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.

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Insults and injury

19 05 2016

From today’s papers:

The injury. Whilst farmers evicted from Zimbabwe who have settled in Zambia have ensured that country has a surplus of maize around 500k tonnes, we are going hungry here.

The injury. Whilst farmers evicted from Zimbabwe who have settled in Zambia have ensured that country has a surplus of maize around 600k tonnes, we here are going hungry.

 

 

And the insult. Not only are bananas perishable but the gift also included yams which are not eaten here. And it was all imported from Equatorial Guinea just when we are restricting imports of, among other things, foodstuffs.

And the insult. Not only are bananas perishable but the gift also included yams which are not eaten here. And it was all imported from Equatorial Guinea just when we are restricting imports of, among other things, foodstuffs.

 





Return of the Zimbabwe dollar

6 05 2016

There was a demonstration against the rule of Robert Mugabe recently. That’s not news by most country’s standards but it most certainly is news here. It was small, about 2000 participants, but noisy and although the police originally refused permission the High Court granted permission. So what exactly is happening here? Is this the beginning of the end of the Mugabe regime?

I was in town for my French lesson with Shelton. He was late, comme d’habitude, as he has to rely on the notoriously erratic minibuses. While I was waiting a call came through from an unknown number.

“Hello, is that Mr Roberts?”

“Yes it is”.

“I am name given from  ZANU-PF Gomba District at your office. I am requesting a donation for Monday”.

“What’s happening on Monday?”

“It’s Independence Day”.

I’d genuinely forgotten this most sacred of Zimbabwean holidays. There aren’t a lot of reasons to remember it. After 36 years we have steadily regressed to the point where currency restrictions are being reimposed because our balance of trade is so heavily skewed towards imports that we are once again running out of money. No, we cannot just print some more as we did with the Zimbabwe dollar; we are now using the US dollar. We don’t even have a currency of our own. Well so I thought.

Shelton told me that for 3 days this week he’d been translating at a feminist conference in town. It wasn’t just feminists, the whole spectrum of LGBTIQ (I had to ask what the last 2 letters meant) were there and it was quite an experience for him. No holds barred; there were tears, shouting and bad language aplenty but as he said just that it happened at all was remarkable. It would have been unthinkable just a few years back. Progress perhaps?

Bond coins - not enough for this cup of coffee!

Bond coins – not enough for this cup of coffee!

Then today I was on the way to do some company shopping in the industrial sites when I saw the newspaper placards advertising that the Reserve Bank is introducing bond notes. Bond notes? Really? We already have bond coins that are useful only in Zimbabwe and are on parity with the US dollar which is our de facto currency, but bond notes? Is this the start of the return of the Zimbabwe dollar as was suspected when the coins were introduced? Those fears were unfounded – it was just a means to alleviate the chronic shortage of small change – but it only gained acceptance when the South African rand plunged in value. We’d been using the rand coins, which fortuitously were one tenth the value of the US dollar, but when the rand started to run the bond coins became acceptable. Rand paper money also became unacceptable and the US dollar now rules supreme representing 95% of the currency in circulation. I decided to see where the public opinion lay.

Newspaper vendors on Coventry Road in the industrial sites were my first target.

“Can I pay for your newspapers with bond notes?”

“Yes” (no, I can’t – they haven’t been released yet)

“The Zimbabwe dollar is back!”

Nervous giggles – clearly I was not going to get a response here.

I stopped at the Zimbabwe Fertilizer Company yard to buy some gypsum. Despite my best provocations the clerk who served me would not be drawn to any sort of opinion on the matter. I was more blunt with the labourers who loaded the fertilizer. They were so bored with the lack of business that even those not involved wandered over.

“Pamberi ne ZANU-PF” (forward with the ruling party) I shouted and gave a clenched fist salute. Laughter.

“Pamberi ne Zimbabwe dollar” elicited a similar response. Nobody showed much interest in a debate.

My campaign reached it’s finale at the accounting office where I had to sign my companies’ annual returns (to indicate they were still active). The clerk’s response to my provocation was simply; “Ah, but what can we do?”. Protest perhaps?

Getting onto the internet at home was instructive. A statement from the Reserve Bank governor was circulating that was instructive and entertaining. The bond notes are going to be issued in $20, $10 $5 and $2 denominations and will be equivalent to their US cousins. They will be backed by a bond (hence the name) of $200 million from the Africa Export-Import Bank though they will be released as necessary (the $50m that backed the release of the bond coins last year has not all been used). But why are we in this mess?

  • as the economy has declined our balance of trade deficit has ballooned. There is less money around to buy the cash we need. It’s going into importing goods.
  • the cash we need has dwindled because it has become a commodity in itself. People are hoarding it because they don’t trust the banking system that let them down so badly in the past. The Reserve Bank estimates that some $3b – $7b is circulating in the informal sector and never goes through banks.
  • the countries around us with more volatile currencies are eager to get hold of US dollars and are mopping it up any way they can.
  • the cash is being illegally exported. Who is responsible? In the words of a teller at a bank I deal with  – “The big men are stealing it all”. Also the Chinese. One was caught recently at Harare airport leaving with a large amount of cash.

So the elastoplast fix is multi-faceted. Heavy restrictions on imports especially luxury items. Raw materials, medicines and fuels are unrestricted. Paying for students overseas is restricted. Cash withdrawals are limited to $1000 per day. This should make paying wages for the big companies interesting. There are heavy restrictions on taking cash out the country but I saw nothing about using local Visa cards outside the country. Use of plastic money is going to be heavily encouraged and in some cases laughable; “To this end, every business in all geographical areas and sectors of the economy must have a point of sale per till machine or purchase point” in the words of the Reserve Bank governor. Really? That rural bottle store in the Honde Valley must get a POS machine?

So will it work? No, as I said earlier it’s not addressing the source of the problem – the gravely ill economy. Luxury goods will of course be available at a hugely inflated price (better stock up on wine now!) as those who can circumvent restrictions. Local producers will lack competition and hike prices. Cash is already being sold at a 10% markup and really, what will $200m do? Real $100 and $50 notes will be hoarded and smuggled even faster than before and the run on the banks that started some time ago will not stop as people fear the worst. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So is this the return of the Zimbabwe dollar? Whilst the Reserve Bank has stated it has no plans to reintroduce the Zimbabwe dollar I don’t know anyone who actually believes that – apart from maybe itself.

 

 





Double standards

15 11 2015

I usually only buy the newspaper when I need newsprint. It’s useful for mopping up excess oil after frying fish and Marianne had bought some calamari rings for Friday supper.

The Zimbabwe Independent is actually not a bad paper and insofar as I can tell gives a reasonably balanced opinion on the local political situation.

image

It’s no secret that the Zimbabwe Government is broke so I was more than a bit surprised to see that it had made a substantial bid for a majority shareholding in a local mobile phone company that was going to cost some US$40 million. A bit further down the page one can also read that a civil service audit report has recommended substantial reductions in the wage bill which gobbles some 80% of revenue.

Perhaps the government thinks spending $40 million that it doesn’t have is going to earn enough to avoid laying off large numbers of its supporters. This is unlikely given the appalling record of the government to do anything well except line the pockets of the faithful.

The 11th November came and went with little fanfare in the papers about remembering Armistice Day. In this part of the world it is also known as the anniversary of Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) that broke Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was known) away from British colonial rule. Most years it passes with little if any comment but this year was the 50th anniversary. I must admit I’d forgotten about this until I saw it in the social media.

The state controlled press in the form of The Herald newspaper wasted no time in reporting that “unrepentant Rhodies” in other parts of the world had been celebrating this anniversary (Rhodie is a derogatory term for ex-Rhodesians). One ZANU-PF (ruling party) spokesman, Cde Simon Khaya Moyo (Cde is the abbreviation for “comrade” that only the party faithful and state press use) went so far as to reiterate that “Zimbabwe will never be a colony again”. He was apparently referring to social media posts in Australia advertising celebrations for the 50th UDI anniversary. Quite why he felt threatened by people having a party half the world away is not made clear.

Why anyone would want to celebrate the UDI is beyond me too. I was nearly 6 at the time and almost certainly looking forward to what my parents promised to be my last birthday party in 6 days time. The UDI culminated in a bush war that took my father’s life and very nearly took mine. I most certainly don’t look back on Ian Smith with any fondness even if he was right that the Mugabe regime would ruin the country. He was most certainly wrong to declare UDI but I don’t lose any sleep over it; I have more important things to consider like my birthday in 2 days time and just making ends meet.





The law and the numbers

3 03 2014

“Chinamasa’s Job on the Line” blared the title page of the Financial Gazette, the weekly financial newspaper, on sale yesterday. Now the newspaper billboards in this country are as about as misleading as anywhere but the FinGaz or Pink Paper (the cover is printed on pink newsprint) is a little less sensationalistic than the rest of the competition and it does like to take itself a bit more seriously. So I bought a copy at the traffic lights (I made sure other vehicles could get past) and well, I needed some paper to start the braai (barbeque).

Patrick Chinamasa is the current Minister of Finance who has the unenviable job of finding enough money to keep the government running when it is obviously broke. Apparently President Mugabe had told him if he wasn’t up to the job he’d find someone else to do it.

Chinamasa’s background is not in finance. I’m not sure what history is but he certainly had an easier run in his former portfolio as the Justice Minister. Mind you, it’s easy to run a ministry like that when you control the police so you effectively ARE the law. Paradoxically the previous finance Minister was Tendai Biti who actually is a lawyer and did a good job with extremely limited resources.

The FinGaz also notes that Chinamasa came back empty-handed from a recent world tour to source finance for the beleaguered government. No real surprise this as apparently potential investors are concerned about the 51% law which requires all Zimbabwe companies to have a majority indigenous shareholder. Despite being born here I am not indigenous – all locally born blacks are considered indigenous as is anyone born after independence in 1980. Well, Comrade Chinamasa likely has an insurmountable problem ahead of him. The laws of economics (which is just a branch of mathematics) are inviolate unlike his previous ministry where the law was wide open to manipulation and interpretation. And even our good friends the Chinese don’t want to help out.





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?





The statuesque soap opera

31 08 2010

A soap opera is unfolding outside the Karigamombe Centre in central Harare. It seems the Ministry of Home Affairs has found it a suitable place to honour the late Joshua Nkomo who is sometimes known as the “Father of Zimbabwe” a title Bob would prefer for himself.

The grand irony, or insult, here is that “Karigamombe” means “The one who fells bulls” in shona (though “mombe” does not specify what type of bovine it is) and “Nkomo” in siNdebele (Nkomo’s home language) means “bull”. It was presumed the name of the building was to honour the defeat of Nkomo’s PF ZAPU party by ZANU-PF, the ruling party run by Robert Mugabe. Nkomo’s family has taken umbrage at this and the erection of the statue has stalled although the plinth is already there.

Did the aforesaid Ministry really miss the significance of all this? Will the Ministry of Home Affairs back down and what statue will be erected here instead? Wait for the next episode!