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.

Where has October gone?

15 10 2011

October in Zimbabwe is usually known as “Suicide Month” for the oppressive, unrelenting heat. Harare being relatively high at around 1400m – 1500m is tolerable with temperatures in the mid to upper 30s. This year it has not come even close to 30 degrees. Some days have only just got into the 20s and nights have fallen well below that.

Last night a friend who’d recently returned from the UK commented that he’d never thought he’d see the day when he would say that the UK in October was warmer than Zimbabwe in October. Is this climate change as predicted? It is probably too early to say but if this is the more extreme weather that the experts are saying we should expect, we can only wonder what is down the line.