There were 2 standout crimes committed in Zim last week. A gang of fraudster robbers headed up by a boss know as the Guvernor bust into the Reserve Bank and thieved 8 billion US, replacing them with toilet paper a.k.a. Treasury Bills and a fictitious 4 letter currency called RTGS. The gangsters were aided and abetted in their Ponzi scheme by the commercial banks of Zimbabwe who have forgotten how to spell fiduciary and think it’s ok to hand over the hard earned deposits of their clients in return for a promise on gilt edged toilet paper.
The other stand out crime was committed by a villain posing as a journalist who was terrorizing the streets of Harare with a camouflage umbrella.
The long arm of the law pounced – on the journalist. Unfortunately his camouflage umbrella didn’t work too good ‘cos the police saw him coming nonetheless. They seized him and handcuffed him and bundled him off to the magistrates court for a dose of justice. People not being able to see you coming would be an excellent punch line for a camouflaged condom advert, but I digress.
On a roll, the police promptly went out and also arrested Africa’s top Trade Unionist for visiting Zimbabwe whilst belonging to an international Trade Union but I think that’s all part of international charm offensive preceding an appeal for hundreds of million dollars in food aid for the 5 million people currently under threat from a drought related but mostly incompetence big hungry looming.
Meanwhile and despite a public confession in the media by the Guvernor, the Ponzi scheme fraudsters remain at large, and are hard at work ramping up inflation, all because of a perk of the job called arbitrage. Here’s how it works.
You set retention levels for exporters i.e. ceilings on how much of their US dollars export earnings they’re allowed to keep. For example gold miners get to keep 55%, tobacco farmers get to keep just 30%, etc, etc. The Reserve Bank get to keep the rest, paying miners and farmers out for the forex they’ve put into the pot in fictitious RTGS dollars that aren’t worth the paper they’re not printed on. And because the Guvernor is greedy and so as to get a second bite of the apple that got away, he’s introduced a handy 30 day Use It or Lose It rule.
Now how to use your forex to best advantage if you’re the Guvernor? Thanks to arbitrage, the last Guvernor was able to retire to a modest 80 bedroomed mansion complete with Olympic sized swimming pool and helicopter landing pads after just 10 years on the job. Or do you spend it on consumables like petrol, diesel and medicines? Decisions, decisions.
Knee jerk reactions to the RTGS Ponzi scheme abound. Government have increased import duties by 300%, whilst gold deliveries have fallen off by 50%. The Telecommunications sector agreed to a 50% wage increase whilst the Banking sector screwed their workers for just 42%, despite the big bucks they’ll be making. Oh what fun we’re having in the Third World, for the second time in 10 years.
Dave and I spent Thursday morning visiting some of the most affected victims of the Ponzi mugging, the pensioners we’re riding to Mount Kilimanjaro to help.
Lynne Taylor from Pensioners Aid took us to meet Robbie, who after 12 years as a BSAP policeman and 22 years as a Manager in the Parks Department with the City Council is supposed to survive on a pension of 80 RTGS paid only every 3 or 4 months. Robbie’s quarterly pension will buy him +/- 44 loaves of bread, and that’s before the inflation mentioned above kicks in. But for Pensioners Aid who look after his rent, his food, his medicines for his chronic diabetes, Robbie would be in a very bad place. Because of time pressure, we could only spend 15 minutes with Robbie but I’ve promised to go back to look at his garden. Robbie has the greenest fingers and his tiny garden is his pride and joy. He said our too short 15 min visit made his whole week.
Next we went to visit Carel, Martin and other old friends at the Salvation Army hostel in Braeside. When we visited them a year ago just before our Cape Town ride, Martin, a doctor in a previous life, when told of our intention to ride bikes to Cape Town told me I really needed to see a doctor.
Back then, Braeside looked tired like some of it’s residents. Fast forward a year and what a difference. Braeside has a new lease on life, courtesy of Major Mubaiwa and his wife, Major Mubaiwa. Braeside 2019 is spic, span with happy people, like Carel who’d enjoyed fresh scones for tea the day before. We only met Mrs Major Mubaiwa, she was in the kitchen working on the week’s menu with a volunteer from Pensioners Aid. Mr Major Mubaiwa was scouring Mbare for spare parts for the men’s toilet cistern valve. They couldn’t buy new because the hostel that looks after 60 pensioners had just 60 RTGS dollars in the cash box to see them through the rest of the week.
Because we were looking hungry, Mrs Major gave Dave and I a pair of delicious cooked mealies, fresh from the garden. I’m going to swop the mealies for vegetable seedlings, provided by Seedling Express, one of our corporate sponsors.
People like Robbie need help more than ever. If you have an hour or 2 to spare in your busy week, adopt a pensioner and visit them every week and talk. The old folk we met are all suffering most from loneliness. If you’re connected to a school, get your kids to adopt a pensioner as a Pen pal like the kids at Open Minds, so they can spread the love and show they care.
And if you are financially able, please go to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/oldlegstour and follow the prompts. In Zimbabwe, transfer to Bulawayo Help Network via their CABS Platinum Account number 1124733450 or their Ecocash merchant number 139149. Monies donated help pensioners country wide.
I borrowed a leaf out of Adam’s High Intensity Interval Training book this week. Unfortunately I didn’t pay much attention whilst reading. HIIT, a 4 letter acronym, centers on bouncing your heart rate up and down like a yo-yo, by sprinting and then not sprinting. That I don’t have a heart monitor was a minor detail and I launched into my first encounter with HIIT on my stationary bike, Root Canal. My first session wanted me to warm up gently for ten minutes,followed by 4 minutes 50 seconds in Zone 2, followed by 10 seconds sprinting, repeated over and over for an hour. I almost nodded off reading the instructions. What was sprinting for 10 seconds going to prepare me for? I’m riding to Mt Kilimanjaro not Lake Chivero. So I decided to up the ante. 5 minutes in Zone 2 where ever the hell that was, followed by 10 minutes of flat out sprinting.
Al Watermeyer once explained the Theory of Relativity to me as thus. 10 minutes with your hand on pretty lady’s breast is fleeting whilst the same ten minutes with the same hand on a gas burner goes on forever. And then there’s 10 minutes sprinting on Root Canal. Towards the end of the first sprint session, I was sprinting fast like Brexit, sounding like a barber sucking in air from Gokwe, sweating fluids that I hadn’t even drank yet, trying to remember back to my last episode of Grey’s Anatomy what the signs and symptoms of heart attacking were, all, whilst trying manfully hard not to vomit. Good Lord. A muscle in my face that I didn’t know I had started cramping. Then the cramp got cramps. I looked like a vibrator and my toes wrinkled like they’d been in the bath for an hour. The moral of the story is stick to the script and don’t do heart rate training without a heart rate monitor.
Saturday’s training ride went marginally better. Adam and I rode 125 kms down the Mazoe Valley and out on forgotten dirt roads that used to be tar in a previous life ,towards Concession and Glendale. Adam rode in front of me, mostly because I still looked like vomiting. But I was sort of able to keep up.
We’d never ridden that way before so it was new and beautiful countryside, apart from a 20 km stretch of once bush that was in the process of being dug up by illegal gold miners. It was like something out of the Wild West. Which was a snag because by then I was fixating on a cold Pepsi but we didn’t want to risk a pit stop in one of many roadside shebeens.
Alas. What was once the breadbasket of Africa has now been reduced to maze of muddy holes in the ground full of desperate people, digging.
Moving on to positives, around the world other Old Legs are busy training. In Lesotho, on top of a mountain that looks to be higher than Kilimanjaro, Alan Rheeder gave his mother and me grey hairs with a video of his heart stopping descent. Not far from there, Al Watermeyer finally hit the coast at Baviaanskloof en route to the Cape Argus. Enjoying the first sun in forever Carol Joy is smashing personal bests on Strava across Germany. It’s all coming together.
In closing , this week’s Swahili 101.
Wewe ni chini kukamatwa kwa sababu I hawezi mwavuli yako! – You’re under arrest because I can’t see your umbrella.
Kushiriki ya upendo. Kupitsha a mstaafu! – Share the love. Adopt a pensioner.
Until next week, dig deep, survive and pedal if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong