Good news, I hope, this week from Zimbabwe with the swearing in of Morgan Tsvangirai as Prime Minister as part of the much-delayed power sharing agreement with President Robert Mugabe.
Hmmm. I, like many of my friends in Zimbabwe, have mixed feelings about this event. Sure, it's great that Mr T is getting some recognition of the fact that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) actually won the election fair and square, but let us never underestimate the cunning, deviousness and evil intentions of Comrade R.G. Mugabe.
It's a funny thing, but talking to many people in Zim on our recent trip there was almost a reluctance for things to get better. The feeling was, and probably still is, that if things improve in the country, even marginally, and the pressure weakens on Mugabe to go for good then he will continue running the country into the ground and ripping as much money out of the country as he can.
When Cde President lifted the ban on NGOs and allowed food aid into the country, and medical assistance to treat the cholera epidemic, it was like turning a pressure valve. For a week or two the criticism and the focus on Cde Prez dropped off.
No one wants people to starve, or to die of cholera, but sometimes even the best of inentions are little off the target. There are people starving in Zimbabwe, yet we also heard tales of ordinary Zimbabweans who do have jobs and food strolling down to the local USAID or Red Cross truck to collect their quota of mealie meal, cooking oil and other donated goodies.
One of our friends told us her maid arrived for work at the house toting food and cooking oil (the maid gets paid cash and in food by our friend). "Gosh, where did you get that oil?" our friend asked her maid. She was flabbergasted as oil has been one of the many things that are hard to get in Zimbabwe.
"From the Red Cross, madam."
"Well can you pop back and get me some?" she asked, only half in jest. I suspect it's easier to get aid into the towns and urban areas of Zimbabwe than way out in the sticks where it's probably more needed.
The President's other two recent moves - to allow businesses to officially trade in foreign currency (instead of the worthless local currency), and to finally agree to the power sharing deal may also not be as altruistic as they seem.
The Government of Zimbabwe is bankrupt - morally as well as economically. Teachers, soldiers, police, nurses, doctors etc have all been on strike or threatened to strike over not being paid (you can't count the equivalent of $1 a month as a wage). So, as well as allowing businesses to trade in US dollars, the Government has decided it will pay its civil servants in vouchers which are each equivalent to a US dollar, but redeemable only in shops in Grimbabwe.
I don't know anything about economics but isn't printing bits of paper and calling them US dollars one of the key ingredients in a recipe for more financial disaster? What's to stop the Government paying a senior policeman, for example, half a million US dollar "vouchers" and allowing him to buy up the entire contents of a supermarket?
Re the power sharing - I'm sure Cde Mugabe will find many ways to hamper his new PM, but the mere fact he has allowed the deal to go ahead will take him out of the world's headlines for a while and allow him and his wife to keep shopping with what's left of his country's wealth behind the scenes.
But I digress... it's the cows you want to hear about.
Shortly after disposing of Miranda, the dead cow I fed to the lions, Mrs Blog and I joined our friend E as she went to market, to market, to sell some fat cows. She wasn't exactly crazy about the prospect of selling some of her dexters (they're cows, by the way, not fat American boys with glasses), but the family needed a new generator.
Power cuts (although you can't really call them that when there really is no power) are a fact of life in Zimbabwe - just one more tangible example of how the President has brought about instituionalised ruination of his country. Our friends needed a big generator, at a cost of about $6000 (second hand).
I've never been to a cattle sale and I must say that one will probably do me for life. Particularly this one. Our friend's plump cows (or are they bulls - I never know) were the stand-out herd. You didn't have to be Dozycow to see that virtually all of the other animals up for auction were in an appalling state.
There were more ribcages on show than on a catwalk as they poor, frightened creatures were run past an audience of "New Farmers" who looked far better fed than anything else in the saleyards. One poor creature had hooves that were splayed almost a foot apart.
Prices were down, I was told, with our friend's babies fetching top dollar at around US$1.70 a kilogram. The average was around 70 cents.
We met a butcher elsewhere on our travels in Zimbabwe who told us we could buy beef fillet in his shop for US$8 per kilogram. This is cheap by world standards, but expensive for Zimbabwe.
So, as I was now an expert on all matters beef and cattle, it was with no small amount of shock that Mrs Blog and I stopped in a cafe in Harare and found that a hamburger was going to cost us US$10.
An unfortunate by-product of the President's carefully planned destruction of this once thriving economy is that greed has now become the order of the day for many people and businesses in Zimbabwe. Under the guise of shortages, inflation and other woe many Zimbabweans have taken to ripping each other off.
At the cattle sales there was a very nice lady selling very warm, small cans of coke for US$2 each. In my travels I saw cokes variously priced from 50 cents (in supermarkets) to $1 in restaurants, but $2??? What excuse was there for that?
Ditto the $10 hamburger. I came across plenty more examples of goods priced way above any reasonable mark-up, even if they had been smuggled in across the border from South Africa.
The cafe selling the overpriced burger (and another I went to, with equally ludicrous prices) was virtually empty. It occurred to me that the owners were probably inflating their prices because business was down, on the assumption that there would be a few rich people willing or desperate enough for a lump of mince on bread to pay the asking price.
I'm no more an entrepeneur than I am an economist, but when times are tough, business is slow, and beef is (relatively) cheap, wouldn't it be better to cut your prices and try and drum up some more trade? It's the same with Zimbabwe's national parks. Virtually no one goes there anymore, so the parks authorities have increased their prices out of sight. Zim's parks used to be some of the best value in the region, but now they're among the most expensive. Shouldn't they be offering cut-price specials to lure visitors back?
The day after the cattle sale our cow-herding friend E was run over by one of her dexters (now that would be funny if they really were little fat American boys with glasses, but it was no laughng matter). We drove her, battered and bruised, to a doctor's surgery in Harare.
After E had been checked out and administered painkillers she suggested a bit of retail therapy was in order, so we ducked across the road to one of the quasi-secretive "dollar shops" that had sprung up around Harare (this was before widespread trading in foreign currency had been legalised).
The Dollar Shop was inside a suburban house which looked like any other in the street, with the exception of the security on the gate and the customers' 4x4s parked all over the lawn.
Inside, some enterprising young ladies were selling a small but carefully selected choice of goods that they had imported from South Africa. There were toiletries, cereals, cooking oil, spices, condiments and other boring stuff, but of more interest to me was the reasonable selection of beers in the second bedroom.
A case of Miller Genuine Draft caught my eye, but at the asking price of US$20 I thought it was a bit much. One of the shop ladies wandered into the beer room and said; "I can sell you that for $18." Using my phone I calculated that that made the beer 75 cents a bottle. More expensive than South Africa, where it would have cost abut 60 cents (though a lot cheaper than Australia, I must add), but still very reasonable, I thought.
One of the problems in dealing in someone else's currency is the lack of coinage, so change was a big problem in Zimbabwe when we were there. E bought some stuff and didn't have the correct money, but one of the shop girls gave her a chocolate bar as change (the chocolate was, I reckoned, worth more than the changes should have been). A nice touch, and I was pleased to see that the dollar shop ladies were willing to discount to encourage business.
We stopped at another store, an upmarket supermarket, on the way back to the farm, and I found the same brand of beer, Miller Genuine Draft, on sale for US$1.10 a bottle - 35 cents more than the dollar shop. What a joke.
I love Zimbabwe - it's probably the most beautiful country I've ever been to and its people are the friendliest in Africa. Perhaps if the President stops stealing from his people, his people will stop robbing each other blind, but it's a little like the difference between the dollar shop and the rip-off supermarket down the road.
You can either say "I'll charge what I want and make as much money out of you while I can because I know (Mr Blog) you need your burgers and your beer," or you can be like the lovely ladies in the dollar store and hand out chocolate bars as change, saying "Please comeback again."
I want to come back to a Zimbabwe that is free, fair, honest and happy once again, but I can't see that happening until the stealing stops for good - from the top to the bottom.