Don's Diary

August 11, 1995

MONDAY. I spend the first part of the day arguing with my head of department about a trip I have to make to Mutare, 600km east of Bulawayo. Two students are based there for their industrial attachment, and I am supposed to visit them three times a year. Last year I made the journey with university vehicle and driver, but this year the department has no money for the driver, accommodation and meals. I am reluctant to drive that distance on unfamiliar roads in an unfamiliar vehicle. Take your own car, he says. He knows that my car is a 1959 VW Beetle, and even the journey from home to my office is an adventure. You must be joking, I tell him.

At 10am I have a computer applications class. There are ten computers in the laboratory, all with Hercules monochrome graphics which severely limits the engineering software. The leads emanate from a single wall socket, via a spaghetti of cables and multi-sockets. A safety officer in the United Kingdom would have condemned the setup, but in Africa you learn to make do. Halfway through the session one of the students crosses the room to talk to his friend, and trips over the master lead, pulling the plug from the wall. The students' comments are in Ndebele, which I cannot understand, but none of them are complimentary. I have stressed saving work every five minutes in case of a power failure, but no one has saved his drawing. Never mind, the students are good-natured and bright, and they do not mind starting again.

TUESDAY. More pressure for me to drive to Mutare, and finally I acquiesce. I walk to the bursar's department, five blocks away in Asbestos House, to fill in the insurance form which allows me to drive a university vehicle. The campus is still under construction but progress has been delayed by the water shortage in Matebeleland. Meanwhile the university is accommodated in office blocks all over the city, the form must be completed in triplicate, and there are no spare copies in the bursary. I walk another three blocks to Pioneer House where the registry is situated, to use one of the only functioning photocopiers. Back at the bursary I apply for an advance to cover accommodation, meals and fuel, and am told that the cheque will be ready before the banks shut. It is surprising what can be done if push comes to shove.

WEDNESDAY. At 8am arrive at the polytechnic, where university transport is based, to pick up my vehicle. At 8.45am the transport officer appears, and introduces me to a pick-up with bald tyres. I cannot take that to Mutare and back, I explain. OK, take my vehicle, he says. It's another pick-up, but it's in decent condition and the tyres are fairly new. I check the spare wheel, and I'm just about to drive off when he throws a jack into the cab. You might need this, he tells me.

I stop for lunch at a hotel in Chivu, half way to Mutare, where I eat tomato soup (not out of a can) and fillet steak for the equivalent of Pounds 3. Then follow a short cut between Chivu and the Harare-Mutare road. It is not well publicised, probably because the first 15km is a strip road (where you have to drive with your nearside wheels on the hard shoulder if a vehicle comes from the opposite direction) and dissects communal lands. Mutare is in the eastern highlands. I check in to the Manica Hotel at 4.30pm.

THURSDAY. My appointment with a local engineering firm is at 8am. The company is owned and run by a coloured family The man supervising our students says they are so good that the firm has decided to pay them a wage on top of their government allowance. It is music to my ears. We walk round the factory, where one of the products is a series of trailers for the docks in Beira. I leave at 10am, and am almost back to Chivu, driving at 120 kmph, when the offside front tyre bursts. I take out the jack and handle, to discover there is no wrench for the wheel nuts. The first passing motorist stops when I wave him down, and fortunately his wrench fits. He insists on changing the wheel, and refuses any payment, which reinforces my view that Zimbabweans are among the friendliest people in the world. At 5.30pm I am in Bulawayo.

FRIDAY. In the morning I write to the registrar, suggesting that more care should be taken in ensuring that university vehicles are roadworthy and fully equipped. Afterwards I have a quiet half hour in the library looking for jobs in The THES.

SATURDAY. I listen to election reports on local radio and on the BBC World Service. Polling is slow, the ruling party is very popular and the results are a foregone conclusion. Mr Ian Smith is not allowed to vote, he is told that his name does not appear on the electoral register. Later it is found that he is registered as Ian Iansmith. President Mugabe personally intervenes, and states that Mr Smith will be able to vote the next day.

SUNDAY. Today I am playing tennis against a team from a high-density housing area characterised by tower lights, corrugated iron roofs and dusty wasteland. After the game the coach asks where I work. Ah, yes, I have seen the construction site, he tells me, and asks when it will be completed. Quoting old Smithy, approximately at least, I reply "Not in my lifetime". I hope that I'll be wrong, like he was.


Visiting associate professor in industrial engineering at the National University of Science and Technology in Bulawayo.

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