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”.

 





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…





Graceless

6 01 2010

There is an L shaped piece of land between me and my next door neighbours. It is about 40ha and is good ground. Last year Grace Mugabe farmed it with soy beans (well she got somebody else to do it but I did see her “inspecting” on occasion). They were late getting the crop sown and it was riddled with weeds so I guess the yield was not great. The year before that some white commercial farmers managed to lease it and did a good job with their soy crop. It was spotless and they did well out of it – I asked one of them, facetiously, if they’d used Roundup Ready soy seed. He took me seriously and said no, but they were looking into using it. Roundup Ready soy beans are genetically modified to take a spray of Roundup (glyphosate) which is a herbicide that normally will kill everything. GM crops are banned in Zimbabwe for no good reason that I can think of but then logic IS in short supply around here.

This year Grace’s lot are again back and again they are late. For some time a very large, new, tractor was parked behind my work with an equally large cultivator behind it. It did eventually do some cultivating and then stood again before being removed, probably because the land was too wet. Last week I saw herbicide being sprayed on the cultivated land then a rather old tracked tractor appeared with a much smaller cultivator. It has been parked in the same spot for the last 3 days and now the rain has arrived so it cannot do any cultivating. Not a great start but it’s probably not her money anyway.

After the first crop of soy beans were harvested the locals moved in en masse to pick up the beans that had been dropped. They were there for most of the year – times must have been tough (it was the time of the Zimbabwe dollar fiasco). This year I noticed that at least a quarter of the field already had a substantial crop of self sown plants and I don’t recall anyone picking up the fallen beans. I guess times must have improved!