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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Cathy's latest newsletter from Zimbabwe

Cathy Buckle is again writing from Zimbabwe, her letter is below.

Dear Family and Friends,
Africa Day dawned fine and clear in Zimbabwe. There was neither water nor electricity and it was a crisp, cold morning. For some this was a public holiday destined not to be spent in the sun or garden or relaxing with a book. This was to be a public holiday spent in a queue at the post office trying to do motor vehicle licensing. Arriving at the Post Office at seven thirty in the morning there were already five people in front of me and it wasn’t long before there were another five behind me.

When you queue in Zimbabwe it is customary not only to see how many are in front of you but to make sure people agree with your position in the line so that the inevitable queue jumpers don’t get a chance to push in. Everyone in the Africa Day queue had a weary look on their face. We had all been in this same place trying to undertake this same task more than a few times in the last couple of weeks. It was my fourth attempt and this time I was determined to succeed.

In order to reduce the number of illegal vehicles and forged licence discs on our roads, authorities have come up with a whole new licensing system. It is laborious and time consuming to say the least.

An official A4 size form has to be obtained, filled in and signed for each vehicle. Original documents and photocopies of every log book and insurance document have to be provided and then comes the hard part: you get in line at the post office. Unbelievably this massive national task is not to be staggered over weeks or months but has to be completed in a fortnight: bring on the national migraine headache.
In my home town, where the Post Office recently had to vacate the thirty year old Post Office building and are now situated in the old rugby club bar of the Country Club, everyone was braced for a hard, hard slog to get the new licence discs. Post Office officials had only been able to get everything that was needed for the process to commence by the 18th May, eight and a half working days before the deadline and national expiry of all vehicle licence discs. Before then there was one problem after another: they didn’t have the forms, didn’t have the computer or staff had not been trained on the processes and requirements. Worse still, if you happened to be in the queue when there was a power cut, your forms could not be processed or you new disc printed.

Within minutes a uniquely Zimbabwean camaraderie got underway outside the relocated post office in my home town on Africa Day. First there was comparing of notes, have you got the right forms, the right photocopies, the correct paperwork. A couple of people asked that their places in the line be protected while they raced off to get whatever documents they didn’t have. Then came the grumbling about the bureaucracy of this new process, the ridiculously short time frame given, the one and only counter operating and able to process your documents. People continually consulted watches and woked out that it was taking ten minutes to complete one form.

Then the calculations began: ten minutes per form being done by only one member of staff, they were only going to able to do forty eight vehicles a day in this, the one and only post office in the whole town. More calculations started, someone suggested there were ten thousand cars, buses, trucks and trailers in the town; that meant it was going to take 208 working days for the residents of our town to comply with the new government regulation, a regulation whose deadline is on the 1st June 2012. A regulation we have already been told will incur instant spot fines if we are not displaying the correct disc by the due date.

The topics diverted to the lack of electricity, water, street lights; the appalling municipal services; widespread corruption in government departments and so it went on and on as we crawled our forward to the front of the queue. There were, however, some good things about the Africa Day queue in my home town. The first was that the Post Office staff had given up their public holiday to work at this impossible task and despite our bad tempers and the barrage of complaints, just put their heads down and got on with it. Then there was the generator that roared outside the window. Not a government generator but one very generously loaned by a civic minded businessman in the town. Then there were the people in the queue – all of us regardless of age, sex, race or political persuasion – we were all in the same boat and differences were put aside in order to achieve something which seemed almost impossible in the circumstances. Leaving with the precious, highly prized new document in hand you had to smile because as much as these things are sent to exasperate us, in the process they surely do unite us.

Until next time, thanks for reading,
26 May 2012. Copyright Cathy Buckle.
For information on my new book “IMIRE”, about Norman Travers and Imire Game Park, or my other books about Zimbabwe: “Innocent Victims,” African Tears,” “Beyond Tears;” and “History of the Mukuvisi Woodlands 1910-2010”, or to subscribe/unsubscribe to this letter, please visit my website or contact

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