Updated: Aug 9, 2020
Plus ca change plus c'est les mèmes salauds
Thoso (not his real name) leans against the bull-bar on my 4x4 Toyota rental twin cab as we negotiate our entry into Zimbabwe from South Africa at the Beit Bridge crossing on the Limpopo river. It's 32C in the shade. Gigantic 44-ton articulated trucks are backed up for a mile.Some take 2-4 day to cross over.
" Will anything change? We shall see what the new man does. I don't know. Maybe. So far nothing"
The 'new man' is Emerson Mnangagwa, who took over from Robert Mugabe who was toppled in the coup that wasn't a coup almost exactly two months ago. If he starts fixing things Thoso and the pop up service industry to which he belongs will be out of a job.
Thoso is a runner or a fixer, depending on how comprehensive a service you require. His entry-level service (pun intended) helps you negotiate the queues and the obstacles at this the busiest border post into the country. Which if you don't know the ropes or you're just flat out knackered is fair enough.
His premium service crosses a moral line. Which I confess we cross. It includes getting Zimbabwe residents who've been to South Africa to buy goods they can't get at home through without paying the extortionate import tariffs. A new car will cost you 98% of its value.
Runners have evolved into a sophisticated business. If you don't fancy going south to get your goods yourself they'll shop for you and deliver them to your door: fridges, food, nappies, lawn mowers, beds. They do email and have external bank accounts. They will get them through customs (duty free) for between 20-30% of the value of said goods. Payment in US$ cash on delivery or hard currency abroad. Shop to door. Amazon Africa-style.
Like all service industries they come in all shapes and sizes from budget to top-end. It's word of mouth. If you find a good one hang on to them. The best tend to be women.
If Mnangagwa want to fix Zimbabwe and get it off life support he could do worse than start at Beit Bridge.
Corruption is the disease. The people are the victims. It has metastasised creating an economy 'for the few not the many' which allows a tiny proportion to trouser the proceeds and choke off home-grown enterprise and economic growth.
It's a kind of madness, a self-inflicted wound of colossal proportions replicated right across a country where nothing works or else it comes at a price.
There is no cash. Queues form early in the morning at ATMs. The money usually runs out by 10:00 am.
I chatted to an elderly (white) man who's been battling through the headwinds of the Mugabe madness for the past 50 years. We're overnighting at a lovely, basic motel along a dry river bed just inside the border all rondavels, msasa trees and a brilliant African night sky ablaze with stars.
The motel, once a popular overnight stop, has been badly hit by the chaos at the border. " People just don't want to go through that stuff. He has to to do something. If he doesn't we're not just dead we're buried".
Beit Bridge border crossing