I’ve been back from the Skeleton Coast Tour for 3 weeks and alas, I have a bad case of the Zimbabwe blues. This place can hurt your head, and worse. But the purpose of this blog is to uplift, not depress. So, thank God for schoolboy cricket.
I enjoyed my finest moment as a cricketer at St Georges. After a rigorous selection process which centred on having a son in the College First Eleven, I was selected to play for the First Eleven’s Fathers Team in the annual fathers vs sons grudge match rather reluctantly by a coach who stopped short of demanding sight of birth certificates. After scrutinizing my cricketing pedigree closely, my coach bumped all the bowlers up the batting order to make room for me at 11, although I think he would have rather had me batting at 13.
The First Eleven’s bowling attack very quickly, with an emphasis on quick, exposed the soft under-belly of the Fathers’ top, middle and lower orders, and before I knew it, I was next up to bat. I strode out to the middle like an amoeba, but with less conviction and mewling pathetically. N.B. Amoebas don’t mewl. I took guard middle and centre and tap, tap, tapped the pitch like they do on television. Feeling the pitch quake beneath my feet, I looked up and also quaked as the fast bowler come thundering in like a young Alan Donald, just faster, more angry, and with nostrils flaring.
And just as he was about to deliver his first thunderbolt delivery, it struck me that I’d forgotten my cricket box and gloves in the pavilion. I hurriedly adjusted my batting stance to hide my man bits and my fingers and thumbs behind the bat. Scrunched up like Quasimodo cross a pangolin, I closed my eyes in prayer, and snicked his first delivery to the boundary for four. Ditto his second delivery. But because this part of the blog is supposed to be all about positivity, I’ll end my innings there. Back to St George’s College.
Jenny and I were invited to watch the annual St George’s T20 Cricket Festival. To tell the truth, without a son or a grandson on the field to shout for, I was attracted more by the promise of the sponsor’s gin and tonics than the cricket. Boy did I get that wrong, although the Crop Serve gin and tonics were also rather good. With the cricket commentary blaring, and with festival bunting, sponsors tents and people just enjoying everywhere you looked, St Georges College was the best medicine for the blues ever.
We hadn’t been to St Georges in 20 years, and it was like stepping back into the good old days. If anything, the College campus has improved. And the cricket certainly has. The T20 Festival attracts the top schoolboy teams from all over Zimbabwe and from Windhoek, Namibia and St Andrews in Grahamstown, RSA, and what a show they put on for the spectators, with top fielding, top bowling and top batting.
The final, played between Peterhouse and St Andrews College, was edge-of-your-seat exciting with St Andrews chasing 1 run to win off the last ball of the match with no wickets remaining. Jen and I shouted for Peterhouse in a tent full of St Andrews parents. I had to watch the last delivery through my fingers. Peterhouse took the wicket and drew the match, forcing a Super Over.
Peterhouse went onto win the Super Over, but both teams were winners.
Huge thanks to them and the other teams, to CABS, to Crop Serve and all the other sponsors, to the officials and to St Georges for putting on such a good show of badly needed positivity. I’m just sorry that it was T20 cricket, and not 5-day test matches.
As mentioned, Zimbabwe has hurt my head these last few weeks. It has struck me like a fast bowler that Zimbabwe is the worst possible oxymoron, a police state with no law and little order, although opposition politics remains an arrestable offence.
The most-in-your-face thing that drives you to despair are the broken roads and the beyond terrible driving. In Harare, no stopping signs mean stop where you like and one-way signs mean nothing, ditto no overtaking signs and double-white lines. And 2 lanes can turn into 5 lanes no problem, especially at toll gates and robots, and especially if you drive a Honda Fit, or a 30-ton truck.
I used to be able to turn a blind eye to the worst of it, but the worst has got worse, to the point where I’ve told my brother-in-law from Johannesburg who is due to visit for Christmas to start overdosing on calm-down medicine now.
What really gets to me is that all of the lawlessness above happens in full view of the cops, who do nothing. We have to be one of the most heavily policed states in the world, with road blocks full of policemen, zealously guarding the nation’s strategic stocks of black and white drums, on all the busy roads around town, checking to see if you have a listener’s licence for the radio you don’t listen to, and on every highway before and after every town and village, stopping traffic, so they can tell it to proceed again, unless of course you drive a truck. Truck drivers have to pay beer money before they can proceed.
The thirty-minute drive into town now takes hours, contending with potholes and traffic lights that don’t work, and every second-hand Honda Fit ever made. And that the sides of the roads are littered with commerce and industry doesn’t help either.
The international ease-of-doing-business index might have Zimbabwe ranked 140 out of 190, but that’s patently a load of bollocks. For instance, if you wanted to open a cement, sand and stone emporium at a major shopping centre anywhere else in the world, you need to negotiate leases and pay licences and inspection fees and all manner of things.
In Harare, it is too easy. All you need is an empty stretch of street on which to dump your 20 -foot container for the cement, plus space for your piles of sand and stone, and you’re in business. Ditto if you are in the wooden garden shed business, tyre sales and repairs, not-so-fresh fruit and veg, car repairs and engine overhauls, grave headstones and memorials, groceries, soft toys and teddy bears, in fact pretty much everything, including heavy industry.
And if you want to build a home but don’t want the hassle of planning permissions and servitudes, no problem, just pull into the brand-new industrial-come-residential-come-retail suburb down the road from me that used to be a farm, and you can build the three bedroomed home of your dreams, provided you can sleep through the noise from the trains running just ten metres from your bedroom window. But you don’t want to be borrowing money to open your business or build your home. A friend borrowed at 60% interest 3 months ago, but that has now ballooned out to 240%.
And like that poor lady last week who was heavily berated by the South African Minister of Health for seeking medical attention in South Africa, you don’t want to go to a government hospital when ill, or badly injured in a car crash. But alas, tatty bedside manners aside, the SA Minister called it exactly right. Bad driving and tatty roads are peripheral. The state of Zimbabwe’s health sector can properly hurt your head, and worse. Herewith a true story about government hospitals in Zimbabwe involving a pensioner badly injured in a car accident just last week.
Because he didn’t have adequate medical aid, the ambulance took the pensioner to Parienyetwa, Harare’s flagship government hospital. A Good Samaritan followed the ambulance but had to search the hospital for hours for the pensioner. He hadn’t been admitted into any wards. Eventually the Samaritan found him parked on a stretcher in a corridor, unattended despite the fact he was lying in his soiled underwear, in considerable pain and still bleeding badly.
Appalled, the Good Samaritan tracked down a nurse who said she was waiting on a doctor. They waited, waited, and waited for the doctor. Who eventually came. He examined the pensioner and prescribed medication to be administered through the drip, but not before someone had paid for the drip and the pain medication. The Good Samaritan rushed to the hospital pharmacy, but alas, Zimbabwe’s largest referral hospital didn’t have any drips in stock, or any medicine. So, the Good Samaritan rushed off in his car to buy the drip and the muti elsewhere, and they were administered by the doctor. Next up, the doctor decided the pensioner needed x-rays and a CT scan of the head and the chest. But in another alas, the scanning equipment in the hospital was broken.
So at midnight, 13 hours after the accident, the Good Samaritan organized for an ambulance to take the pensioners to a private clinic for the scan. By now, the Good Samaritan was badly traumatized by his Parienyetwa experience. He phoned all the private hospitals in Harare, begging and pleading them to admit the pensioner, but they couldn’t, wouldn’t, not until he’d been discharged from Parienyetwa. Which was a snag, considering the pensioner had yet to be admitted.
Long story short, the pensioner was returned to Parienyetwa, where he remained untreated, because the doctors didn’t have the drugs, or the equipment needed to treat him. At 03.30 in the morning, the doctor called it a day, and sent the pensioner home, where he later died of his injuries. As I type this, days later, I remain shocked to my core. Alas.
In the last few days, since that dreadful story played out, we as the Old Legs have redoubled our efforts to find a trauma hospital that pensioners can be rushed to, a hospital that is affordable but with all the bells, whistles, drugs and drips needed, and fingers crossed, we think we found it. Watch this space.
We are also working through our waiting list of pensioners awaiting hip and knee replacement operations, with the first operation scheduled to happen on September 12, and others to follow shortly thereafter. I have studiously avoided the use of the word overwhelmed above, but our waiting list has now ballooned out to 17, and any and all donations would be hugely welcomed via the accounts listed below.
The last word on hips and knees, a good news update on George Fletcher. You will remember 82-year-old George as the senior man in the Skeleton Coast peloton who fell off his bike in Katima Mulilo and broke his leg. Our sponsors Alliance Health jumped around organized an emergency casevac, and George was flown the same day to Harare where he underwent an emergency hip replacement. The op was hugely successful, and less than 6 weeks later, George is itching to start running again, and is eyeing his bike wistfully. They sure made them tough back in 1940.
Thanks again to perennial good guys Alliance Health and to all the surgeons, doctors and nursing staff who looked after George.
Finally, on to the bicycle part of the blog. At the risk of retribution in the form of a right hook from Jenny, I think I understand why some people become polygamists.
For the last 3 years, I’ve ridden Africa on my silver Trek Fuel Ex. I love that bike. Rather than walk to fetch forgotten somethings from my car in the garage, I ride my bike. It even sleeps in my dining room. But alas, whilst on the Skeleton Coast Tour, I fell in love with another, Alan Crundall’s midnight blue and brand-new Trek Fuel Ex. It is so sexy as compared to my silver Trek, which was also sexy, but not as much.
Anyway, last weekend, I took my silver Trek for a last farewell ride up every mountain in Juliasdale, including the dreaded Bonda bumps, and bummer, I fell back in love with it. It is so comfortable, like riding an old friend. And I absolutely monstered the hills on it, taking an hour and a half out of my previous best time for the Bonda bumps. I have returned to Harare an avowed polygamist, and in need of a bigger dining room.
But if riding bicycles is what keeps you sane in a world gone mad, owning 2 bicycles has to be a good thing.
If you are also looking for some sanity, please be invited to join the Old Legs Tour in Cape Town on March 12th 2023. We are looking for a minimum of 30 riders to join us on the Cape Town Cycle Tour to fly the flag and to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners.
And if you’re looking to overdose on sanity, please note that we have started provisional planning for the 2023 Old Legs Tour to happen on roads less travelled to somewhere far away, etcetera, etcetera. For details, assista a este espaco. N.B. That is Portuguese for watch this space.
In closing, belated happy birthday Ukraine, and continued strength against the bully going forward.
Until my next blog, put your blinkers on for bad driving and crappy roads, stay sane and help others if you can
Eric Chicken Legs de Jong
Acc no. 305217
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