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!

Advertisements




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.

 





Zimbabwe in 2015

2 01 2015

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

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

Even the caterpillars have a punk hair do

Even the caterpillars have a punk hair-do

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

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

I have a feeling 2015 will not be boring.

...even the snail has direction

…even the snail has direction





Vendor city

22 06 2013

Vendors are everywhere in Harare. They sell everything from steering wheel covers, to cheap padlocks and of course food. The fruit vendors are especially numerous in the industrial sites where I spotted this one and they do a brisk trade at lunch time. Yes, I have in the past bought fruit off them and they will even offer to wash it for you and carry a bottle of water specifically for that purpose. There is of course no guarantee that the water itself is clean; it could be out of a tap at the back of a factory and one drinks tap water at one’s peril in Harare. Of course there is no saying that the vendor doesn’t have a swig out of the bottle now and again. Would YOU not drink out of the bottle of water you were carrying on a long, hot and dusty day?

A fruit vendor in the industrial sites of Harare. A bottle of water to "clean" your purchase...

A fruit vendor in the industrial sites of Harare. A bottle of water to “clean” your purchase…





Licorice bootlaces

9 05 2013

I stuck my tongue out at the rear-view mirror; it wasn’t black like it should have been. I was only slightly disappointed. I’d found the licorice boot laces (they were more like ribbon cable than the knotted boot laces I remember from junior school) in, of all places the aquarium shop, and I was well pleased. The car in front of me pulled onto Harare Drive from Drew Road and was immediately pulled over by the police standing under the trees showing off their bright yellow traffic armbands. I made a show of stopping longer than necessary by the stop sign and then turned left as another car opposite me turned right and pushed ahead of me. I muttered a curse and then another as a policeman pulled me over.

“Who had right of way at that intersection?”

“I did because he was cutting across the line of traffic” I replied wondering if this was my provisional licence test over again.

“But he was already in the intersection”.

“How do you know where the intersection is if there are no white lines marking it?”. I was not going to be bullied in this one.

“But you did not stop at the stop sign”. A change of direction, if you will.

“Yes I did, you were not watching”

“I need to see your licence”.

I passed it over knowing that I could not now just drive off.

“If you want to challenge this then we will have to go to court”.

“No problem”. Now I was committed.

“I will go and get an officer to come with you to the traffic centre”. He was giving me a chance to back out and pay a fine.

“Please do”. I dug in my heels and he wandered off to his colleagues.

I really was prepared to go to court over this. Whilst I was not at all sure if the white  line was necessary I thought I could at least get a story out of this and if I really dug in I could call his bluff as I was pretty sure he did not want to go to court and answer awkward questions. I phoned my insurance broker to see if he knew and watched the cops in the rear view mirror. Trevor couldn’t help so I settled down to wait. The police were chatting amongst themselves, wasting my time – I suspected. Finally another strolled over.

“What happened there, why didn’t you stop behind the stop sign?”

“I did. I could see you here with your yellow arm bands. Why would I not stop? I know this is your favorite spot. You need to hide a bit better”.

He seemed to find this hugely funny.

“Here is your licence, you can go” he said, passing it over.

“While you are here”, I replied as he turned to go, “what about the white lines, aren’t there supposed to be white lines?”

“Yes, there are. But they are difficult to find in Zimbabwe these days”.

Notes on dealing with the police in these situations:

– always be polite

– never lose your cool

– be committed!

– know your rights.

Stop signs are there to tell you to stop. The solid white line marks where you have to stop not the sign. The white line MUST be there!





Licence issues

28 11 2011

The police were setting up a road block on the way into town. I was not concerned as they tend to target mini buses and squeeze them for anything they can. I also noticed that ZBC (Zimbabwe Broadcasting Commission) licence inspectors were tagging along and would no doubt see who they could catch for not having a licence for their car radio. I have long since removed my car aerial and the face of the tape/radio player as I refuse to have my intelligence insulted by anyone suggesting that I might want to listen to the state controlled ZBC. Once upon a time there were actually some good radio channels but that was long ago and they are now mostly ZANU-PF (ruling party) mouthpieces. I did notice in the paper earlier this year that there were some commercial radio licences for sale but have no idea if they were bought.

In theory one has to have a licence for any radio or TV receiver. Now that cell phones have radios in them I should think that could also be applied to them which would certainly bring a quantity of cash into the ZBC. I am surprised they have not already thought of this.





Powering down

6 11 2011

The power supply in Zimbabwe is erratic at the best of times but during the rains (which is also the storm season) it gets particularly bad. There was a storm some distance away over town yesterday afternoon and the power went off. It came back on for about 5 minutes, went off for half and hour and came back on again at a low voltage. My fridge and deep freeze have low voltage cutouts to protect the motors from such eventualities and are still off as I type this on a battery powered laptop.

Where I live we generally have quite reliable power, probably due to a military baracks on the same grid (can’t annoy them can we?), so I have not bothered with a generator or inverter and battery. My solution to the occasional power outage is decidedly low tech; I have a frozen 20 litre container of water in the deep freeze and perishables from the fridge go in there for as long as necessary.

The nursery is also on the same power grid but I don’t have voltage protection on all the motors so I dashed in this morning at 7 a.m. but all was well so the problem at my house is localized. It is unlikely to be fixed today so I will just have to live with it until tomorrow. Zimbabwe’s power situation is far more long term. I was recently sent an email circulated by the chairman of ZESA, Stuart Maasdorp. It is the first time that I have seen the issues facing the national power generating company clearly laid out. In short we are going to have major disruptions for at least the next 4 years and will just have to make a plan. In the meantime they have put power costs up some 40%. I have yet to see a statement to this effect, this was passed onto me by my landlord. That is not however an excuse not to pay into my account what I think I should be paying. The utility can still cut off the supply even though I have not seen the statement for the last 6 months! To get a clear picture of what I owe I will have to go into the ZESA office in town. Even then it is unlikely to be up to date and the meter is not read very often – they tend to rely on estimates.