When I was a child growing up, if a call went out for someone to bring a ‘bobijon spanner’ you knew that a large, heavy, adjustable wrench was needed for some difficult task or other: on the generator, under the car or in the jumble of pipes under the bath tub. This strange word was apparently derived from the South African term “bobbejaan spanner” (baboon spanner) and the joy of locating it was that you knew to just open the tool box and bring the biggest, heaviest adjustable spanner you could find; it fit everything and doubled up as hammer when all else failed! I saw a bobijon spanner again this week, not in the hands of a handyman but being carried by the local Municipal money collectors.
One Municipal security guard accompanied by one man in a jacket and tie and another in blue overalls came door to door through the residential neighbourhood. A bang on the gate and they say that because people aren’t coming to pay their monthly accounts in town anymore, they’ve come to collect the money themselves. If your account isn’t paid up to date, they say, you must pay right now, to the men at the gate. If you don’t pay part or all of what you owe right then, the man with the bobijon spanner will immediately disconnect your water supply.
This delegation of money collectors and their bobijon spanner man came just days after the news that our town’s proposed 2015 municipal budget had been rejected by the local government minister because it didn’t meet the stipulated 70:30 wage bill ratio. This ratio means that for every dollar collected from ratepayers, 70 cents should go to service provision and 30 cents to wages. In my home town at the moment US$320,000 revenue is collected every month by the Municipality and US$300,000 of this is paid out in salaries and wages. This leaves just US$ 20,000 a month for service provision for the whole town. This then explains every pothole, every pile of dumped garbage, every uncollected dustbin, every street light that hasn’t worked for over a decade and the trickle of water we get for an hour or two a day if we’re lucky.
The delegation of money collectors and their bobijon spanner man didn’t tell us they weren’t adhering to the 70:30 ratio when they came threatening us at our homes; they didn’t tell us that their ratio is in fact more like 90:10. Ninety percent of our money goes to their wages and just ten percent to looking after the town. Nor did they tell us that according to press reports one of the town council’s managers being retrenched has been given a package of US$92,000.
Oh shame on Zimbabwe, and this is only what’s going on at local council level, we can only imagine what’s happening higher up the ladder.
Please keep abducted journalist/activist Itai Dzamara in your thoughts, he’s been missing since Monday, taken in broad daylight from a barber shop in Harare. Comments on my letters from Zimbabwe on social media sites are welcome but please don’t use racist remarks, they are offensive, unacceptable and put my reputation in disrepute.