“Bob” notes

14 10 2016
Any currency will do (almost)

Any currency will do (almost)

Here in Zimbabwe we have no currency of our own. It was finally discarded in February 2009 along with all 12 zeros that were commonly attached. Notes are now collected by curious collectors. The US dollar is the currency of choice but even that is running out, hoarded away from banks by a public terrified of the introduction of Bob notes. Oops, I meant BOND notes.

Bond notes you ask? Yup, notes with a US dollar value printed on them but no actual value outside Zimbabwe. An awful lot of people think that they will not have any value inside Zimbabwe too so are hoarding the real currency away from the banks.

So whose bright idea was this? Well, maybe I should explain what a Bob note, sorry it just seems to slip out, I mean BOND note, actually is. Earlier this year, as it became apparent that the government was running out of cash to pay its employees (some 80% of the budget goes on paying wages – the rest is siphoned by other means but maybe the figures are the wrong way around), the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) came up with this workaround. They would get a bond of $200 million from a reputable external bank and print notes amounting to the same value for use solely in Zimbabwe. They were at pains to point out the last condition. After all, we already had bond coins which had been initially rejected by the public but had become accepted as a means of supplying change once the South African rand had ceased to have a convenient exchange rate of 10:1 to the US dollar. So why not have bond NOTES? Surely the public would understand and anyway, with parity to the dollar and no mention of bond notes being deposited into one’s account the cash crisis would be solved?

Right. Like there is any trust at all for anything this government suggests. Panic ensued. There was a run on the banks which was exacerbated by the restrictions that were imposed on drawing cash and promises from sources that it was NOT a reintroduction of the Zimbabwe dollar just made things worse. Riots ensued and now diesel is short. Point-of-sale (card swipe) machine supplies ran dry and banks couldn’t install what stocks they had fast enough. Predictions of food shortages proved false (well not in the supermarkets) and cash money now commands a premium of up to 15% over transfers and card swipes.

So we’ll accept just about any currency. The bond notes were due to be introduced this month but have now been deferred to next month. Maybe it will be added to the list on the bottom of the till slip but I’m willing to be there will be a few zeros too. Oh, I paid in cash. US dollars.

The term Bob note is a reference to the name of the Zimbabwean president – Robert Mugabe. It’s not my creation but has appeared on the social media recently.


Urban wildlife

23 09 2016

wildlife-urbanWhile out running the dogs this morning we spotted these two reed buck (a type of antelope). While there are only two in this picture another three were lying nearby, apparently unconcerned about our presence. And yes, that’s the outskirts of Harare in the background – to the south.

When I first moved onto this farm 12 years ago there were an estimated 70 reed buck on the property. We saw a total of eight this morning. Of course there will be others but certainly not close to the 70 of not so long ago. The rest? They’ve been poached.

The fence around the farm, once electrified, is now rather porous. Depending on the route we take we bump into a school boy off to school on his bicycle. Where exactly the school is I don’t know but he gets to the fence, climbs through, and then pulls his bicycle after him. Nope, it’s certainly not electrified now!

On the right of the photo are some houses which now extend all up the western boundary of ART Farm. A lot are incomplete but nevertheless they have inhabitants and they’d be unlikely to pass up an opportunity for a bit of fresh meat. On the eastern boundary is another farm once inhabited by a good customer of mine. He was kicked off by a Connected Person (about as connected as one can get in this country) some four or five years ago. At the time his farm was replete with duiker (another smaller antelope than the one pictured) to the extent he was getting fed up with them eating his cabbages. Well, that’s what he said but I could tell he was also rather fond of them. At the time his electric fence worked well so the duiker had a great excuse not to go anywhere else and so they proliferated. The fence most likely doesn’t work now and I haven’t seen a duiker for a long time (though they’re mostly nocturnal I did see them occasionally during the day).

So the reed buck can only go north now. That’s a problem because there are a lot of mesh fences to the north which are supposed to protect the research section of ART (that’s Agricultural Research Trust), and while certainly not impenetrable, they are a definite obstacle. From the food aspect they don’t need to go anywhere for the moment. There are a number of cattle on the farm and they have plenty to eat so by extension so do the buck but the encroachment of Harare, pretty much stalled as a result of the appalling economic environment, is inevitable and then their future will be questionable.

A bit more flexible are the two jackal we occasionally see. They are usually on the boundary of the grassy vlei (wetland) area where they most likely have a den. Zak likes to chase them but they see him coming a long way off and are much more nimble and cunning – the fox of Africa. They are hugely adaptable. There is one that has lived on a nearby golf course for some time now. Again it is conveniently trapped by an electric fence but the course is bounded by a rubbish tip so there is no shortage of rats and other vermin for it to eat. The club gate is just a boom gate so it could, if it wanted to, get out.

rubbishThe rubbish tip is itself a supporter of wildlife. Apart from the obvious rats there are crows, egrets and maribou storks. The latter can often be spotted in huge wheeling flocks soaring majestically amidst plastic bags lifted in the thermals generated by the rotting garbage. I don’t suspect they mind to much but to me the tip is a hideous eyesore that I pass everyday. And that’s before it rains and the whole area smells like vomit.

The maribous are scavengers and attracted to whatever they can find – there was once a sack of offal spilt at the traffic lights on Harare drive and Alpes Road on the way to the tip, so I guess there’s plenty of other pickings to attract them.

And where there’s vermin there are predators. Snakes, long-crested eagles and others. I know the incidents of cobra bites on dogs has gone way up over the past years as uncollected garbage in the suburbs attracts all manner of opportunists.

Zak sees off the local maribou storks

Zak sees off the local maribou storks

I have to admit the maribou stork is not the prettiest bird around but they are master pilots and I love to stop and watch them soar. So, in a way, rubbish can be a benefit but I do wish they’d move the tip somewhere else!



5 09 2016

Farming in Zimbabwe is pretty challenging but Zimbabweans are adept (some would say notorious) at “making a plan”. Let me give you an example.

led lampThat circled object in the photo above is a LED light mounted on the railing outside my office. It was temporary you must understand; a necessity of circumstance, the best I can do at that moment to provide some security lighting.

Last Tuesday (10 days ago at the time of writing) the electricity cables that supply my business and several properties in the area were stolen. I was getting into the shower as the power went off – I don’t live at my work but the house is on the same grid. It was 10.30 p.m. Of course I didn’t know at the time the cause of the power cut but the next day I received a SMS from the foreman saying the lines had been cut. I thought he meant broken as when a tree falls across a power line as it had been windy. No, he really did mean cut. I had a look when I got to work and was surprised to see the wire cables were made of copper. They were certainly old – all the line I’ve ever seen have been an aluminium alloy. There is a strong demand for scrap copper and once it’s been melted down there is little chance of being caught.

ZESA, the electricity supply utility, came and had a look and by the next day was on the job. I chatted to the foreman on the way out and he said not to worry, they’d have us back on-line that evening. I asked if they were going to replace the other copper line before it was also stolen. No, they weren’t. But he did think the thieves would be back for the rest. Apparently he found this funny. I thought I’d better look into buying a heavier duty generator as the one we had was only for standby situations and not suitable for long periods of use. I asked him how they’d stolen the live cable without getting electrocuted. Must have  been experts he opined. I didn’t add that I thought they were probably ZESA employees or certainly had been.

On Thursday I bought an 11kVA generator, big enough to run all the essential equipment; 3 borehole pumps, 2 irrigation pumps and security lights. It cost $5750 and is a prime power generator meaning it can be run continuously if necessary. There was not a huge choice in the range that I could afford and as I couldn’t wait for the bank transfer to go through I paid a cash deposit and the generator was delivered “first thing” on Friday which turned out to be 2 p.m. Power came back that evening as did the thieves and another 400m of cable was stolen. By Tuesday morning the generator already needed its first service – it had clocked up just over 50 hours and paid for itself. Seedlings really cannot run out of water.

On Monday it was evident that one of the borehole pumps was not running properly. I had changed it on Thursday from a 3 phase to single phase motor, so it could run on the old generator, and the control box was tripping the power supply off. Pumps use more power when pumping more water so once the pipe was full it would draw less and settle down. The pipe (all 400m or more of it) should have been staying full but it seemed that none of the non-return valves that should have prevented the back flow were working. So my landlord set about replacing them.

I engaged the services of an electrician to install the change-over switches to allow us to switch between the generator supply and the ZESA mains supply. Normally I would have tackled this as it’s well within my understanding of electrical wiring but he was in the area so I thought I’d take the easier route. It was just as well that I didn’t feel like doing it as he spotted a major problem in the switch box that would have ruined the generator. The generator ran all weekend while we set about trying to solve why the one borehole kept switching off. By Monday I’d had enough and went to the irrigation supplier who told me that it was a voltage problem. My thought was that it was just too sophisticated for Zimbabwean conditions so I bought a basic one that just ran the pump with no power checking. A risk but I was fed up with the tinkering.

Tuesday and the linemen were back again and working quickly they were finished by Wednesday evening. I have an important (politically speaking) neighbour who could not possibly be inconvenienced. That morning I’d been to the local ZESA office to see what I could do about getting the transformer connected and was fully prepared to pay an “incentive”. I was brushed off with “we will get to you”. The next morning they were working on the transformer but it was not by my efforts. My landlord’s son had made contact with the “correct” person and paid him $100. The next day we were finally back on the grid and the generator could take a rest having used some 200 litres of diesel. One phase was not working but we’d become adept at moving wires on the switchboard to deal with that sort of inconvenience.

It had taken 10 days to get the power back and I’d learned a lot more than I’d ever intended to about electrical wiring. I’d only got one shock and no equipment had burned out. One has to be adaptable to farm in Zimbabwe.



2 08 2016

There are consequences of an economy in a tailspin. One of the first sectors to feel the pinch is the arts and dance is no exception.



As a trustee of the Dance Trust of Zimbabwe I am all too aware of the impact of the imploding economy on our ability to remain viable. Two weeks ago at a board meeting I expressed concern that I had bought 10% of the tickets (8) for the gala performance of the upcoming Ballet Bouquet dance show.



The Ballet Bouquet is the idea of Cape Town City Ballet choreographer Robin van Wyk. In the CTCB off-season (winter) he stages ballets in the smaller cities in the sub-region using dancers of all ages and capabilities. Senior dancers from the CTCB help bring a bit of glamour!

The fairy princess from the Nutcracker

The fairy princess from the Nutcracker

Robin came up to Harare to choreograph the pieces and then local teachers rehearsed the dancers until last week when Robin returned with the senior dancers and saw to it that the locals were up to his demanding standard.

The show consisted of a 45 minute adaptation of the Nutcracker and then after the interval there were several pieces from other well-known ballets. Yes, the Nutcracker is traditionally a Christmas ballet but in this case the theme was “Christmas in July” and the 450 orphans and disadvantaged children who attended the dress rehearsal each received a small gift.

Principal CTCB ballerina Angela Hanford shows how it's done!

Principal CTCB ballerina Angela Hanford shows how it’s done!

Six shows were staged over 4 days and with full houses for 4 shows and some 80% capacity for the other two the Dance Trust of Zimbabwe can survive for a little longer.


19 07 2016

poloponyThere I was, this last Sunday, photographing polo whilst Zimbabwe “burned”. To be sure it most certainly was not the polo of Jilly Cooper novels; helicopters, luxury cars and champagne were not evident and I saw ponies leaving the venue in plain old farmers’ trucks open to the weather.

The polo grounds just outside Harare are, like the rest of the country, not up to their former glory and I do have to wonder how they keep going. The venue is hired out to social events at other times of the year but the grounds are still up to hosting an international event as was happening on Sunday. How do they do it? There was no entrance fee and it was not well advertised on the social media. But for just over an hour that afternoon we could forget about the “imminent collapse” of the country and watch a game that most of the people I chatted to knew little about.

The match was billed as an international between Zimbabwe and South Africa. Nobody I chatted to knew if it was THE South African team. They didn’t look very good and the Zimbabwe team dominated them. It was bitterly cold but I guess the ponies didn’t mind.


Restoration and order

16 07 2016
Appropriate slogan

Appropriate slogan

This slogan on the back of a school  bus that I spotted in the industrial sites on Tuesday was strangely appropriate for this last week.

On Monday, Pastor Evan Mawarire, the face behind #Thisflag, released a video clip announcing that the police were requesting to interview him the following day and that the proposed stay-away for Wednesday and Thursday may or may not succeed. He was duly arrested the following day and charged with inciting public violence and disturbing the peace. Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean expert on constitutional law who is based in the UK, found it an odd charge given that Pastor Evan (as he is known) has consistently called for peaceful shows of displeasure.

I had to take a trip to the other side of the airport on Tuesday – a route that is normally fraught with police roadblocks. There was only one by the Groombridge shopping centre on College Road. It’s a favorite due to the nature of the stop street and the left turn where motorists are tempted to creep forward over the delimiting line in order to see oncoming traffic. So where were the others? Preparing for the next day’s stay-away?

Meanwhile Grace Mugabe, the president’s wife, took off for Singapore for a bit of shopping in a safer environment. She may also have been celebrating an award given her earlier by the ZNCC (Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce); the “Outstanding Value Investment Addition Award in recognition of the massive work she has done at (her) Gushungu Dairy and her children’s home in Mazowe”. Given that the aforementioned dairy is a massive cash sink, Dr Mugabe as she is referred to in The Herald article, must have been celebrating this extraordinary display of lèche derrière/brown-nosing. Or maybe she was feeling uneasy in the increasingly vitriolic atmosphere of the social media which was actually working sans VPN this time around. Yes, she apparently did get a PhD, in 3 months, at the local University of Zimbabwe. Her thesis is apparently no longer in the library.

Wednesday’s stay away dawned peacefully and not as well observed as last week.  Pastor Evan’s trial was scheduled for the afternoon and a massive crowd congregated peacefully at the court in Rotten Row together with a large number of lawyers who volunteered their services. The police had changed the charges to something more akin to sedition. Their error as the magistrate threw the case out as it was successfully argued that Pastor Evan could not have had a fair trial under these conditions. The crowd celebrated  peacefully and a new hero was born. Social media speculated that the post of Prosecutor General would soon be vacant and someone suggested Alex Magaisa who said it wasn’t his forté; he “would get bored dealing with criminals”. The Zimbabwe situation finally makes the South African news headlines. Only on Thursday do we get on BBC.

The police searched Pastor Evan’s house looking for a police “button” (they meant baton) and helmet. Ridicule followed and a picture was posted of someone looking for the missing “button” at the back of a sofa. A sharp-eyed and clear-memoried person noted that this was not even an original idea as Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition MDC party had had exactly the same charge leveled at him some 10 years ago (a photo of the actual charge was produced). Nothing suspicious was found at Pastor Evan’s house.

On Thursday evening I received an email from an acquaintance saying that the Ministry of Defense had grounded all UAVs (drones in most people’s lexicon). No reason was given and the Civil Aviation Authority couldn’t clarify this. Was someone panicking and why? I have 3 multicopters of which 2 can be considered toys. The third is looking for work to pay for itself! I guess it may have to wait a while.

A drone's eye view of the farm where I live

A drone’s eye view of the farm where I live

Friday and I’m looking for wages for a week’s time. I have worked out that if my application to one bank to withdraw cash en masse fails I’ll have to go the multi-account withdrawal route. In all I have 3 accounts; 1 personal and 2 corporate. By moving money around I can withdraw $800 per day – $300 each from the corporate accounts and $200 from my personal. I put the application in anyway and the clerk drops a broad hint that those accounts that receive cash receive more favorable consideration to withdraw it. I point out that putting money in merely to withdraw it later is pointless, expensive and anyway, can I trust the bank to give it back? My cash takings have plummeted by 70% in June over May.  I withdraw the $300 anyway and the teller laughs when I point out, loudly, that his drawer is full of cash. It’s not as much as it looks he says. When I ask if he has plenty of South African rand he says no, that’s also restricted to $300 equivalent per day.

Although Pastor Evan claims no political affiliation his demands to government have broad appeal.

  1. Pay civil servants on time
  2. Reduce roadblocks and stop officers harassing people for cash
  3. President Robert Mugabe should fire and prosecute corrupt officials
  4. Plans to introduce bond notes to ease a cash shortage should be abandoned
  5. Remove a recent ban on imported goods.

It’s notable that the Reserve Bank already seems to be back-tracking on the bond notes. They were supposed to be releasing $200m of them in October. Now that’s been pushed back to December. Today’s press notes that the Government is still behind on last month’s wages. President Mugabe is joining his wife in Singapore and the cops were out in force yesterday. The ban on importing basic goods looks like a bad idea and probably unenforceable. And government corruption? Yes.

According to the newspapers...

According to the newspapers…

Blame it on the Cremora

6 07 2016

Cremora, that coffee creamer stuff, can no longer be imported into Zimbabwe. Actually, there’s quite a long list of goods that are now prohibited including dairy products, steel, bottled water and more. This first came into effect (yes, it’s been rescinded and reinstated at least once) some 10 days ago and immediately sparked riots at the southern border post of Beitbridge on the South African frontier. Customs officials were confiscating goods that cross-border traders in this country depended on to make a living. Normally placid Zimbabweans were incensed and rioted. The revenue authority backed down. Then the ruling was reinstated and the riots started again. A warehouse was burnt which apparently contained new bonded vehicles.

On Monday, perhaps inspired by these events, minibus drivers clashed with police in the southern suburban areas and in Ruwa, a small town to the east of Harare. Word was they were fed up with the bullying attitude of the police at roadblocks. Even the government owned Herald newspaper weighed in on this topic a couple of weeks back, criticizing the police. A disturbing photo of a policeman wielding an AK47 with one booted foot on the head of a protester did the rounds. I was sent a particularly brutal video clip of police beating protesters. Yesterday civil servants were due to go on strike over delayed wages and the first reports of WhatsApp started to filter in. Evan Mawarire of #ThisFlag fame sent out an impassioned and widely circulated video calling for a national shutdown today. He emphasized for it to be peaceful and non-political, calling for the government to act against rampant corruption that had been detailed in the Auditor General’s report submitted to parliament last week. She estimated that around US$1bn had been misappropriated by government officials in 2015 alone (this is about 8% of the GDP). The ZTV news report started the day with a story about grain millers (it’s a government channel) and nothing was said about any disturbances.

This morning, while at work (we were closed for business but seedlings don’t stop growing in protest), I received 2 calls from friends in Germany obviously concerned about developments. One was on WhatsApp the other on Skype. They could hear me but I couldn’t hear them. When I got home for lunch there were widespread reports on Facebook about the apparent blocking of social media by the government. There were also more than a few suggestions about how to circumvent the blocks with VPNs (virtual private networks).  Photos abounded of empty streets and shopping centres. Hackers have taken down government websites in punishment for blocking WhatsApp. Facebook is currently unavailable on my desktop computer which has no VPN. My phone has one and I can read FB.

The Zimbabwe Government is broke and cannot pay its employees, including the military. Hence the restrictions on imports which are depleting the national coffers due to our appalling balance of trade deficit. Zimbabwe produces little of anything these days due to government actively scaring away investors by insisting that companies investing have a 51% locals shareholding. The once productive agricultural sector is moribund; most commercial farmers were evicted in a disastrous land reform exercise in the early 2000s.

The Minister of Finance, Patrick Chinamasa, and his entourage are in London begging for money. Their meetings with interested parties were poorly attended and they had to be escorted by the police as he exited Chatham House and was confronted by The Vigil – Zimbabwean protestors living in the UK.

Quite who dreamed up the list of imports to be restricted to save us money is not clear. Yes, we can do without bottled water and imported vegetables but Cremora? Really, how much is that going to save us? Of course the MDC opposition was quick to take advantage and claim that various ruling party members were favoring their local business. A bit too quick as it turns out. A MDC politician making just this claim on South African TV could not show that this was indeed the case. Twit.

And no, I don’t even use Cremora.