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Tuesday, September 1st, 2009 by Black Orchid

It’s August 31, 2009 at 5:19pm and I am … I’m enough! I’m enough! I am SO enough of this! Zvakwana.

Let me explain. This afternoon I had a coffee date with a dear friend. It was nice. It had been a while since we’d seen each other so it was lovely to do some catching up. Post-coffee, I wait along 2nd Street Extension hoping a combi will soon come by. It’s getting hotter every day and as you can imagine waiting for public transport is not user-friendly in this kind of weather. I see a combi approaching, hand stuck out of the window pointing toward the city centre, and a voice shouting, “City! Copacabana!” I obligingly gesture that I want a ride in the death-trap into downtown Harare. I’m in and we’re off. I’m trying to remain very salala with the ‘hwindi’ (conductor) yelling to other passengers in my ear while straddling the poor man to my left. The poor guy also has the unwelcome privilege of having the hwindi’s armpit not too far from his nose.

I hand the hwindi a lovely crisp portrait of George Washington. For those of you who are unfamiliar or are new to ‘rolling’ in a combi, let me break it down for you quickly. For one trip, e.g. Mount Pleasant to downtown Harare, it costs US$0.50 or ZAR5.00 or Z$3 trillion (I don’t know how many zeroes are involved in that one!). I am yet to board a combi that takes Euros or pounds. However, I will keep you posted on any developments in that area. Remember how I gave the hwindi a dollar-bill? Yes? That means that he owes me change of US$0.50 or ZAR5.00 or Z$3 trillion, right? There are a couple of other passengers who are waiting for their change, too. Then lo and behold what befalls my ears? That awful, awful refrain of “handina change vabereki” (I don’t have change).

We arrive at my final stop and there are four of us who are still waiting on our change. The hwindi calmly and unapologetically hands us two one-dollar-bills and tells us to figure out how to split the bills between ourselves, on our own. I try to explain to him that I am going in the opposite direction of the chick with whom I’d be partnered to split the dollar. She Chitungwiza and me, Greendale. The hwindi blank-stares me, shrugs his shoulders and tells the driver to drive off. There I am on Park Street, seething about what just happened but this doesn’t help because I am still without my money!! I know, I know it seems a tad overboard to react so intensely about FIFTY cents. But people, let me tell you something: when you use public transit frequently, fifty cents is a BIG deal. Trust me. See, it’s not just `combis that are stealing from people and short-changing them. Think about how many times you’ve gone to the store and they ask you to purchase a sweet, a razor-blade or a box of matches just so they don’t have to give you change. Or credit notes! Oh my freaking gosh! There are more credit notes than cash in my wallet at any given time. How long have we been using Obama bucks in this country – officially and unofficially? It’s been a while, correct? Then explain to me HOW and WHY no one ever has change for me… and you… and you…and you, too! It’s unacceptable.

Let me tell you something: I worked for that 73 cents, and NO, I don’t want a handful of Dandy bubble gums or a mini Lunch Bar or a packet of peanut-centered Tumbles! How do you know that I’m not allergic to peanuts?!  Huh? Or maybe I’m trying to lose weight and here you are TEMPTING me! Just give me my freaking 73 cents! Can I tell you the ultimate? I was at St Elmo’s on Saturday with a friend. Great conversation, great pizza and delicious chocolate brownie with ice-cream. Yummy. It’s time for the bill. We pay. We are owed change. Without missing a beat our server says, “I can write you a credit note.” Are you kidding me?!?! Seriously?!  St Elmo’s is a restaurant that has hundreds of people patronizing it daily and our server wants me to take a credit note?!?!  That’s ridiculous.

The whole “hatina change, credit note” song-and-dance is old. It’s unacceptable. It’s fueling resentment. It’s a 20 cents here, 68 cents there, ‘no-change-for-my-combi-fare’ reminder of how Zimbabweans are stolen from daily. Please stop the madness. Zvakwana. I’m enough now…

This is Black Orchid sounding off.  I’m out.

Zim Toll chakuti-chakutis

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Tuesday, August 25th, 2009 by Black Orchid

I went through my first toll-gate the other day, Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at around lunch hour. On my way back from Kadoma CMED/VID (yes, I am still working on acquiring my driver’s license).

On the way out of town I did not witness the Zim-toll-gate experience because I was sleeping. A car is the most soothing place for me to fall asleep. It doesn’t take much, just the hum of the engine and the consistent wave-like pothole-dodging and I’m off to Sleepyland.

On the way back to Harare I was wide awake and chatty. We drove past acres upon acres of farmland that just lay dry and unused. There were feigned attempts at productivity here and there but the reality of the situation was blaringly obvious. I must say our dear Gov Gono’s land seemed to be semi-teeming with activity. Way to go, Gideon. If only you’d been that good with the Zim-kwacha…okay, okay, not right now.

We’re happily traveling along at a user-friendly 50kmph and then off to the left of the road I see mini-tents. In the space of about 100meters, I see about 4 or 5 mini-tents. I distinctly recall seeing one that had a big white ‘T’ in a blue circle and then another that had 60 written in the middle of a circle. As I was trying to process the sudden influx of roadside mini-tents, I suddenly see people in the middle of the road. I figured these people were important and were on ‘official’ business because of their clipboards and white, wide-brimmed canvas hats. Look, I don’t know who decides on the ‘officials’ wardrobe in this country but she needs to be fired! Nothing says “I’m on official business and take me seriously,” like a white wide-brim hat, a fluorescent yellow vest with a dangling ID…oh yes, and the clipboard!

The car I’m in slows down. It suddenly dawns on me – this is a toll chakuti-chakuti! Our driver, Doug, starts to dig around in his pocket for a dollar bill. In case you’re not aware, there are different amounts to be paid depending on the size of your vehicle. Our vehicle fell into the US$1 category. I wished I was on a motorcycle coz those guys get to go through for free! Blessed are ye who travel on 2 wheels, for ye shall not have to pay the toll!

Now from where I was sitting – in the passenger seat directly behind the driver – I couldn’t tell who of the wide-brims was going to accept the US$1 from our car. The place was crawling with wide-brims! Then a young lady with a good accent came to Doug’s window. (I’m an accent snob so I notice these things). The young lady was a ZIMRA official. (I’m not sure what ZIMRA stands for but I feel like they are people that I’m supposed to hate). The official young lady began to scrawl officially on a page of a receipt book. She asked Doug for the car’s license plate number. He obliged. She officially scrawled it down, officially ripped the page out of the receipt book, officially handed the piece of paper to Doug, officially took the 1 dollar bill and slipped it into her official-looking brown Postman Pat bag.

And then we were off again. That was my first-hand experience at a Zimbo toll what-what.

Now, I have a question: why, pray tell, does a country that is SMALLER than the STATE of Texas need tollgates? Tollbooths? Tollroads? (Will somebody, please tell me the correct terminology!!) Seriously, I’d like to know. Oh yes, and were we actually consulted about the toll-thingies? Or was the whole thing dreamed up in another ‘how to drain Zimboes of their last pennies’ meeting? (Psst, oi! These are the same meetings where they decided the price of the license disc for your car. Oh, and the ‘car-radio’ license prices!) Where is the money going? To the ZIMRA officials who will stand out in the Sub-Saharan heat in the middle of ‘Aww-Hell-No”? Or is it going to purchase a new fleet of  vehicles for our government’s VIPs? Or will it actually go to maintaining the roadways? Have you been on the Bulawayo Road lately?!

What I witnessed at the toll-thingy on Tuesday was a perfect example of MINIMUM input for MAXIMUM exploitation! Little thought has been put into this – the long-term sustainability of the whole thing, its implications, the logistics. Seriously, how long will you have official-looking wide-brims handwriting EVERY SINGLE toll receipt? And security for the poor fools that have to do this at night? Need I mention that we have ZESA issues? And the elements? Mother Nature can be unforgiving.

Who comes up with these bright ideas? As long as ‘they’ can get money out of us for now, then it works for them doesn’t it? Never mind the mess that’ll need to be cleaned up in the future.

$152 000

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Tuesday, August 25th, 2009 by Black Orchid

I was watching CNN’s Hala Gorani on her show International Desk. I like that show. I have to be honest though that I have struggled with some of the fancy camera angles that the International Desk team throw at me… but aside from that I am cool with it. Thanks, Hala. Good work.

So anyway, where was I? Oh yes, watching International Desk last week on Wednesday night. MJ’s doctor, Dr Murray (I think) appears on the show with the tagline: I told the truth! The man is trying to clear his name amidst accusations that he had something to do with MJ’s death, blah, blah etc, etc. But what caught my attention and that of my father’s as we watched this news story was the fact that this doctor was going to be paid US$150 000 a month! For what, you ask? For the duration of MJ’s rehearsals and UK concert tour. I repeat US$150 000 a month!!!! So should the whole process have taken 5 months…yes, that’s it- he would have been paid $750 000! This is coming from ONE patient PER MONTH … I’ll let that settle in your mind for a bit before I continue…

Earlier on that same Wednesday, I’d learned that our MDC Harare mayor Mr Muchadeyi Masunda was given a new car that cost US$152 000, and an inauguration party. My reaction to Masunda’s car was that of disgust and disappointment rather than “Dang!” (“Dang!” is what I uttered when I learned that MJ’s doc was going to earn a year’s worth of college fees for a month’s work).

You see even if my reaction to Doc’s earnings would have been that of disgust, I could still argue that it’s America and they are crazy over there. Nothing they do makes sense, yet we love them anyway. I could argue that though the ole U.S of A is going thru an ‘economic downturn,’ at least the country’s not falling apart at the seams which is why they can afford to pay private physicians obscene amounts of money.

With Masunda? I got nothing! No justification, no support, no argument that would make a US$152 000 price tag on a car ok. I got nothing!

Instead, I find myself disgusted, angry and betrayed. …and then I feel stupid. See, when I voted I was convinced that members of the MDC were different. Not just different, but BETTER. What Obama was to Bush, I felt MDC-M was to ZANU-PF. MRT and his MDC were my Barack Obama…yet here I am disappointed and ashamed.

Doctors are striking, teachers are threatening to strike, corruption continues on its merry way throughout the country, while the people I voted for in the name of ‘hope’are getting new cars and feeding their stomachs. Can you not see that this is a slap in the faces of so many suffering Zimbabweans?

Remember 2 or 3 years ago when Uncle Gideon bought the Mercedes Brabus for US$365 000? Remember that? He kept cooking up new currency at our expense but he was (still is) living like a king?!? Remember that, Mr Masunda? When will you stop the madness? When will you care?

See with you it’s worse because you led so many of us to believe in you. We believed that we’d turned a corner and left the old ways behind and we were moving on. Moving onto healing, moving onto justice, moving into the future with a leadership that cares about its people rather than itself. Moving forward in hope.

You see, you can probably dismiss this and say, “Relax, it’s just a car.” But it’s much more than that. You’ve made a statement by accepting that car. You’ve shown your true colours and you’ve compromised the trust of those who put you in that position.

I’m sad. This can’t be the MDC that MRT fought for and almost lost his life for on countless occasions.