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”.

 





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.