I have just returned from a wonderful trip home to Zimbabwe where things have certainly improved since the economy was dollarised — although everyone would rather the country had adopted the rand instead of the greenback, since all imports and exports go via South Africa anyway.
While back home I decided — much to the amusement of friends and family — to brave the vagaries of Zim bureaucracy try to get a replacement for my long-lost driver’s licence. Joining me on what promised to be a Kafka-esque experience was an old friend, Micheal Scott, who also wanted to try to get a duplicate.
For $10, we had three black and white pictures taken from a photo studio opposite the dreaded Central Vehicle Registry before entering its hallowed doors, and were steered by a concierge-type person to an unpromising looking side room. First impressions were not good: the room looked as if it hadn’t had a lick of paint since independence in 1980, the benches were grooved by the indentations of tens of thousands of buttocks that had endured lengthy waits and there was only one duty person, sitting regally behind a perspex screen with a speaking hole placed (deliberately, probably) at an angle that forces the petitioners to almost supplicate themselves.
Mike and I were told to fill in a form that asked all sorts of questions I couldn’t answer. All I knew was that I had obtained my learners licence in Bulawayo in 1978, whereas Mike had the date of issue of his, the original number and, most importantly, his national ID card number — something I had never go around to obtaining.
The clerk pointed out the paucity of information on my form before handing both to a supervisor in an office behind him who then left with our forms. Surprisingly, less than 10 minutes later she was back, and handed the forms back to the original clerk.
He summoned Mike and then, in full baritone clearly audible to everyone said: “You have asked for a duplicate licence, but you applied for one in 2000 that you have never collected” and proceeded to produce the said document much to our stupified amazement. Sure enough, from somewhere in the bowels of the central registry, they had found a duplicate licence that Mike had asked for 10 years ago. “You don’t need a new one now and this one has already been paid for,” said the clerk.
“Now Fox,” said the clerk. “You also want a duplicate but you applied for a replacement in 1983 … here it is,” and with a theatrical flourish this time produced my licence. No need to pay.
At this point Mike and I were reduced to a pair of giggling schoolboys. For all the woes that Zimbabwe has endured over the years, I can’t think of another country where this would happen. In 1983, when I applied for the replacement, I was working at the Bulawayo Chronicle. (The mustache in the picture makes me look older than my 21 years but devillishly handsome, don’t you think …).
I am still amazed that it survived for 27 years in the archives of the Central Vehicle Registry but it makes me think that despite the best effort of Mugabe and his cronies to destroy everything that worked in Zimbabwe, there is still something to build on when he goes.
As an addendum, my brother found my dad’s last driving licence — issued in 1977 when he was 40 and the country was still Rhodesia. They say the acorn never falls far from the tree …