Joseph

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?

 

 

Advertisements




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.





Entitled to vote

15 11 2017

Barcoded!

 

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 https://www.bigsr.co.uk/single-post/2017/11/15/BSR-Special-The-end-of-an-era) 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.





Waiting for the hammer to fall

24 09 2017

A very expensive hammer – or is it?

Just a pretty average ball pein hammer with an expensive price tag. I’ve just looked on Amazon and one can get a set of three for about £10 and the most expensive one in this style, also with a genuine hickory handle, is £15. Of course we expect to pay more but nearly double? Well that’s the way of Zimbabwe at the moment, that’s right folks, inflation is back!

Zimbabwe produces little these days and imports a lot. Along with a bloated civil service whose wage bill gobbles 80% of the budget and rampant corruption we are in deep trouble. We have a three tier monetary system which in theory is all US dollars but in practice has three different values; money in the bank which is labelled US dollars but will buy the money version, referred to as “cash” at a rate of 1.6 to 1. Then there are bond notes, a local substitute for “cash” which are pegged at the same value as the “cash” but trade at around 1.2 to the dollar. These bond notes are in theory backed by a bond from the Cairo based Afrexim Bank but it was recently revealed that the bond never existed so they are valueless but preferable to having money in the bank. A case of a bird in the hand being worth more than what’s in the bank.

Most outlets have a 3 tier pricing system to reflect the various value rates. For the moment my business doesn’t but that will change tomorrow. In the time that I’ve been writing this blog (about 4 days) Harare fuel pumps have run dry. It’s not surprising as the price for diesel has been hovering around $1.20 per litre for quite a few months now – completely unrealistic considering that they have had to buy the real US$ at a premium of 1.2 during most of that time. Yes, I guess the price is controlled somewhere along the line.

I was, by chance, chatting to a farmer at an agricultural supplies outlet on Friday. He asked if I could grow him some paprika as he was looking for an export crop to stay viable. He mentioned that he’d been pricing steel that morning and by the time he’d gone back to place the order 2 hours later the price had gone up 15%. We are talking a bank transfer price of course. That evening I went to a talk on Bitcoins and how to use them and what the investment opportunities and pitfalls are. The speaker referred to the day as Black Friday in reference to the galloping exchange rate.

A while ago I called my local service manager at the bank. On asking if I could pay for an import of the coir pith we use to propagate seedlings he asked me if we exported anything. No, I replied. Had I deposited any US$ cash recently? No of course I hadn’t – was this really a serious question? Well then, he said, bring in the cash and we can do the transfer. Guaranteed? Yes, guaranteed. This raised the obvious question of how far to trust the banking system. All external payments have to go through the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, the very instrument who in no small way has landed us in this mess. To be fair there has been a lot of greed and incompetence driven political pressure on them to just add zeroes to the value of the currency though, with the exception of the governor, a lot of the senior staff were there for the meltdown of the Zimbabwe dollar in 2008 – 9 and one must wonder what their influence is.

It should be evident by now that the USD price tag on the handle of the hammer is not United States Dollars at all but a proxy currency probably better named (nearly) Useless Substitute Dollars and the price of 39.00 is probably quite cheap. The Zimbabwe dollar is back under another name as a lot of people feared when the bond notes were first introduced.

When I started this post on Thursday I thought the title was appropriate. After reading a WhatsApp message this morning from a friend (the full text by Matt Matigari can be read here http://source.co.zw/2017/09/opinion-currency-crisis-art-deception/) I realized that it had been looking decidedly unstable as far back as 2013. The hammer most definitely has already fallen and we have only now heard the sound of the impact.

There are going to be casualties during the course of this next meltdown. An old friend has already lost his job and has no alternative income. He and his wifer may well end up renting our cottage and hopefully renting out their house. We have advised them most definitely NOT to sell as they will likely lose a lot of money in the time it would take to find a smaller property. They have several dogs most of which will have to be euthanized. Those who can will emigrate. Those who cannot will once again be destitute. Companies that depend on imports will likely fold. Money changers will prosper and just maybe, we will pay off the bond on our house for the equivalent of a few dollars – cash. Tighten your seat-belts folks, there’s rough weather ahead.

 





Déjà-vu – and it’s not good

9 08 2017

NEVER throw away what might be useful

We have a habit in this country of not throwing things away “just in case they might be useful one day”. It’s not without good reason but it can be taken to extremes.

In the days when Zimbabwe was Rhodesia and the country was under blanket sanctions for it’s persistent colonial ways ingenuity ruled. Getting fuel was difficult and just about everything else close to impossible. Car spares were horded and years after we got rid of an old car I still found spares squirreled away “just in case”.

Now that Rhodesia is Zimbabwe and we still have sanctions (but this time targeted against certain odious individuals) spares are once again becoming difficult.  In this case it’s spares for a Husqvarna hedge trimmer we use to trim tobacco and gum tree seedlings – so of course I feel somewhat smug that I kept the remains of a previous hedge trimmer. Just in case.

The shortages this time around are nothing to do with the sanctions but gross incompetence and greed by the ruling regime; the nation has simply run out of money. The bond notes alluded to in other posts are proving to be exactly what everyone feared them to be – a return to the defunct Zimbabwe dollar under another guise. There was never a bond/loan backing them (the Reserve Bank governor simply lied) and now the government has announced that it wants to release another 300m of  them backed by precisely nothing.

Inflation has also made a return. I priced a gum wooden door last week that has increased 50% over the last 4 months despite being made entirely of local products. It is priced in US$ but I’m almost certain that if I asked I could get a discount for “cash” i.e. real US$ notes of around 20% (most people use debit cards or similar devices to pay for items). A potential customer asked me if he could get a discount for bond notes and was told most definitely no. He did not ask if he could get a discount for real cash – US dollars.

So tomorrow I will start making a plan (something else for which Zimbabweans are notorious) and see if I can assemble the 1½ hedge trimmers in the picture into one functioning one. After all adversity is the mother of invention and we’ve been here before. Once as Rhodesia and again in the years when the Zimbabwe dollar was real if completely useless.  It’s a sense of déjà-vu and I don’t like it one bit.

There is one positive aspect to this. In the carnage of the demise of the Zimbabwe dollar in 2008/9 when inflation was running in six figures per month, people who’d taken out housing mortgages paid them off with one note or less. Yes, that happens when the largest note is 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollars.  Now if the government floods the country with bond notes we should be able to pick them up cheaply enough by paying in real dollars to pay off our mortgage really cheaply. There will of course be collateral damage as they say – territory we visited back in 2008/9. I don’t think I want to go there at any price.

P.S. (a day later). I was called this morning by a company that sells irrigation equipment – a part that I’d ordered had arrived. On asking the cost I was told $78 “… but we are offering a discount of 25% for US$ cash or 10% for bond notes.” So apparently the bond notes, based on nothing, are actually in demand.

 





A thin line

12 07 2017

Mike is multi-talented. He’s been working on the electrics of the cottage so that we can get it functional for renting out, but he can fix computers too and turn his hand to just about anything else; painting, welding you name it. But he’s struggling for work and even had to borrow some diesel off me the other day as he was running out and didn’t have any cash to put fuel in his car.

Smart has been doing tiling and minor building work for us. He’s pleasant, hard-working and also broke. Unlike a lot of builders here he does ALL the work himself; mixing cement, carrying the bricks and of course the building.

Nearly everyone is struggling to get by in Zimbabwe none more so than the artists. So this Sunday I went along to the art fair and expo at the Mukuvisi Woodlands – a nature reserve within the confines of the city which has a selection of non-dangerous game, horse rides, walks and is a great place to go and relax watch the birds and enjoy the animals. Not surprisingly they are also struggling, so it was a good opportunity to go along and lend support.

Works by Daryl Nero, Arthur Azvedo, Helen Leiros and Lyn Barrie were on display (main boards L to R)

It was not a big event but a lot of my favorite artists were on display. I cannot think a lot of money was made but a few paintings had been sold and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Most works were well beyond my budget but I did pick up a couple of small pieces by Roseanne Tunmer that my wife could appreciate (she doesn’t share my taste in art). I heard Roseanne quip as I was paying that she’d be very pleased if someone stole some of her work!

A lion face in progress by Kelli Barker

Heron and tortoise by Roseanne Tunmer, pods by Wayne Stutchbury

Of course not everyone in Zimbabwe is struggling. The kleptocrats who rule the country are very well off thank you and seem quite unconcerned that their shenanigans are widely reported in the independent press. Those who can are helping themselves whilst the rest of us get by – or not.

Some, such as Grace Mugabe – the president’s wife, have millions but don’t use them. She has recently laid claim to the Mazowe dam (reservoir) denying all-comers access to a livelihood or recreation. Local water authority engineers who came to inspect a leak in the nearly 100 year-old wall were chased off in favor of Chinese engineers.

The much vaunted command agriculture scheme has been shown to be a massive money loser . For the uninitiated it is a scheme whereby funding has been acquired (some $500m) to allow mostly resettled farmers who have no access to funds (they have no title for the land they are on and therefore no collateral) the ability to grow maize and solve the nation’s chronic food shortage. The government supplies the inputs in the form of seed, fertilizers and chemicals and then buys back the harvest – at a loss!  400,000 ha were to be identified and a figure of 2m tonnes of maize harvested. At 5 tonnes/ha it is quite doable for less than highly skilled farmers. However only some 160,000 ha were subscribed to the scheme (or 17200 ha according to the government mouthpiece The Herald – I think a zero is missing). This amounts to about 800,000 tonnes at 5 t/ha or an average yield of 12.5 t/ha to achieve the 2m tonnes that has been much quoted, which is wishful thinking of a high order. ART farm where I used to live gets this sort of yield in a good year (which this last season was) and they farm to research standards. The farmers who this scheme targets have, at best, very ordinary farming skills. Even I, and I have basic maths skills, can see that something is badly wrong here.

Trawling the web yields some other interesting figures too. According to the Newsday site farmers started to deliver maize on the 1st April this year. Chatting to the ART farm manager yesterday he told me their maize was still at 14% moisture so hadn’t been harvested (it needs to be 12% or less to avoid storage problems) so I do wonder how this is possible. Is the government going to dry what must be wet maize?

I am struggling to summarize this debacle which even the most basic mathematics can reveal. Perhaps I should close with a quote from an issue of The Financial Gazette; “If figures do not lie, can anyone really give the US$500 million command agriculture initiative much of a chance given this compelling evidence of a nation that has squandered every opportunity at its disposal?”  Dated September 29 2016 it is prescient. Even the ultimate slime-ball of a politician, Jonathan Moyo, has labelled it “command ugly-culture”.

 





The cost of doing business

13 04 2017

A whorl of cosmos

The rains are over for this season and the cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) is fading, still attractive but not as flamboyant as 3 weeks ago. We had good rains for once; 1020mm at the nursery which is probably not a record but certainly substantial. The cosmos was just as showy as ever – it doesn’t seem to mind if it’s a drought year or not.

The government press has predictably predicted a “bumper” harvest but that is far from certain as it will be at least another month or more before the crops are in and there is a lot more to farming than a good rainy season. The fall army worm also made an appearance this year. New to Zimbabwe it has a voracious appetite for maize and is difficult to control once the crop gets large so the small scale farmers are likely to have had a hard time.

The current financial crisis continues to deepen. US dollars (cash) are commanding a premium discount with some outlets offering up to 20% off for the greenbacks. Even the much maligned bond notes are becoming scarce but I have yet to get a discount for using them instead of a debit card.

Two weeks ago I finally received a large outstanding payment for a contract of gum trees that we did last year. Normally I would spend it on raw material – the coir pith we favour for propagating seedlings comes from India and is bizarrely about 60% of the cost of the local milled pine bark medium. It’s also reliable quality and we have yet to experience any significant problems with it. Not something we can say for the local product.

I got hold of the business manager at one of the banks I deal with and asked him what the chances were of getting money out to pay for a container of coir pith; all of US$9600 for 24 tonnes delivered to Beira docks in Mozambique. He was direct (I appreciate directness).

“Do you export?” he asked.

“No’

“Have you been depositing US dollars cash into your account?”

Was this a serious question? “No I haven’t”. I was tempted to add “you weren’t expecting me to say yes were you?” but I remained quiet.

“Then no. If you bring us the cash we will make the application to the Reserve Bank”.

Hmm, like anyone trusts them. He went onto assure me that if the request was refused I would get my cash back in US dollars, not bond notes, and that they’d never had an application for a request of this nature turned down.

I should point out that I have never had, to my knowledge, anything but US dollars deposited into my account and here I was being told that in fact the bank did not believe that. It says at the top of my statement that it is a US dollar account – but it’s only useful in Zimbabwe.

When the Reserve Bank announced last year that it was introducing the now notorious bond notes, with a value equivalent to the US dollar, in order to alleviate the cash shortage (true, a lot of cash had disappeared from circulation) the populace panicked. Rumours that it was an attempt to re-introduce the defunct Zimbabwe dollar flourished in the fertile rumour environment and a run on the banks began. People slept on the pavements for cash withdrawals that progressively dwindled to a paltry $30 or less. Yesterday at another of the banks that I use there were people sleeping on the pavement but now it’s for bond notes. Yes, there has been a massive switch to electronic money but some things still require cash. Schools in rural areas, which are cheaper, don’t have bank accounts and unscrupulous landlords demand cash.

The amount of bond notes issued is pitifully small, some $10m to start with and then another 30m or so. That they have been issued entirely in $2 and $5 denominations is telling – it was never intended to do much. $10 and $20 would have had far more impact. Initially the Reserve Bank stated that the bond notes were guaranteed by a loan of $200m from the Afrexim bank in Egypt, but this has been nearly impossible to ascertain. $200 million in a GDP of some $11 bn is not going to do much (see this Forbes article)  and anyway, if all that was needed was cash why not just buy it from the USA? We all know the Zimbabwe government is broke so it cannot buy cash. However what could be easier than adding a few zeros to electronic money? Electronic money is not based on anything which is why the bank manager I was talking to wanted to know if I could pay in US cash for the import of raw material. He wanted to know that if his bank were to deplete its precious nostro account (held outside the country) was being backed by real crispies (well, once upon a time they were crisp – long ago) and not some figment of a government official’s imagination. So where does that leave me?

Last Thursday there was a workshop at the Tobacco Research Board (TRB) near the airport. They were promoting the growing of vegetable seedlings. Not much to do with tobacco research to be sure but the seedlings of both crops can be grown in polystyrene trays floating on shallow ponds in which fertilizer has been dissolved. The TRB manufactures the trays, has a local company make up the fertilizer solution and is in a joint venture to manufacture the pine bark based medium in which the seedlings are grown. So they are looking to expand their market. I was concerned that I was going to have a lot of competition for my business. It was time to check out the potential competition and I was also curious to see what the TRB, once a world-renowned research organization, had been doing on vegetable seedling research.

I was not over-awed but I had to admit that their seedling tray quality had improved since I last bought any. The presentations were not very impressive and their idea of seedling quality was lacking some fundamental concepts. Their growing medium appeared to be reasonable quality but was expensive but they were willing to take any sort of money, cash or electronic. I will have to try some.

Logic dictates that if the medium is acceptable that I buy it in bulk with currency that I can only use within the country i.e. my locally held accounts even though it’s relatively expensive. If however the quality is poor then I will have to look at sourcing “real” dollars (anything is possible in Zimbabwe) and getting in the coir pith medium from India that I trust. Quite what I’ll spend my local money on then I really don’t know.

Next Tuesday, 18th April, is our independence day. Two weeks ago, as is customary, I received a letter of request from the local ZANU-PF (ruling party) office asking for donations in “cash or kind” for the celebrations they were going to host where “800” people were expected. It was shoved into the top left drawer of my desk – they would have to ask in person. In the past I have fought with them over this with arguments such as; “Why don’t you go into the shopping centres and ask for donations there?” but they know the white farmers feel vulnerable and are soft targets, so yes I inevitable buckle and donate.

I was driving back from the gym yesterday after lunch when the inevitable call came – they were at my business and what was I going to donate? It certainly was NOT going to be cash so they accepted $100 through mobile banking. I cursed myself for being weak then just consoled myself with the thought that they’d got the least value money option available. It was a cost of staying in business in Zimbabwe.