Dollars And Nonsense. A Zimbabwean Tragic-Comedy

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On 01 January 2008 I was arrested in Bulawayo after an undercover policeman bought a beer with R20,00 in a shop I owned yet we did not have a license to sell our wares in foreign currency. The police also found US$120,00 in the till which they took as evidence. I was released the same morning and in about September that year went to court where I pleaded guilty alongside my manager and we were each fined US$200,00. The court called the fine a deterrent. Less than four months later, Zimbabwe legalized the use of multiple foreign currencies making the license requirement redundant. Such is the unpredictable nature of the Zimbabwean economy.

By 2010 and we were predominantly using the USD as our currency of choice in Zimbabwe. However, deflation hit heavily after an initial appreciation slowing down the local economy, this was not helped by a sustained depreciation of regional currencies against the USD, particularly the South African Rand, currency of Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner. In 2015 the government officially demonetized the Zimbabwe dollar, something the economy had already long done. As the USD appreciated much was been made of how Zimbabwe’s exports had become less competitive and local production was dying as imports become increasingly cheaper. This led to the introduction of the import ban that wasn’t really a ban but, according to government, just restrictions in the form of SI64 in 2016. At the same time some analysts even went as far as to say the USD was ruining Zimbabwe’s chances of recovery and pointed to the  China’s Renminbi being recognized by the IMF as a main world currency as reason for Zimbabwe to officially adopt the currency of our erstwhile friend.

Whilst this didn’t quite transpire, flawed arguments against the USD led to the introduction of bond notes in 2016, the currency that’s not really a currency but should be accepted as a currency on par with the US Dollar which is still a real currency, according to the Reserve Bank. This has done little to alleviate cash shortages and the plethora of economic problems that Zimbabwe faces. These problems have, in many cases, worsened due almost completely to policy flip-flopping by the government in general and the Reserve Bank in particular, who at times, have been nothing short of dishonest. A case in point is the actual introduction of bond notes which saw legal challenges and duplicitous statements from none other than the Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya. Mangudya has also consistently ignored government profligacy’s contribution to the downward economic spiral blaming everything from Visa and MasterCard transactions to blaming payment of DStv subscriptions as a form of externalization.

Zimbabwe has also seen a spate of new and increased taxes in the last three years as government tries to mop  up any hard currency out there to feed it’s insatiable appetite for ultimately fruitless expenditure, including the rather dubious 5% Health Levy now charged on airtime and mobile data. Wether this money will benefit the supposed beneficiaries is anybody’s guess.

As we hurtle towards elections in 2018 Zimbabwe’s biggest problem remains what it has been for decades, an untrustworthy government that chops and changes economic policy to suit ruling party politics on a whim. Unfortunately with the opposition in disarray with no clear economic blueprint either, some have said the only real hope is a reformed ZANU PF. As some cry and others laugh out of a need for comic relief, one can only wonder in dread what the future holds for southern Africa’s former bread basket.

Self-care When Far From Home In A Time Of Strife

Last Sunday I made a list of people I have not spoken to in a while. Some of them are people who have been there for me at my lowest others recognized what I was trying to achieve creatively and inspired me when no one else did. They are not blood relatives but have at those times when I needed them, been just as important or even more so. One thing they have in common is they are all in Zimbabwe and living through this crazy time that I am seeing mostly via social media. I left Zimbabwe and settled in South Africa a few years ago seeking a new start and to make a better life for my family.

 

With my friends we went through what we thought was the worst of Zimbabwe in between 2003 and 2008. By the beginning of 2009 we were broke after being wiped out by an unforgiving economy and really wanted to believe that it was over, that we had another chance at a normal life in Zimbabwe like in other developing countries. We all know now this did not happen.

 

Zimbabwe today is going through, as the kids say, the most! My home country is seeing untold upheaval as people from all walks of life increasingly speak out their frustrations at how the government has failed them. The government is finding it increasingly difficult to control a restless population with propaganda and intimidation.

 

For many like me who spend much of our time and get most of our information on the situation from social media, it is easy to slip into an almost constant crisis mode. We can forget that life must go on, that people need to unplug from the outrage to make a living, catch a game, a drink or a moment with friends, take the kids to school or even just change the TV channel. We can forget that before anything else, we are people and as such, seek out emotional support from each other. This is why I made the list on Sunday morning.

 

There were six names on the list, two of them literally saved my life but I had not contacted in over six months. Another has inspired me as she has built a new life for her family after a major personal crisis that would likely have broken just about anybody else. Another I met on social media, he is building a business that’s gained him a lot of attention, some of which I am sure he could do without. He is also a father to a young child and a husband much like me.

 

I asked them how they were, I asked about their families, we gossiped about our spouses and shared stories about how we are secretly terrified of our kids. We did not talk about the politics or the economics. We did not talk of the corruption or the violence. We did not talk of the propaganda or the protests. We laughed together at how we had disappeared on each other but were grateful we could pick up where we left off and promised to stay in better contact going forward. We just reconnected, as people, the next day we went back to adulting as normal.

 

A random call or message from the right person when all life seems chaotic can be incredibly empowering, even if it’s just to talk about absolutely nothing to do with your challenges. Zimbabwe can depress you wether you’re there or far from home. Worrying about what role you can and should play in this fast developing situation can keep you up nights and the self-doubt can have you retreating from engaging with others. Sometimes you feel like you are just fighting air because you don’t know if the little you are doing is even making a difference. That is when you know you need to unplug from the situation, even for a little while.

 

Pick up the phone and call a friend you have not spoken to for a while. Cook a meal and share it with somebody. Go for a long walk around your neighborhood and strike up a conversation with a neighbor. Go on that date you keep postponing because you just need to get those tweets out. Do something good for somebody in your community who totally didn’t expect it and don’t tell anyone.

 

Simply reconnect with people near or far, they will give you life.

 

 

 

We Don’t Need Another Hero.

it’s been a phenomenal two weeks in the country of my birth, Zimbabwe. The events of the last fourteen days across the country have caught everyone unawares. From the initial demonstrations at Beitbridge border post on June 20th when SI 64 was first implemented to the burning of the customs warehouse and closure of the Zimbabwe and South Africa border for the first time in over a century, media and government were at a loss to explain what had changed in the mood of the country. Little did they know more was to come.

Hardly two days after relative order was restored at Beitbridge, Monday saw running battles between police and Kombi drivers across parts of Harare as the latter went on strike in protest against traffic police corruption. Police deployed their standard tactics only to be met by an emboldened resistance that saw reports of them being beaten back by enraged protestors. As the day went on pictures emerged of excessive police force along with increasingly violent resistance.

In response to the burning of the Beitbridge customs warehouse, Minister of State Security Kembo Mohadi, who is from Beitbridge, exclaimed:

“We are very much disturbed. Why should the South African businesspeople try to influence our policy formulation? They have their own laws and we don’t meddle. It is sad that they chose to mobilise our people against the Government. The burning of tyres during demonstrations is foreign to us and we suspect a third hand is involved in the chaos that rocked Beitbridge town on Friday,” 

Mohadi also blamed the police for being unprepared leading to the army having to be called in. The police, for their part, have been consistent in  cracking down viciously at any sign of protest but have at times appeared at a loss when confronted by protestors who are not scared of them anymore. Instead, they have now started to look for the ringleaders of these protests, another old policing tactic.

Now whilst the police and government try to get control of the situation the media have been excitedly keeping the world informed and as is their nature, trying to find that unique angle to differentiate their coverage from that of the competition. The irony is, many are as confused about this new wave of resistance as the state, and like the state, have resorted to classic theories to explain what is going on. In this effort, they have identified an ideal leader who fits the desired profile in a Harare pastor, Evan Mawarire.

Mawarire has risen to prominence over the last few months after a series of Facebook videos of him venting his frustration at the state of the country resonated with fellow Zimbabweans inspiring others to share their stories of frustration. His use of social media to galvanise people has been nothing short of phenomenal and he has attracted other equally talented and frustrated Zimbabweans to his cause under what has come to be known as the #ThisFlag citizens movement. Collectively they called for a stay-away on Wednesday 06 July which saw the country come to a virtual standstill and protestors in running battles with the police in Harare and Bulawayo. Following on this they have published a list of demands and are threatening a second stay-away next week.

#ThisFlag is now the ideal one-stop-shop for publishers looking for a ready-made media package for anyone wanting to know what’s going on in Zimbabwe today and its all here on social media, or so some local and international media would have us believe. It is at this point that I become wary. The last week has seen all sorts of people claiming credit or being assigned blame for what has in reality been a collective effort who’s time has come. The MDC-T’s Obert Gutu was quick off the mark after Wednesday’s stay-away to claim that this was only possible because of them, an act that was roundly condemned across social, digital and print media.

Now that the dust has settled, the state and media alike, are looking for ringleaders of the protests, albeit for different reasons. The state so they can put an end to the protests, the media so they can find new heroes and villains to replace the tired characters of the seemingly eternal Zimbabwean political soap opera. Why shouldn’t they? This formula has worked marvellously for both of them in the past. Only problem is, this time around what’s happening in Zimbabwe does not fit this mould. This is popular resistance against a political system that has failed Zimbabweans for too long and now seeks to starve them. I don’t know where started but it certainly was not on social media and it certainly was not on July 01, Zimbabweans have been frustrated a damn long time and have been using various means to just get by in spite of a state that has continued to make life harder for them.

Recent moves by the state, notably the introduction of bond notes and S I 64 have been the most brazen of a number of unpopular moves going back as far as 2000 or even 1980, depending on who you speak to. All these own goals have seen Zimbabweans from all walks of life saying they have had enough, from advocates to vendors to taxi-drivers to pastors to journalists to students. Every Zimbabwean who is not benefiting directly from the patronage system that is our government today has had enough and are finding means of expression, no matter where they are. In Bulawayo youths who I saw growing up were arrested for demanding Mugabe must go on Wednesday, they are out on $40 bail each. A few weeks ago a woman wrote of how she lost her child to an inept health care system. Two people who have been creating platforms for Zimbabweans to communicate with and develop each other tweeted about how they were interviewed by the police about their activities in the same week. People are sharing their dissatisfaction with the state and they all need to be heard, to position some as heroes this early in the night is to set us all up for failure. We are all important and we all deserve support.

The world wants to tell us social media has become a new frontier in the battle for a normal life in Zimbabwe and in response the state has threatened to control social media, even allegedly disrupting the internet during Wednesday’s stay-away. Barring social media or the internet entirely will not put food in peoples’ bellies or bring back lost children. It won’t restore the tens of thousands of jobs lost annually, let alone the millions ZANU promised during the 2013 elections. Employees are only as loyal as their last paycheque and in Zimbabwe regular paycheques have become increasingly rare. As the state & media look for heroes and villains a country demands a return to normalcy so they don’t have to ever again read in a WhatsApp message about a relative dying in a hospital because there was no water.

We don’t need another hero in Zimbabwe, our history is riddled with them and since 1980 their legacies have been used to control and cajole us. We need all our stories to be told and a responsible government that values the life of every citizen.

Please, Hold The Applause, It’s Father’s Day Every Day

Absent, active, dead-beat, superhero, occasional, abusive, caring, invisible, cold, warm. All are adjectives I’ve read used to describe different types of fathers, sometimes the same father at different times. I am a father to an amazing little girl who has completely turned my life and that of her mother’s around. I’ve been a father to this girl from the moment we found out my wife was pregnant. I’ve been a father throughout my wife’s pregnancy and I was a father the moment the doctor passed our daughter into my hands for a brief moment before they took her to the neonatal ward where she would stay for nearly a month.

I’ve been a father through every sleepless moment of wonder and fear in our daughter’s life. I have been a father still when I’ve stood up to anybody who got in my way because my life is not my own, it’s my family’s and always putting them first is what it means to be a father to me. These are some of the lessons my father taught me and I will pass them on to our daughter. My wife comes from a similar upbringing and I am lucky to be a co-parent with somebody who agrees on what’s best when it comes to our family.

We were both raised by loving, present parents who are still alive today and play a big role in our lives. We married and had a child relatively late and I believe this has been a blessing all on it’s own. We both had full lives in our twenties and thirties, when we met we were ready to settle down so it wasn’t long before we decided to get married and before we knew it, we were having a baby. I think it’s because we don’t have the distraction of trying to enjoy our youth that we are so totally committed to our daughter. It is also for this reason that I feel awkward when people comment about my daughter and I when we are out with or without her mom.

My wife is told she is lucky to have an involved father for our daughter, lucky? I get congratulated for sharing household chores & looks of approval for knowing how to change a nappy or playing with her on the jungle gym, I don’t get it. If I don’t do these things, if I am not there for my family then who is? Is this not how raising a family is supposed be? It bothers me that we get treated like the exception, what is wrong with our society that being an active and present parent is now seen as out of the ordinary? My wife and I made similar choices early on, despite pressure from family and friends  we separately made a conscious choice to live our lives the way we wanted and only have children with somebody we believed shared our ideals. I am grateful we found each other.

To me, Father’s Day is a chance to remember some of the lessons I learned from my father and other male role models growing up. Some have passed on and others I have lost contact with but all have contributed to the person, the father, I am today. My wife let’s me know I’m appreciated as a husband and father constantly and I do my best to reciprocate. Our daughter, in her own ways, let’s us know we are appreciated daily and we love her even more for that. So as you go about Father’s Day and every other day, think about what you want to be the norm in your home.

This Is A Man’s (abusive) World

It started like any ordinary day, I never would have guessed it would end with me questioning all I have come to know about what it means to be a man in this world.

It started with a video that showed the Vice Chancellor of Rhodes University, Dr. Sizwe Mabizela, shoving a protesting female student. He apologised shortly afterwards and when later that day he was challenged on this by a caller into a radio interview added, “. . .we are all human and in the heat of the moment with frustration, things do happen”. Later in the day Cell C CEO Jose Dos Santos referred to women in general and those working at Cell C in particular, as having “a bitch switch”. On Cell C hiring Miss South Africa finalists as interns Dos Santos went on to say “You know what that does to a company? The men dress better, they shave every morning”. The in-studio panel were unfazed and joined him in laughing at these blatantly sexist comments, I can only assume, in agreement. It is notable that one of the panelists, when asked for a comment afterwards said, “The mindset of the person at the top does have a dramatic effect”. Later in the day, women at Rhodes University had a naked protest to show their frustration at the tepid response of the administration to their demands for urgent action against rape culture on the campus. On twitter this was met with much ridicule and disgust from men of all ages, it was at that point that I stopped and asked myself, what the hell is going on?

These seemingly isolated incidents are part of a broader pattern of abuse by men of women that plays out across the planet daily but I will focus on South Africa because this is where I live. From crude jokes, to insults, to physical violence, this is happening all the time and we all know it. On that particular day it really hit home for me that there is a problem with all men in this country, regardless of age, race, social standing or education, we all share the problem of abuse. Regardless of wether we are perpetrators or silent witnesses to this violence, we as men are all responsible. We don’t get to say “not all men” because it is all men who are ultimately responsible for creating the society in which it is not unusual to hear the term rape culture, where just about everybody knows somebody who has been sexually assaulted or raped and this is no exaggeration.

As men we are responsible for the normalisation of violence in our societies because more often than not, it is men who are the perpetrators and defenders. It is men who, out of a misplaced sense of loyalty lead the defence of alleged perpetrators on social media simply because a guy must always be given a chance. It is men who push the perception that women can’t be trusted and will do anything to bring a guy down. It is men who, after it is beyond doubt a woman has been assaulted, will seek to identify what role she played in her own assault. It is men who dictate to women the consequences of overstepping moral boundaries that only seem to apply to women as crafted by the same men. It is men who claim ownership over women’s bodies then through this false claim feel entitled to treat women as they deem fit whilst simultaneously feigning ignorance when women reject this sense of ownership. It is men who are silent whilst this happens all around them only reacting when challenged by women or a woman close to them is a victim of this culture they have inadvertently fostered with their silence. Here’s the thing, you can’t say or do abusive things then when the people you have affected call you an abuser you say they are wrong. This is wrong and needs to change.

This change cannot come from women because, no matter how many naked protests they have or men they name, it is the responsibility of men to stop giving each other a pass and reeducate each other on, first, mutual respect. One of the first lessons we learn from birth is respect, it is not a gendered lesson, it is respect for all but somewhere along the line we start to be selective about who we afford respect. Much of this selectivity comes from mimicking the older people around us. We internalise this selectivity and soon, we too are influencing others to do the same. I have written before about how saying boys will be boys only serves to entrench a sense of entitlement in men from an early age. It is therefore a lie when any man claims not to know what women are on about when they demand that men respect them in general and their bodies in particular. It is a lie when men rise in defence of a rape accused who they don’t know and try to play Devil’s advocate because, well, “you know how these women are”. It is really because we know how men are and we just don’t want to deal, we have evolved into masters of rationalisation, we routinely justify the most heinous of acts and do anything so we never have to deal with our collective conscience.

I don’t know what it will take to get men to change or when, but I highly doubt it will be after some great leader somewhere says something. I am far from perfect but I do know the difference between right and wrong. Whilst I may not have always practiced it, I also know to respect other human beings as do we all. What I saw this week and every other day is not right and it is high time men started having this conversation amongst ourselves. If each of us were to start talking with the man next to us that would be a start.

 

Why We Need To Stop Saying “South Africa Will Be Another Zimbabwe”

Yesterday I listened to a podcast of a talk-show hosted by one of my favorite radio presenters, the topic was, Is South Africa on the brink of Zimbabwe’s fate?. Newspaper publisher Trevor Ncube and another guest were in studio talking about a warning Ncube had tweeted about how South Africans risked becoming like Zimbabwe. Now this warning is not uncommon, in fact, it has become more commonplace with every passing economic and political scandal in South Africa, no need to mention them here.

With every person who repeats it this theory has gained traction, become increasingly easier to swallow so much that I too, have said a thing or two in this regard. However, after some reflection, I realize I have been wrong. South Africa is not on the road to becoming another Zimbabwe and never will be.

 

I realized I too, had fallen victim to easy comparisons and the expectation of African failure because, well, this is Africa and that’s what Africans do right? Our continental post-independence history does not do us any favors, from Ghana to South Sudan there are just too many stories of failed or failing states. It becomes easy to believe there is a template for African failure and resign one’s self to the “fact” that at least we’re not as bad as (insert name of appropriately failing African state here). This illusion allows us a false cushion from our reality, even today, with things as bad as they are in Zimbabwe you will frequently find somebody saying “at least we’re not as bad as . . . . . “.

 

Now in South Africa, Zimbabwe has become the ultimate bogeyman. From that scary story told to by business to the media so they keep an eye on government and not them, to a shrill cry on talk radio from sunrise to sunset and beyond. I believe this is wrong and incredibly misleading. South Africa is a unique country with a history and economy like no other, she should only be measured against herself. An often trotted out line when government talks about how great things are in South Africa is “before 1994. . . .”, it is now 22 years after that and 26 since the country set on the path to majority rule. South Africa should be measuring herself against the goals set since 1994 and what has been achieved since. Measuring South Africa against Nigeria or Zimbabwe is a cheap cop-out when the post-1994 data is there for all to use. It is always curious to me when people don’t pay more attention to this.

 

It is also easy to berate South Africa for not having achieved economic freedom for all after 22 years of independence but that is unfair considering what a mammoth task that is, despite successive governments’ promises. A man I admire recently gave this analogy:

 

If the white economy was a cup of boiling water and the rest of the population a lake of cold water, pouring the cup into the lake will not change the temperature of the lake.

 

He was speaking to the redistributive practices of every developing state, post independence, it is not just an African problem. In South Africa, things started out a little differently. The first 20 years of democracy saw the economy grow by over 60%, a phenomenal achievement, however, the demands of the population reliant on this economy grew by far more, now please allow me some statistical latitude. Prior to 1994 10% of the population controlled and benefitted from virtually the country’s entire means of production. Post 1994 an economy which had been designed to benefit some 5 million odd now had to sustain almost 40 million. What is really scary is, this is pretty standard for post-colonial independence and comes with a hefty social development debt from international financiers that, more often than not, can never be paid off.

South Africa did a remarkable job of growing the economy under this incredible pressure and for the most part, citizens were accepting of the challenge before them, “Mandela Magic” some called it. Fast forward to 1998 and then deputy President Thabo Mbeki’s famous two countries speech, suddenly it was out in the open that despite government and the majority population’s efforts, South Africa had entrenched economic structural problems characterised by jobless growth and growing inequality that were not just going to be swept away by post-94 euphoria. Considering all this, how does one even start to bring Zimbabwe into the picture?

 

The increased service delivery protests since and more recently nationwide unrest across tertiary institutions are testament to the growing impatience of citizens who have grown tired of waiting for their elected government to deliver. The protestors have it right, they know South Africa is not another Zimbabwe and are calling on those responsible to account. The protestors know to measure South Africa against what was promised and what was delivered. South Africa is a country gifted a bounty that is more than adequate to sustain her citizens and a majority citizenry willing to do the hard work to make this happen. Problems arise when those who have benefitted from historically skewed resource allocation want to maintain their status at the expense of those who are just trying to get ahead in life. Try telling them “at least you’re better off than Zimbabwe” and let’s see what happens.

 

Confessions Of A Late Bloomer. How I found wellness at 40.

As some you get deep into your Christmas indulgence, let me tell you what happened to me this year. In January I wrote here about how traumatized I was after visiting the doctor and coming to terms with the fact that I was overweight.

It’s now the end of the year, a few weeks after my fortieth birthday and I am in the best health of my life. My training story is probably not unusual so I won’t bore you with details but it has it’s own quirky milestones. I joined a gym in February after moving house but only started going in March because, procrastination. I hadn’t been in a gym in so long I didn’t recognize most of the machines they had on the floor. The last time I was in a gym mobile phones had five lines of text and polyphonic ringtones were a thing. I decided to get a trainer before I hurt myself, enter Monika Human.

After my initial assessment we set out a training schedule and I chose to train at 05:00 because I’d be up anyway and I thought it would be a great way to start the day. The first morning was a disaster. I didn’t eat before training and halfway through I didn’t know if I wanted to pass out, throw up or crap my pants. I   ended up on the floor of a toilet cubicle watching my life flash by and waiting for Satan to take me. He didn’t and I made it back to training the next day and weeks after that. My twin goals were to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle so I can keep up with our daughter as she grows up. If you’re going to work with a personal trainer, find someone who you can relate to. Training is something deeply personal, you want somebody who is going to understand and motivate you when you’re at your most vulnerable. Monika has been that person for me and after four months I started training on my own. I was travelling for much of this year and this is likely the reason I didn’t progress as quickly as I would have liked.

I always knew that being healthy starts with eating healthy but I had been eating whatever I want for so long I didn’t realize the mental shift it would involve to make healthy eating a part of my life again. Monika designed an eating plan for me that I really had trouble following in the beginning with family and travel. The trick at home was to get everyone else eating healthy so I wouldn’t have to make separate meals for myself.  On the road was a different story. On my last trip I spent two months away from home and picked up some weight, don’t ask me how much because I couldn’t bring myself to step on a scale. I knew then something had to change, it was early October, I vowed that by December 31 2015 I would have hit my goal weight and fitness level.

I have experienced tremendous personal growth over the last ten weeks or so both physical and mental. Two weeks ago I surpassed my goal weight and whilst at the time I felt such a sense of accomplishment, it’s gotten better as I continue to lose body fat and get even healthier than I could have dared imagine just a year ago. Another thing I did the last year was interact with other people who are also on a wellness journey, two of them have been great motivators. One ran the Paris Marathon earlier this year and the other is currently training for a half Iron Man next year after having summitted Mount Kilimanjaro a few months ago.

I don’t know how I am going to test myself next year but the priority now is to at least maintain the goals I have achieved. Anything more is a bonus because being healthier at forty than I was in my twenties is a gift to a late-bloomer like me.