An old friend gave me sound advice 40 years ago. When you get home to Zimbabwe, you must buy bricks and mortar, dear boy. John Worrall was a legendary Africa correspondent for the Financial Times newspaper in London who had wandered the length and breadth of the continent. But he never bought a property, living always in rented accommodation, mostly in Nairobi, the sub-Saharan travel hub in those days.
Once, when he was 75 years old, he needed to earn his Nairobi rent – and as it happened, Readers Digest magazine offered him $2,500 to take a hike to the top of Tanzania’s snowcapped Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. A man of nearly four-score years, with lung and liver disease after a lifetime of drinking and smoking, could tell a good tale. John did it, survived where younger men turned back, and hated every minute.
Buy bricks and mortar, dear boy, if only so that you won’t have to climb Kilimanjaro when you are 75!
So I got a mortgage to buy a fine duplex apartment in Harare. I had to sell my car to raise the building society deposit – but that was okay . I could walk to work at Herald House, head held high in pride, John’s advice ringing in my ears and my far away retirement secure.
Oh, dear, how it has all gone so horribly wrong now I am 67 years old. I had graduated to a small house and rented out the apartment, the asset that has become a liability, a poisoned chalice. I can’t sell it because property prices have collapsed and I am owed thousands in rent, levies and rates arrears.
Lawyers say we should get a private investigator to find the defaulters – more expense – and the sheriff of the court will need a $600 deposit to attach anything of value we find. An old car is not in the user’s name so we can’t even grab that. It probably wouldn’t fetch much more than the sheriff’s fee anyway.
How did it get this far? A series of ‘interventions’ by the Rent Board and the police to stop physical evictions, property rights that are at best unhelpful, general incompetence and official interference all round, and, of course, the cash crisis, corruption and the broken economy.
Sorry for that, says the Credit Control department at the city council. No one pays rent and water on time these days, if they pay at all. It’s just a sign of the times. Water disconnections are at an all time record. Witness containers of water carried on heads in the time-honoured way.
Anyone for Kilimanjaro?