June 1993 from 18 Cheshire Road, Harare, Zimbabwe
Letter to Terry who was a Director at Prudential-Bache The City London and who I had the privilege of working for and who I will always regard as a mentor.
What can I tell you about my newly acquired lifestyle. Namely it is similar to being back in the 1970’s in Ireland probably earlier in fact. People tell me Ireland is a Third World country and if that is the case I don’t know where Zimbabwe ranks? It is improving. Month by month new shops are opening (they are really needed here). It is a city which is undergoing major development, hence many displaced architects, engineers, surveyors etc. are eking out an existence for themselves here which is not available presently back in the UK. We have met quite a few expats who left the UK for the same reasons as us and really we are all just biding time until there is an upturn in the economy.
In the meantime, we can’t really complain. It is a rather easy, non demanding but boring existence for the women and if the men find the work frustrating, there are such compensations like games of golf, horse-riding, and socializing which are all very possible here. It is extremely difficult to obtain work permits for wives so it is luncheons with other wives’, trips to the library on days when one feels quite solitary and generally that sums it up. It would be an ideal opportunity to study but I have no longer the interest in doing so. I go home for 6 weeks today for a review of medication etc. so hopefully I will have more energy on my return and maybe then I can seek out some form of occupation even if it is to be of a charitable nature. I have taken up horse-riding again which should be good exercise. It is a nice past-time particularly here as one can go game viewing on horseback.
Zimbabwe in many ways is a country of much contrast. Despite Independence and its one-party President Mugabe state, there are still the remains of the old colonial British empire system. The white community very quickly monopolise your attention on arrival here and in ways it is rather like being a member of a rather elitist club. It is difficult to determine how many “Rhodesians” remain but unconfirmed figures seem to indicate a number in the region of 150,000. They still are rather influential, owning large tracts of land but this ownership is under fire now as the Government are compulsorily acquiring land for re-distribution purposes. Needless to say these farmers are not being paid market rate and even if they were, they are unable to take the money out of the country. It is invested in Government Bonds which yield 5% p.a. and they are free to use the interest only. The inflation rate here runs very high and it is possible to earn deposit interest of 22% presently. It was higher. So these govt. bonds pay very little when one considers the amount of interest paid by the banks and building societies. Legislation is gradually changing in favour of the indigenous and those who opted to stay at Independence are faced with uncertainty as to the eventual outcome. The Land question is particularly emotive at present. As expats we are quite privileged here. We are free to leave the country at will unlike many Zimbabweans. For a Zimbabwean who wishes to travel abroad, his holiday allowance per annum equates to Zim$80. If he straddles a year i.e. December 1992/January 1993, he cannot have Zim$160, there must be a six month gap. To obtain a new passport or renew an existing one can take anything up to 16 months to effect. The bureaucracy is phenomenal. Tax rates are extremely high, last year tax equated to 70% of total income. It has improved this year it is down to 50%.
Zimbabwean Government policies are very strict about those who opted to leavethe country particularly after Independence and who now wish to return. These people are unable to get work permits, they must visit on holiday visas. Many went to South Africa and now that things are so bad there, they are trying to return and Zimbabwe is just not interested. It is particularly hard for those who want to be near to aging parents or who just want to return to their “home country”. It is nice to be able to visit, even to live here for say two or three years, but to take the option of living here permanently, I don’t think I could forfeit the basic freedoms which we have acquired in First World countries.
Weather is beautiful. Summer is the rainy season i.e. November to April and it is quite disappointing as there is considerable rain. However, we have had no rain since April and although it is winter and the nights can be very cold, it is beautiful during the day. The sky is without cloud, it is such a rich colour blue. The vegetation is very lush with all kinds of flowering plants and trees which grow just naturally. The fact that all houses are on large plots of land and have resident gardeners means the City is rather attractive. The layout of the city is well planned. The streets are wide, with little traffic and are nicely planted with seasonal flowering trees. These trees are so vivid in colour I suppose in ways it must be similar to Manila without the abundance of people. Zimbabwe is three times the size of England but only has a population of ll million.
Well, Terry and Tom. I will say bye for now. Hope all is well for the three of you. Sorry about not handwriting the letter but Terry I am sure you remember my illegible writing. This is the Prudential-Bache computer. It made it to Africa and worked perfectly in spite of the fact that shipping took 6 months. PS: I am posting this letter in the UK. Sometimes mail is opened by the censors in Zimbabwe and they are very sensitive.