Zimbabwe – must we be worse than Somalia to admit failure?
By Moses Chamboko
At the Beitbridge border post, what attracts your attention easily, in addition to visible corruption, filthy environments and faces of hopeless men, women and children, is the inscription on one of the walls “Vision – To provide world class immigration service”.
Even somebody who has no clue of what world class means, can easily tell that this inscription is certainly in the wrong place. They probably must replace the word “Vision” with “Dream”.
If a ten-year-old child asks “Dad, did anybody really sit down to plan this border?”, then you know something has gone terribly wrong in a country that was once dubbed the jewel of Africa by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. To exit the border, one has to part with all forms of illegal payments unless if you are prepared to spend several hours without crossing.
Clandestine agents milling around the border literally extort money from travellers under the pretext “I’m a Zimra agent. Mukoma, you need this and that paper before you can get a stamp from Zimra to allow you to cross the border”.
When you challenge what these payments are for, you quickly realise that there is actually an organised syndicate all the way from Zimra, Immigration and even CID officers. You make a statutory payment in American dollars, the officer looks at you, the clean dollars and begs you “Mukoma, can I please receipt you in South African Rands? Munenge mandibatsira”.
You simply oblige because it does not make any significant different to you. Your time is more important and the guy is not stealing anything from you but misrepresenting a legal transaction.
From counter to counter, you are dragged along by young boys whose scent tells you they haven’t had a bath for a very long time but they can make you jump the queue. Quickly, you realise these seemingly filthy boys are well-connected with immigration and customs officials. If you don’t co-operate, you will be on the queue forever.
When you think you are done, one of them approaches you and says “I’m a Zimra agent Mukoma. You need a CVG in order to get a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) for your foreign-registered vehicle”. “What is CVG and what’s the cost?”, you ask. “It is Commercial Vehicle Guarantee and it’s USD150”. You think he is joking.
When you approach the officer who processes TIPs, he tells you that you won’t get it unless you pay for CVG. You go to a Zimra officer and ask to make a payment, he points at the same filthy guy. When you make the payment, the Zimra official stamps a useless piece of paper with the header “ROBANT INVESTMENTS (PVT) LTD, Customs Clearing Freight & Logistics.
There is no official receipt issued by the officer behind the counter. On production of this paper, he stamps and gives you the TIP. Then you wonder; if this is a requirement, why is Zimra not collecting those payments directly and issue official receipts? You quickly realise you are back home!
Contrast this with Plumtree border post where officers look, act and behave professionally. The difference between services at the two borders makes you think Zimbabwe is made up of two different countries. The minister responsible for immigration is either terribly incompetent or he is complicit in the scandals that dog his ministry, particularly Beitbridge border post.
As a concerned Zimbabwean, I personally commented the senior officer at Plumtree border to and requested him to seriously consider replicating the same services at Beitbridge. He nodded his head in total agreement but, does he have the power?
Anybody, especially a tourist, who visits Zimbabwe and his first experience is with Beitbridge border, will NEVER return to Zimbabwe again, even if the holiday was free. That’s how bad things are.
Nevertheless, the police must be commended for showing some semblance of professionalism. Despite numerous road blocks on major highways, harassment of private motorists is now a thing of the past. You would wonder if the same minister responsible for immigration was the one also responsible for the police. What a dichotomy!
Driving around towns and cities, the sight is ugly, depressing and desperate. Potholes have become ditches and gullies. Traffic lights hardly work. If they do, drivers don’t even pay attention. They now use the horn more than anything else. Near misses are a daily occurrence.
If you thought driving in Bangkok or New Delhi was crazy, spend a day in Harare’s Samora or Julius Nyerere Avenue. Street vending has reached unprecedented levels. There are more people selling than buying. Villagisation of what used to be beautiful cities is now the norm.
Unemployment is over 90% despite misinformation to the contrary. Those who have given up on searching for employment because it’s simply not there, are not counted as unemployed. University graduates eking a living out of street vending are recorded as fully employed.
Taking a look at the sky, you realise there is no smoke in what used to be industrial hubs. Not because the nation has invented better ways of managing carbon, but the industries are just dead. Only Delta, Econet and a few others are working.
This means, as one Japanese writer observed, that people are now drinking and talking more at the expense of productivity. You then wonder; where does government get revenue when nobody is paying tax? You don’t need to be a Keynesian scholar to conclude that Chinamasa has one of the most difficult jobs on earth. Financing a government without revenue streams is not a joke.
You drive into Chitungwiza and listen to the ordinary people. Those who are lucky to get running water only do so once a week. From St Mary’s police station to Zengeza 1, a distance of hardly 5kms if not less, it now takes close to an hour unless you don’t care about your car.
When you hear that local government employees especially city fathers are now among the highest paid, you wonder what job they are paid for. The countryside, green and beautiful, is now more liveable than cities and towns.
In Masvingo, you walk into a local branch of Bata to buy two pairs of cheap running shoes for members of the extended family. One pair is priced at USD10 and the other at USD21. You hand over some new notes with an inviting scent to the cashier. He takes a look at you and becomes a bit friendly.
He takes another look at you and forces a smile. Then he processes the transaction on the cash register. You take the two pairs of shoes and walk away from the dirty shop with dusty floor. When you take a look at the receipt later, you realise the transaction has been processed as; Total of Sale = $10, Cash Tendered = $31, Change = $21.
In one transaction alone, the company has been swindled of more than 60% of the sale! When the company finally collapses, ZANU PF morons shout “It is sanctions”. Sanctions, my foot!
As the drama unfolds, you’re forced to reflect on your brief stop-over in Mauritius; a very tiny island whose economic backbone is sugar cane but doing extremely well. You wonder if Triangle and Hippo Valley put together could not be bigger than this prosperous island.
You then look at infrastructural development in Botswana which had only one traffic light not long ago. The country has moved miles, in the right direction. Driving on their roads, you would think you are in a first world country. South Africa is even better.
You scratch your head, look into the sky and ask “What wrong have Zimbabweans done to deserve this?” Who is responsible for this misery? You raise your head and there, in front of you, is a building with the symbol of a cockerel not far from what was called The Sheraton Hotel in Harare. Then you say to yourself “That’s the cradle of our misery!”
What Zimbabwe needs and needs badly is radical and transformational leadership. We must now come together under a new agenda and reclaim our dignity, freedom and humanity.
The status quo is simply untenable. The level of penury that epitomises ZANU PF’s gross mismanagement must not be allowed to continue forever. We don’t have to be worse than Somalia or Afghanistan in order to admit failure.