Zim trip update – final chapter

Posted on 26/07/2010

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New Media

I came across two new newspapers – H-Metro and NewsDay. I had been following the NewsDay updates for a while now via Twitter and other various newspapers. I heard about them both prior to this trip but I just hadn’t physically held them in my hands. On the first day of the working week I bought both of them from a newspaper vendor opposite the Parliament building in Harare. After paying for the two papers, the newspaper guy handed me this yellow coupon with the words NewsDay clearly written on it. NewsDay is priced at $0.50 and the coupon is the ‘change’ from my $1 payment so I could presumably buy my copy of the same paper the following day – clever newspaper people I say!  I asked around as I tried to gauge what people thought about these two newspapers. Essentially the H-Metro is a daily gossip tabloid owned by Zimpapers whereas the NewsDay is a Trevor Ncube creation (Trevor Ncube of The Independent, The Standard in Zimbabwe and Mail & Guardian in South Africa). NewsDay is currently the only daily independent newspaper in Zimbabwe. More will come onboard given the media licenses handed out earlier this year.

Gokwe

The only Friday I was home, I managed to drive to Gokwe. Along the way I drove through Chegutu, Kadoma and turned right after Kadoma into the road leading me to Gokwe. Bad move! The road wasn’t that great, in fact it was just terrible, pothole ridden but I managed to get there in the end albeit frustrated about the potential damage to the car. The previous weekend, I had driven to Murewa and Mutoko. On both occasions I enjoyed the drive, passing through various toll gates used to raise much needed revenue for the roads and their upkeep. I saw people actually repairing the roads on both days interestingly enough – no photos though. See! – We’re slowly rebuilding our country. Funnily enough, I read a tweet from a Bulawayo based friend of mine recently also confirming that roads are being repaired there too!

Essentially I had gone to Gokwe for an interview – yes that’s right an interview. You see Gokwe no longer a growth point is in fact a town. I have been reliably informed that to be considered a town; a magistrate’s court must be present. The town was a hive of activity when I arrived at lunch time that Friday. I could see several banks on the main street namely Agribank, Barclays, CBZ and POSB along with a plethora of other shops. So the interview – what was it for? Like any growing town, it requires constant investment. So the town council put an ad in the paper for investment opportunities. What investment opportunity you ask? The town council need investors to buy land in the centre city to build shops and service the growing community. Interesting wouldn’t you say? Most of my friends (the diasporan social circle that is) tend to think of Zimbabwean investment opportunities with particular reference to Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, and Mutare.Yet there are legitimate investment opportunities elsewhere – here is a classic example! There were easily 50 people who attended those interviews that day. Some came as far as Bulawayo and some were the local heavyweights.  After the discussions with the relevant authorities I drove back and now await their decision. I’m confident that things will work out. I noticed something interesting on my way out; construction of more classes for an existing school. I stopped and asked the locals a few questions while I bought some mbambayira (sweet potato) for Mum. Confirmation that the town is indeed growing and that new building projects are taking place in the high density areas. I asked about the area, the people and generally how the local economy sustains itself? – 2 things: farming and mining. I thanked the polite ladies I spoke to and off I went. I took another route this time (longer but definitely safer). I did however get caught up in late Friday traffic to Harare and I had a dinner to attend at 7:30pm – I was running late!

Rotary Dinner

This dinner was a Rotary dinner to introduce the new President for the start of another Rotary year. It was an excellent networking opportunity and a chance to hear and discuss with various people about one of my favourite subjects – Zimbabwe. Kumbirai Katsande – CEO of Nestle Zimbabwe, was the guest speaker that night. He spoke about the challenges businesses in Zimbabwe face as did most people I met during this entire trip. He also spoke about the opportunities and shared his thoughts on the business environment. He was however very optimistic and it left me thinking a great deal. If this man at his level in industry can see further than I can and is optimistic as he was, then surely the future must indeed be brighter than most around me can see? Overall it was a very well organised evening and I look forward to meeting more people like this group in the future.

Dr Fay Chung

I met Dr Fay Chung at a gathering we both had been invited to. Of course I just happened to be in the crowd and she was in fact the guest speaker. She spoke openly about the Zimbabwe now versus the Zimbabwe a year ago. She didn’t mince her words to the surprise of the audience and had some interesting stats about the current HIV rates, ARVs and other related social issues. Overall she said HIV is decreasing in Zim whilst access to ARVs is on the increase. She spoke as expected on education and she had some alarming stats and those stats left me saddened somewhat. Something must be done me thinks. We actually spoke afterwards, shook her hand and shared a joke – Ha she laughed at my joke! I have washed my hand since then just in case you were wondering. Seriously though, Dr Chung’s perspective on the current Zimbabwean situation was very informative. I must make a mental note to find her books soon. I tried Kingstons with no luck.

Over-politicised Zimbabwe

Everywhere I go and most Zimbabweans I come into contact with (in my opinion anyway) tend to politicise Zimbabwe to the point where most can’t even identify the positives anymore. I have often said that small business is what really drives economies. It’s the Mum and Dad companies i.e. the plumber, the butcher, the hair salon that I’m referring to here. I am frequently saddened by the general attitude of fellow Zimbabweans abroad. We politicise most things when most times there’s really no need to! Often we don’t have real facts either. I spoke to numerous senior managers and business owners most of that week I was home, and we discussed at great lengths what was going in their respective industries and companies. These guys are excited about the future albeit the challenges they face right now e.g. retrenchment laws, getting & maintaining strong management teams, potential issues with new empowerment laws and the subsequent effects of that. They also understand the challenges of coalition governments as do the Kenyans and yet projections in Kenya are approximately 7% economic growth this year WITH a difficult coalition government situation. I personally know some Kenyans living in Kenya who say that they don’t seem to worry about the political arena as long as economically things are moving forward. To quote my friend, ‘the politics will sort itself out eventually’. Business is what drives their economy like most places and this is what the Kenyans I spoke to believe as well. While some Zimbabweans sit around discussing who did what in which Zim government meeting this time, who went to who’s daughter’s wedding and why Mugabe and Tsvangirai travelled separately to the World Economic Forum in Dar es Salaam earlier this year, there are players on the ground who are discussing with their banks about more funding to renovate and/or expand their businesses. And ‘Yes Zimbabwean banks are lending’ albeit with extremely high interest rates but there are lending contrary to popular belief. The challenge now is for the business owners out there to model your businesses around that situation – true entrepreneurial skills come into play here. It is manageable, you only have to look at other sustainable businesses that have borrowed large sums of money and are paying it back somehow. Something is clearly working there for them. My free advice is to find out what it is.

I believe that the time has come for us to put our political differences aside and focus on the future of our beloved country. There is, as always in any situation a minority who haven’t let go of this ‘over politicised’ mentality yet the majority will all agree that a healthy Zimbabwean population requires a healthy Zimbabwean economy. I am only too aware of the past hurt which hinders progress in this area. There is sufficient evidence out there to illustrate this. This unfortunately is not my area of expertise however I also know that healing and reconciliation are required for us all to remove this pain and anguish which I fear heightens this sense of an over politicised Zimbabwe.

Final thoughts

I still didn’t get to see all the people I wanted to meet especially my Twitter Family. That was probably the hardest bit to deal with. I was very fortunate to meet and network with some people despite the hectic schedule that lay before me. But I also know that I will meet and see these people soon. I have already started counting the months, weeks and days. There is much work to be done in that beloved country of ours. The number of people going back home (for various reasons) is increasing and that’s very encouraging especially for parents. I can only imagine. They send their kids to school and some have been away for 10 odd years. That’s 10 years of missing birthdays and other such important dates. I smile from within when I hear stories of families united again after long periods such as this. Going home also reminded me of my position in my own family. Living out here, one can easily forget such things and the responsibilities that our role as children carries in our society. In conclusion, I can honestly say that I believe in the future of Zimbabwe and the last few years have shown us that irrespective of what happens, we will survive but more importantly we will always make a plan.

God bless Zimbabwe!

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