No bike riding this weekend courtesy of Cyclone Idai which smashed into Zimbabwe on Thursday last week with 31 dead so far and 100 plus missing. Chimanimani has been especially hard hit, having received near a meter of rain in the past few days and still counting. Spare a thought in your prayers tonight for the surviving kids, the nuns and the priests of St Charles Lwanga Secondary School cut off by rock and mudslide damage, currently awaiting rescue by the army.
I can still remember when Chimanimani was hammered by Cyclone Eline 19 years ago. Roy Bennett’s efforts to help his community back then during and after Eline were huge. He won people’s hearts and later their votes and the rest is history. Alas.
Let’s hope government’s disaster response post Idai is better than their response post Eline. Nineteen years after it was washed away, the Chipinda Bridge, a major arterial route serving a huge community, is still washed away and in the rains, the community on the other side of the river can only access the wide world by canoe and or non-motorized ferries. The half a bridge is now something of a tourist attraction, a monument to the opposite of progress.
Idai wasn’t the only disaster that touched Zimbabwean hearts this week. The country was moved by a pediatrician’s impassioned plea to her Minister of Health to intervene in the collapse of the health sector. She tells him of a child’s chemo treatment interrupted because the hospital ran out of syringes. She tells of doctors who can’t operate for want of gloves and drugs, even running water and electricity. She tells him of an operating theatre gutted by fire that still hasn’t been cleaned up or repainted two months on. She tells of the million lists submitted to the Ministry of Health and thousand doors that have been knocked upon but so far no one’s listening, there’s no urgency, no prioritizing of resources. In response, he the Minister can be heard grunting sympathetically. And he also blames illegal US sanctions for the collapse of our health system.
Elsewhere the government continued busy, dragging their well travelled begging bowl from country to country. Undeterred by January’s largely unsuccessful trawl of Kazakstan, Belarus etc, last week they hit the region. Despite reports in the Herald to the contrary, Botswana said they weren’t going to be lending us 600 million. Stung by the rejection, Zim next turned to South Africa, upping the ante to 1.2 billion. Cyril said he couldn’t help with the full request but said he could help us with 55 million, to re-equip and retrain our Police force. And for re-equip, read water canons and new baton sticks. I wonder how many syringes or pairs of surgical gloves you could buy with 55 million?
I’m thinking the government should try Swaziland next for a loan. Their king flies everywhere by private jet so they must be loaded.
And whilst on the subject of prioritizing foreign currency spend, judging by the imaginative spin coming out of Harare this week, Zimbabwe’s newly appointed US PR firm must already be hard at work, writing scripts, earning their one and a half million dollar pay check. The RBZ Governor said that continued fuel queues across the country could be attributed to an expanding economy. He also told the same Parliamentary Committee that the RTGS Dollar could fall below 2.5 to 1. No shit, Sherlock? Just maybe the 3.5 to 1 sweet deal he offered miners last week gave him some insight as to which way the currency might go.
But his side kick the Minister of Finance obviously never got that memo. On the same day on the other side of town in a radio interview, he said the country’s newly introduced RTGS dollar was set to gain more value on the back of ongoing fiscal reforms, blah,blah, blah. I guess Harare looks pretty good when seen from the window of your suite on the top floor of the Meikles where you live out of a suitcase because your family home is still in Switzerland. I wonder how many syringes you could buy with the cost of a night in a suite at the Meikles?
On to things more positive. Welcome to the 10th and final member of our peloton, 59 year old Dutch Judge Hans Steenberghe. In his motivation letter Hans told me that as a Judge his job is to stand up for justice and equality for all. He said Zimbabwe’s on going struggle for the same resonates deeply with him. When he’s not a Judge, Hans is on his bike pedaling on the flat on skinny tyres. Hans is no stranger to charity bike rides, having founded ‘Stichting Bergverzet’ with like minded friends. Check them out on the internet. Hans is looking forward to pedaling 3000 km across Africa to raise money for Zimbabwe’s pensioners.
We are also joined by John MacDonald , who’ll be driving one of the support vehicles. John writes “As an award winning cyclist ( John won the prestigious ‘Rider who spent most time in the Sun’ award on the 2018 Blue Cross) I was delighted to be asked to join the Old Legs expedition. I am sure all the riders were delighted at my decision to rather drive a support vehicle than slow up the peloton.” John is getting lots of practice feeding the hungry. John and his wife are currently hand rearing 500 flamingo chicks rescued from a dried out pan in Kimberley.
Debate is raging within the peloton about what tyres to use on the Tour. The riders from the First World are leaning towards tyres with tubes and slime whilst the Third World riders are all going tubeless, no
question. Watch this space.
To mess with Dave’s head, I sometimes leave my Strava on in the car, especially on hills. To mess with his head even more and because he stressed about lions all the way through the Kalahari on our way to Cape Town, I’ve told him Tanzania is full of lions that climb trees, mostly so they can see approaching cyclists. I also told him Tsavo of man eating lion fame is next door to Kilimanjaro. Dave is especially stressing because he’s got more meat on him than me.
If Al Watermeyer goes with the same riding kit he wore on the Argus, then my money’s on him being the rotten egg last into Moshi. So as to avoid being mistaken for a Venezuelan, Al wore a Zim flag shirt and carried a full sized Zim flag on the back of his bike. On the 30 km from Muizenberg to past Simonstown , his oversized Zim flag conspired with the 40kph head wind to successfully reduce his speed on the flat to a paltry 8kph, allowing him to only narrowly avoid a personal worst. But he says his interaction with several thousand Zim supporters along the course more than made up for the extra toil.
In closing, I’m happy to report that friends of mine who want to remain nameless have adopted 88 year old Mr Dilly, a former Customs Officer now living at the Toc H Hostel. Mr Dilly doesn’t have any known relatives and his pension never survived 2008 hyperinflation. Mr Dilly wasn’t doing too good after the kind folk who used to look after him left the country. But thankfully they passed the baton to my buddies and Mr Dilly is back being looked after again. They sorted his wardrobe out, they give him food – he especially likes Bovril, they’ve given him books, sorted him out with a new mattress, etc,etc. I’m also very proud to tell you that Mr Dilly’s benefactor is an Allan Wilson old boy. A challenge to any PE old boys out there, if ever you are near Toc H with time on your hands, pop in and visit Mr Dilly. What he likes most of all is company and a chat.
You can also help pensioners like Mr Dilly by going to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/oldlegstour and following 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. We bust through the £3000 barrier on Just Giving this weekend. Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of those who donated.
In closing, this week’s Swahili 101
I unataka ya mvua ingekuwa kuacha! – I wish the rain would stop.
Until next week, survive and if you can, enjoy whilst pedaling
Eric Chicken Legs de Jong
Al doing 8 k.p.h. In Cape Town, Hans Steenberghe, bathing in potholes, election promises and other crap.