimbabwe has a strong constitution though it is not always followed; the soft coup being a good example!

The Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) is scheduled for the last week of May. In the past they have had artistes expelled from the country for mocking the government. The South African rock group Freshly Ground didn’t even make it into the airport for making video to the song “Chicken for Change” that featured a puppet version of Mugabe. I do wonder if this year we will see acts that lampoon Mugabe as Trevor Noah was doing to Jacob Zuma. Despite his destruction of the economy, a culture of kleptocracy and non-accountability he has the national airport named after him and a national holiday. What does it take to become fully disgraced?

The official portrait of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. I think they could have done better.

In the days of the Mugabe regime it was common for offices and shops to have the official portrait of the president in plain view. It was never obligatory and there was never one in the office at my nursery and no-one, not even the politically connected, ever commented. I was rather hoping someone would complain so that I could pick an argument but alas, I was disappointed. Not surprisingly these pictures were pulled down the day after Mugabe was forced to resign; often with YouTube video clips as evidence . It hasn’t taken long for a replacement poster of Mnangagwa to appear around town. The photo of the president is not bad but it seems someone forgot the national flag in the background and a very bad Photoshop version was added. I still don’t think I will be buying one.



It’s mushroom weather

18 02 2018

Mushrooms are thick on the lawn (not edible).

It rained all day Saturday and most of Sunday. Monday and Tuesday there were heavy showers. The dogs are getting tetchy because we cannot get onto the farm where we take them for a run in the morning because it’s too muddy. Even my 4×4 would slide off the road. The bridge over the Gwebi River on the way to work is so potholed that I’m down to first gear. Actually it’s all pretty normal for February which is our wettest month it’s just that I don’t remember the weather being this normal for many years.

For most of the country these “normal” rains have come too late for a meaningful harvest. The first rains in November were on time and heavy but then there was nothing much until Christmas and then another 3 week break. Those who got the maize planted by the first rains in mid November will likely get a reasonable harvest but in some parts of the country no crops at all have been planted.

The new president of Zimbabwe, E.D. Mnangagwa commonly referred to as just ED, has stated that white commercial farmers still on their farms will get a 99 year lease. There are some 200 in this situation down from 4,500 before Robert Mugabe’s catastrophic eviction policy in the early 2000s that effectively destroyed the nation’s economy. This will apparently apply to anyone wanting to go farming but it is not clear how anyone will raise a loan against a long term lease. The banks have said they will not give loans against a lease so it will be interesting to see how this develops. Coupled with poor harvests country-wide and ED has more than a few headaches.

We had dinner with some friends 2 nights ago and the other guests were Swiss embassy staff. Nickolas mentioned that he’d gone into Meikles Hotel in the city centre to be told that it was full and that many of the other hotels were in the same situation. Businessmen are flocking to the country keen to see what investment options may be on offer. The USA government has however renewed sanctions against senior political figures and said they will be reviewed once the elections, that have to be held before September, are over. If they are seen to be free and fair then the sanctions may well be scrapped and, as I suspect, Zimbabwe will be seen to be open for business. Until then our economy continues to slide. The host for the evening works part-time for NamPak, a South African based business, that is big into packaging and the local subsidiary owes the parent company some $36m. They have plenty of money in the local bank but cannot externalise it to settle the debt with the parent company.

And still it rains. I got soaked this afternoon whilst out at the local microlight club as I was about to test a large 4m wingspan model glider that I’d acquired in rather a dilapidated state last year. In the nursery the seedlings are being closely monitored for diseases and the golden orb spiders, conspicuous by their absence over the last 3 years are back. Insects like wet weather too and spiders like insects. They will thrive regardless of the state of the economy.

Not a golden orb spider. This white spider relies on camouflage and ambush rather than a web.


Chilo Gorge

6 02 2018

Chivilila Falls on the Save River

It’s been nearly a month since we took 4 nights off and headed down to the south-east lowveld of Zimbabwe to Chilo Gorge, an up-market lodge, set above the banks of the Save River which is the biggest river inside the country.  Normally it’s well out of our price range but they had a special on for Zimbabweans so when June and Gary Goss suggested we head down there for a couple of nights we decided to give it a try.

Picking up Gary and June in the eastern city of Mutare where I went to school we headed south into the lowveld of Zimbabwe. The road was fine for the first 140km or so and then got bad, really bad. My old Land Cruiser is tough but not the most comfortable of vehicles so at times we were down to second gear – on the main tar road (or rather what was left of it) past the sugar cane growing area of Middle Save. The alluvial soils of the Save River that flows through the area are fertile and in years gone by multiple crops were grown; cotton, wheat, maize and a variety of horticultural crops. After Robert Mugabe’s eviction of mainly white commercial farmers the area was under-utilized for a while but is now a major sugar cane growing area for an ethanol plant nearby. Fortunately Gary has worked in the area a lot, speaks the local language, and managed to persuade the security guards on the estate to let us use the good gravel road that bypasses a lot of the poor tar road.

Any time is dance time!

January is not a popular time to go to the lowveld of Zimbabwe. It’s hot and humid and the Chilo Gorge lodge is close to the lowest point in the country (162m) just downstream where the Save meets the Runde River, so it’s exceptionally hot. It was scorching  by the time we turned of the tar road and headed along a gravel road to the lodge. Not far from the lodge was a maroon Mazda pickup truck stopped with the bonnet up. We stopped to see if we could help though as the pickup had a South African registration Gary was suspicious; “Nah, he’s come here to smuggle gold and diamonds”. Despite a rather strong South African accent he was a local man come to visit his family and had run out of diesel. A short drive to a nearby cluster of huts sourced a pipe and we gave him 5 litres of diesel (not difficult to get out of an old Land Cruiser). A small crowd of children soon gathered and entertained us with impromptu dancing to our rather good sound system though Madonna was the best I could find and not really what they’d be used to hearing!

It had just rained a few days before we arrived so the river was flowing and not cross-able except by boat so we had to use the lodge’s guided tour. It wasn’t free but well, we hadn’t come all this way to sit around and I was curious to see how Gonarezhou National Park on the other side of the Save River had fared since I’d last been here in the 1990’s. In that time the Zimbabwe National Parks has teamed up with the Frankfurt Zoological Society to form a trust to run the park.

The game guide, Lionel, was young, knowledgeable and entertaining and he took us very close to elephants and the Ghonarezhou elephants are known to be intimidating. As Lionel explained, they have been poached and don’t much care for humans. Fortunately he knew how to read their mood and there were no issues, just a few tense moments.

Getting rather close!

The first heard of elephants we encountered were making a determined walk for the Save River and were heading into the CAMPFIRE (Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources) area across the river for the night’s browsing. There are simply too many elephants for the Park to sustain so they have to find food outside its boundaries. Whilst the CAMPFIRE area benefits from the presence of game conflicts will certainly arise elsewhere. Lionel told us that the Great Elephant Census estimated the Park’s elephant population at around 11,000 in an area of 5,000 square km. The Park can sustain about 2,500 which leaves the dilemma of what to do with the excess.

In years gone by elephant populations were kept in check by culling but that is very unlikely to happen now. It is nasty, dirty and dangerous and certainly no professional hunter would take part; witness the firestorm of popular anger on the social media after the shooting of Cecil the lion. No hunter would risk his reputation. National Parks lack the staff with the necessary experience.

Contraception of elephant cows has been successfully practised in the smaller South African parks but remains controversial in the likes of the Kruger National Park which is vast and unfeasible due to cost. Elephant population is apparently stable in the Kruger; fences have been removed, artificial water holes dismantled and the elephants made to move more and natural selection pressures allowed to take their toll.

We noticed that a number of baobab trees in the Park had wire mesh tightly wrapped and nailed to their trunks. I asked Clive Stockil, owner of the Chilo Gorge lodge and lifetime resident in the area, for more details. He explained it was to keep the elephants from destroying the trees. When I asked him why there were no younger trees growing up he responded; “Because everything from warthogs, baboons, buck, mongooses to elephants and in between eats them. They have a root like a big, white, tasty carrot – I ate plenty as a child. By protecting the existing trees we are buying time until a solution can be found to get the seedlings to maturity. Otherwise the mature trees will go extinct in the Park”. Baobabs can be “adopted” for protection here.

Looking for a sponsor – an unprotected baobab. Some damage to the trunk can be seen on the left.

The following day we took a short trip upstream from Chilo Gorge to the Chivilila Falls. Whilst not in full spate (the river was already dropping) it was worthwhile imagining it in flood – I commented to Marianne that it was not unlike listening to the surf pounding on coast.

The weather had cooled down considerably by now after a cold front had moved in and while not great for photography it was comfortable to be out and about so in the afternoon we opted to go and find a particularly large baobab in the conservancy area around Chilo Gorge lodge. It is part of the CAMPFIRE Organisation that Clive Stockil was instrumental in starting and promotes sustainable utilisation of natural resources for local communities. In return for assistance in policing wildlife areas communities also receive funding from safari and hunting companies and are preferentially employed – Chilo Gorge lodge sources a lot of its staff from the local community.

Passing time pleasantly; on the deck at Chilo Gorge lodge.

Our little expedition was cut short after Gary drove over a mopani tree stump which punctured a tyre. Lionel and a colleague happened to pass by and made us feel old by changing the wheel in a few minutes. Mildly chastened we retired to the deck overlooking the Save River and admired the wildlife on the far bank whilst sipping sun-downers. The highlight was a very young hippo calf – it still had shiny skin – that Clive estimated to be about 2 weeks old. It slept blissfully whilst its mother grazed on the river bank. A number of nyala came down to drink but were too nervous of crocodiles and went off elsewhere to find water from the recent rains.

Brothers; a group of very shy kudu bulls.

The following morning we went off on another game drive with Lionel once again the guide. Lots of elephant were seen, giraffe for those with good binoculars, kudu, zebra, eland, impala, two bachelor buffalo, numerous birds and of course some crocodiles.

After lunch it was time to say goodbye and head back north to Mutare to stay with June and Gary before heading home to Harare. For those thinking of making the trip from Harare; the road through Zaka is apparently much better!


11 12 2017

Joseph and his diploma – first class!

It’s been nearly a month since the very Zimbabwean coup that forced Robert Mugabe out of his 37 year reign over Zimbabwe. Much has happened.

Emerson Mnangagwa has been sworn in as the new president, he has appointed a cabinet which had to be reshuffled just 2 days later as there were too many non-parliamentarians in it and a budget has been presented for next year. The latter goes a long way to reduce the bloated government budget by making cuts to various ministries and doing away with a lot of travel perks that were the hallmark of the Mugabe regime. Mnangagwa even refused to attend the inauguration of the Kenyan president as he was “too busy” which was not an excuse that Mugabe ever used. The ubiquitous police roadblocks of the Mugabe era are still mercifully absent making everyday commuting much less stressful but not less dangerous – Zimbabweans must still rank as among the continent’s worst drivers.

In his inauguration speech Mnangagwa, or just ED, said that the land redistribution that Mugabe used to trash the country’s economy was irreversible but that displaced farmers would be compensated. No further details have been forthcoming but a friend who farms near Chinhoyi some 1.5hrs NW of Harare had his squatters kicked off by the military last Monday completely unexpectedly. He  immediately got on with his sowing for the summer crops (he’d been at the point of leaving the farm).

The issue of what will become of our domestic/pseudo US dollar currency remains vague. A visit today to a newly opened hardware superstore (well, a superstore by Zimbabwe standards) revealed that prices were still stupidly high if priced in US dollars as the till slip claimed.

Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean constitutional law professor working in the UK, was grudgingly impressed by the 2018 budget (you can read his comments here) but Tendai Biti, opposition parliamentarian and one time Finance Minister, was not though I suspect the only budget he’d like would be his own.

The more odious of the G40 faction of the ruling ZANU-PF party that was gunning to get Grace Mugabe, the ex-president’s wife, lined up for her husband’s job, were rounded up, roughed up in the case of Ignatius Chiombo, and paraded before the courts. A judge said that Chiombo had been illegally detained (true) and set a bail of $5000 and he has to report three times a day to a police station. Other odious characters of the G40 group remain at large, probably in South Africa. The most vocal of these is one Jonathan Moyo who is a Twitterer in the mold of Donald Trump. He is also a slime-ball (the Americans do have some delightful terms!).

Zimbabweans have embraced politics. Everyone has an opinion – even the doormat salesman whom I engaged at the traffic lights on 2nd Street and Churchill Avenue – and the national constitution is hotly debated on the social media. My friend Shelton, who uses the public transport extensively, tells me that he’s had minibus drivers go out of their way to drop him off at his destination just to finish the political conversation. People were generally too terrified to discuss politics under the Mugabe regime.

The euphoria immediately following the resignation of Mugabe is now gone. We have been disappointed too many times in the past to get excited. In true Zimbabwe fashion we will wait and see. Joseph, the student in the picture, who did a 4 week attachment earlier this year at my nursery is off to Australia to further his studies. He admitted that he wasn’t that optimistic about Zimbabwe’s future but 4 years is a long time by African standards so who knows what will happen in that time?



The party is over

23 11 2017

Bob’s birthday celebratory billboard. I had designs on this one but was beaten to it. His glasses are just still visible top right.

It’s been an extraordinary week. Robert Mugabe resigned his presidency at the last moment as a multi-party committee was discussing reasons for his impeachment. Jubilation ran rampant through the country and, here in Harare, people partied for 24 hours straight. They had good reason to – Mugabe had ruled with an iron fist for 37 years and for many people he was the only president they’d known. He tolerated no dissent within or without the party and opponents were eliminated (the Heroes Day public holiday honours list ceased to be shown when it became apparent just how bad drivers many of his opponents were) and freedom of speech existed only in the national constitution. In the end his extreme age and increasingly poor judgement gave his recently fired vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, reason to move against him with the assistance of the army who mounted a non-coup (see previous post) and he buckled under the pressure.

Mnangagwa, sometimes known as The Crocodile or just ED, will be sworn in tomorrow as the new president of Zimbabwe. It will be his job to resuscitate the comatose Zimbabwe economy and hopefully bring back a semblance of compliance with the constitution. The first obstacle is a general election that must be held in the first 6 months of next year and already there is speculation about how free and fair it will be for Mnangagwa is the chairman of ZANU-PF, the ruling party that Mugabe claimed as his own over the last 37 years. To assume that the ruling party has any intention of playing free and fair given that they beat and cheated their way to victory in 2008 and 2013 would be naive indeed. The generals who concocted the non-coup that forced Mugabe out will also want their piece of the pie (statesmen they are not) and rewards for the considerable risks they took. We might have decapitated the monster and found a new head but it’s still the same body. A cynical friend commentated that we are just swapping one group of mbhavha (thieves) for another.

One thing the ruling party will need to remember is that the people of Zimbabwe tasted the power of free speech and expression and may not be so subservient as in the past. The street protests of the past Saturday and Tuesday were unprecedented in our history and amazingly peaceful. As one wag put it; “Only in Zimbabwe does the crime rate go down when the crowds protest and the police are locked up” (the military have made sure that the ubiquitous police roadblocks have been absent over the past week). There were no reports of violence or looting – remarkable considering that the crowds in Harare numbered well into the 100,000s. It was of course expedient for the non-coup plotters to approve of the demonstrations to show the world (we were immensely popular on the news channels for the last 10 days) that the population supported them and the social media was completely unfettered. Will this practice continue or will we suffer the same fate as the Egyptian Arab spring of the past where ex-military types are common in the government?

Now that the headaches have faded and sobriety of body and spirit have returned, Zimbabweans are starting to question just how sincere Mnangagwa is. He’s certainly making all the right sounds; “rebuilding” and “servant of the people” appear in the same paragraph but then Mugabe started out well in the 1980s too.

As I was about to leave work this morning a customer walked in. We followed the customary Zimbabwe greeting;

“Good morning, how are you?” he asked.

“I’m fine and how are you?”.

“Oh, so-so” he replied.

“Only so-so? Why is that? Were you just testing to see if I was listening?” I asked surprised.

“No” he responded with a mirthless laugh, “we must be careful we are not getting into more trouble”.

The party is over.

The coup d’ètat that isn’t a coup

18 11 2017

The power plug has been pulled – one of many jokes doing the rounds

The military have been emphatic; it’s most certainly NOT a military coup. Just a reorganising of the ruling party (ZANU-PF) ranks. To be specific they are going after the “criminals” surrounding the president, Robert Mugabe. One could be forgiven for thinking – which criminals? Good heavens, there must be so many. Actually they mean a rival faction called G40 headed up  by the president’s wife, Grace Mugabe, sometimes known as Gucci Grace for her prolific shopping capacity. Grace who had aspired to the top post of president when her nonagenarian hsuband dies made the mistake of persuading her husband to fire her competitor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, one of the vice presidents (we have two, just in case). She’d just been booed by the crowd at a rally in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city in the south-west of the country, and was spitting-mad. She’s quite impetuous so might have forgotten that Mnangagwa is a veteran of the bush war against the former Ian Smith regime and has a lot of mates high up in the military.

So on Wednesday morning we woke to the news of a coup that wasn’t. All the signs were that it was; a man in military uniform reading a statement that it was not a coup, the house arrest of President Mugabe and his family (including Grace) and the arrest of members of the G40 faction. The only sign that anything was impending was the sighting the previous evening of military “tanks” (they were amoured personnel carriers) moving into town to take up strategic positions. Gunshots and explosions were reportedly heard in the night but never verified. This was not however a spur-of-the-moment affair, it was meticulously organised.

We now know that General Chiwenga, chief of the armed forces and front man for the non-coup plotters , and Emmerson Mnangagwa met in South Africa with senior political figures after the latter fled the country having been fired. South Africa said it would not interfere so long as an effort was made to evict Mugabe under terms of the constitution.

On his return from visiting China, Gen. Chiwenga organised for a number of troops to meet him at the airport to foil the attempt by chief of police Augustine Chihuri to have him arrested.  Why did he have to let the Chinese know what was up? Perhaps because we owe them a lot of money. Curiously one of the first statements read on the radio included the line “…and thank you to our friends the British and Americans for their assistance”. How interesting. What did they know and when did they know it?

Yesterday on our early morning excursion to exercise the dogs we passed a troop of soldiers from the local barracks out on a run. They were all to a person dressed in civilian clothing presumably to not worry the inhabitants of the suburb. It is not unusual to see them in this area but they are inevitably wearing some camouflage clothing. This was attention to detail.

On going past the barracks gate a few km down the road I noticed 3 soldiers being inspected by another. I have NEVER seen that in all the years that I’ve been going past. Later in the day a soldier was standing by the side of the road in full uniform with and AK47 and highly polished boots. Dressed to impress I think.

The BBC has been openly quoting “our reporter in Harare” – it’s been a long time since that happened. Clearly the organisers are wanting to project an open image to the world. Foreign reporters have generally been unwelcome in Zimbabwe for the past 10 years or so and are not usually invited to coup events.

Social media has been completely unfettered unlike last year’s disturbance behind the #ThisFlag movement when we were introduced to the VPN concept. Clever; it says look, we are allowing everyone to have a voice.

Police roadblocks have been conspicuously absent since Wednesday morning. There are a few military roadblocks on the way to the airport but they don’t extort money from hapless motorists like the police do and by all accounts they are civil. Somebody went to the effort of choosing the best troops to avoid antagonising the public and to getting the police out of the way as they would have been potential flash points.

Negotiations are ongoing to get Robert Mugabe to step down as president. He has dug his heels in and refuses to go. Photographs show a smiling Gen. Chiwenga and a relaxed looking Mugabe. Just old mates meeting up for a chat, or so it seems. One hopes that the military and their team of advisors anticipated this move because if they back down their heads will be on sticks – literally.

On the way back from town this morning I stopped by a local branch of TransServ, an automotive spares and consumables outlet, to buy some 2 stroke oil for hedge cutters we use. I decided to test the local mood.

“Good morning sir, how are you?” greeted the salesman, recognising me.

“Fine” I replied, “how are you?”.

“I am fine, and what can I do for you?” he responded.

“You can tell Robert Mugabe to go”.

The salesman laughed nervously and  put his finger over his lips in the universal “shush” sign.

“OK”, I responded, “I need some 2 stroke oil”.

Once we’d finished the transaction he asked if there was anything else.

“Yes, you can get rid of Mugabe” I persisted.

Lots more nervous laughter. So I pushed again and pointing to one of the ubiquitous portraits of Mugabe that are found all over the place I added “And you can take that down”. Even more nervous laughter followed.

“So, on Monday I want to see a picture of a crocodile up there” I said on parting. The crocodile is the symbol of Mnangagwa’s faction of ZANU-PF, sometimes known as the Lacoste faction (get it?). The laughter that followed might have been slightly less forced.

In the afternoon Mugabe was let out of house arrest (perhaps the military indicating that he was alive and well) to go and present degrees at Zimbabwe Open University. He arrived with just 3 cars and no security escort. In an irony that could not have been scripted he capped the wife of Gen. Chiwenga and was then pictured asleep.

Saturday. As I write this there is a march taking place in the centre of Harare. It’s been organised by the War Veterans Association, once staunch backers of the Mugabe regime but who have become increasingly critical over the past few weeks, and it’s completely legitimate (something that never would have happened under Mugabe). The military are being cheered and BBC has said there are 10s of thousands there and social media images show a LOT of people in town. Yet another smart move by the organisers of the coup that isn’t. It says “look how popular we are”.

I have to admire the non-coup organisers whoever they are – this has been meticulously planned. Chiwenga apparently has a genuine PhD in sociology (I have seen the title page of his thesis on Twitter) and Mnangagwa is a lawyer but I have to think there is a team behind them and boy are they clever.

So whither the Mugabes? David Cotlart proposed earlier this week that the president would have to be impeached and that does seem to be the course that’s being taken. The Herald, the government newspaper that was much ridiculed in the past for it’s sycophantic approach to Mugabe, has reported that ZANU-PF has voted for Mugabe to resign and failing that they are likely to move for impeachment. The provincial branches of the ruling party have voted en masse for him to go so it seems likely that the support is there. What will they do with Grace? She’s not welcome in South Africa and as a joke doing the rounds stated; “President Mugabe will step down on the condition that his successor takes over his wife. Suddenly nobody wants the job”.

And the future? Here’s my guess. Mnangagwa will arrive back to a hero’s welcome and be instated as head of ZANU-PF. He might even be made interim president until elections next year which he will try and win free and fair on the back of the current euphoria – being seen as the saviour of the country. He might well succeed as the opposition is weak and fractured. ZANU-PF will reinvent itself and be in power for another 5 years. Investors will be seduced and likely ignore the less than perfect situation. How Mnangagwa and Chiwenga will deal with their dirty pasts remains to be seen. It’s exciting times!

Entitled to vote

15 11 2017



Well, this is me. I am all there in that bar code. 9 fingerprints and a photograph. The right little finger refused to be recorded despite numerous attempts involving wiping it against my nose to get more grease on it. Seriously! Anyway, now I am legit to vote in next year’s general election the date of which is to be decided.

I am not at all convinced that I am going to vote given the farcical state of politics at the moment but I want to be able to just in case so I’ve done the biometric registering.

Oh, how prophetic that last paragraph though I must admit farcical might be the wrong word. You see, it’s 6 days later and we have just had a military coup d’etat or maybe we haven’t if one chooses to believe the now co-opted national radio station. Yesterday there were reports of “tanks” on the Kariba road heading into Harare. Dash-cam footage showed them to actually be APCs (armoured personnel carriers) and one was reported to have lost a track en route – not a good start. They apparently took up strategic positions in the city, blocking access to the Houses of Parliament, though curiously the troops seemed pretty relaxed and weren’t actually carrying firearms (they were probably in the vehicle).

In any coup attempt the radio stations are targeted and indeed by this morning the normally verbose ZBC was playing continuous, bland music. On the way back from a failed attempt to walk the dogs (too muddy due to heavy recent rains) we listened to the first statement read by one General Moyo. Rambling and more than a bit confusing, it basically stated that a coup had not happened but the intervention was because certain elements in the government were trying to recolonise the country and they weren’t going to let that happen. It did not say whom was behind the colonisation attempt or how it fitted the scenario. By the time I drove to work the statement had become much more lucid and better spoken. It was reiterated that this was most certainly NOT a coup and calm, peace, goodwill and normalcy (sic) should prevail – they were just after the criminal elements in the ruling ZANU-PF party. It sounded suspiciously like the statement the fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa released a few weeks ago when he arrived in South Africa promising to be back, in 2 weeks, to fix up the mess that is Zimbabwe. Very MacArthuresque – it sounded to me like the same person had written both scripts.

It comes as no surprise that the “criminal elements” in ZANU-PF are members of the G40 faction led by Grace Mugabe who has aspirations to the top post of president when her husband, Robert Mugabe, dies. It has since emerged that a number of the G40 have been arrested including the finance minister Ignatius Chiombo whose security guard was foolish enough to resist the army detail sent to arrest him – he was shot. Pictures emerged on Twitter of his flattened security gate with an APC now parked inside. Pictures have also emerged on Facebook of  water tanks with the comment “more tanks seen in Harare”. A sense of bad humour is alive and well. So far the social media has remained unfettered as it serves the purpose of the various factions.

The whereabouts of Grace Mugabe has not been confirmed though rumours have it that she fled the country in the early hours of the morning to Namibia whilst others speculate the entire first family is under house arrest. There are certainly military roadblocks on the way to the airport (renamed the Robert Gabriel Mugabe airport last week at the trifling cost of $500,000 – I wonder how long that name will last?) and the troops manning them are reported to be civil.

A visit to the local bank was fruitless – closed apparently because the tellers hadn’t arrived though our domestic servant arrived this morning from the other side of the city and didn’t encounter problems. The local pharmacy was also closed (no explanation given) but the Borrowdale shopping centre across the road was buzzing as usual. I noticed an 81CD (US Embassy) car whose owner had taken advantage of the Embassy call not to come to work but was ignoring the advice to stay at home and was enjoying a meal at a restaurant! Not just Zimbabweans were heeding the call for normality.

Twitter is of course kicking up a cacophony of tweets speculating, guessing and maybe informing of developments. Perhaps the most reliable opinion is from Bulawayo-based David Coltart, a onetime Minister of Education, who despite previous misgivings seems to think that this is not a full blown coup but rather a bit of ruling party house cleaning by the old guard, often ex and current military types represented by Mnangagwa’s “Lacoste” faction, on the G40 faction (Alex Magaisa thinks differently So far there is no certainty that Mnangagwa, a veteran of the bush war and once Mugabe’s right had man, is actually back in the country. Whether he will return to lead the country to greatness is also unknown but if he can will Zimbabweans be prepared to forgive his Gukuruhundi involvement where thousands of Ndebele people were massacred in the mid to late 1980s? Time will tell. Maybe, just maybe I’ll get to use my voter registration next year but until it actually happens I will remain sceptical.