Cathy Buckle’s Letter from Zimbabwe – Bring on the national migraine

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 worked 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, love cathy. 26 May

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 to
Cathy’s letter, please visit the  website or contact [email protected]

See other recent posts from Cathy Buckle

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