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 Grassy Knoll and other stories

18 08 2011

Zimbabwe is fertile ground for conspiracy theorists.

Earlier this week Solomon Majuru, a former commander of the Zimbabwe Army and Robert Mugabe’s commander-in-chief from the war years died in unusual circumstances. He was apparently burnt to death in a house fire at his farm near Beatrice south of Harare. Not unusual you might say. However, his wife is one of the vice-presidents (there are two, just to be sure) and he didn’t have much of a security detail and those who were with him at the time only noticed too late and couldn’t get near the fire because it was so hot. His body was burned “beyond recognition”. It was also common knowledge that he was not in good health. So, where was his nurse?  Why was the security detail, such as it was, not close by? Those on the street wonder if he was even alive when the fire started.

Some years ago, when I had a TV, I was watching the list of heroes scrolling down the screen on Heroes’ Day. This is a public holiday to honour those who fell in the war for independence against the Rhodesian forces. It is not a bad thing to be a National Hero – for your family that is. There are substantial financial benefits to be had in the form of juicy pensions. That aside, it was striking how many heroes had died in car accidents (in those days they listed the causes). It is well known of course just how bad Zimbabwe drivers are – one only has to venture onto the local roads to find that out. Indeed, Morgan Tsvangirai, our Prime Minister in the bizarrely acronymed GNU (Government of National Unity) found out to his cost just how bad the truck drivers can be. In a convoy of several vehicles one managed to hit his car (not the first in the convoy) while travelling in the opposite direction. His wife died in the accident. At the time it was widely believed that it was not an accident but it was never proven thus.

Then some years ago, Moven Mahachi, the then Minister of Defence was killed in a vehicle accident near Nyanga village. Now I saw the result of this accident some 30 minutes after it happened (I had no idea whose vehicle it was and it was a Landrover Discovery not a Range Rover as in Wikipedia) and I don’t think it could have been anything else. But, he died and the other 5 occupants walked away. And  he’d been critical of Those On High in a country not known for tolerating criticism. A one Border Gezi also died in a car accident shortly prior to this incident. A Party significant, he had a back tyre blow out and I know from experience how dangerous that is. I just slowed carefully down but Border Gezi was known for driving fast.

Our president, the Honorable Comrade Robert Mugabe, is old. In the press he is said to be 87 at least, though there are those who claim he is much younger and his advanced age is fudged a little to garner a bit of respect. Not surprisingly there is a power struggle in the ruling ZANU-PF party to find a successor to Robert. One of them was Solomon Mujuru, the other, Emmerson Mnangagwa – another Party heavyweight. In fact I’ve heard it said that NO-ONE got anything done at a high level without Mujuru’s approval – he was that powerful. Maybe a bit too powerful. He’d also been critical of the Highest – not wise in a country intolerant of criticism.

What IS clear is that the political landscape has suddenly changed – radically. Who will step up to fill the vacuum? Meanwhile flags are at half-mast as is befitting a true National Hero of the Liberation War (or second chimurenga as it is known locally). No doubt tears will be shed, both crocodillian and genuine and the guessing game will continue, because if there really were other shots fired from the Grassy Knoll at JFK then just about anything is possible. Isn’t it?