Meet the black diamonds who would love to propose a toast to Trevor Manuel

Andrew Molefe

Andrew Molefe

As Zimbabwe rushes headlong into the Apocalypse, he sat there, cool as a cucumber, sipping margaritas without a care in the world.

The young Zimbabwean man I met at the Monomutapa Crowne Plaza in Harare recently and who gave his name only as Sam, is a typical Zimbabwean black diamond.

His designer wrist watch, linen shirt and high-gloss boots would have had a combined value that could feed an average Zimbabwean family for the whole year.

On the other side of town, I met Mavis - not her real name - having sundowners in the Harare Holiday Inn.

She had brown suede Prada slip-ons and her two-piece jean suit smelled of money - lots of it.

As the drinks brought down the barriers, she took me into her confidence.

She was waiting for a "business associate" whom she had to pay for a job he did for her.

It turned out the business associate was a transport man with a tanker who, twice a week, runs errands for Mavis by slipping into Botswana to purchase fuel.

"Is business good?" I enquired.

"Better than good," she said without modesty.

Mavis is one of those people who believe that there's no better time to make loads of money than during times of crisis.

As the economy of her country crumbles and price controls bite and the pumps run dry, this is where Mavis and her fellow flotsam and jetsam come in.

"I buy a tanker-full of fuel in Botswana and sit tight on it until Harare runs dry and the prices go up," said the fuel merchant of Harare, kicking one expensively shod leg over the other.

Sam is a mystery. Badly paid hotel staff fight over themselves to be at his beck and call and Harare's beautiful young things made a beeline to our table.

But he never spoke about himself. He leaves the talking to his conspicuous wealth. And the language is vulgar. On our first encounter, he drove me to my hotel in the most luxurious German sedan I have had the fortune of driving in.

On the other side of the scale of Zim's wheelers and dealers are black-market racketeers.

Robyn Dixon of the Los Angeles Times wrote lyrically about the exploits of one Kuda Shumba: "Kuda Shumba spends his days on a motorbike sniffing out items such as sugar, cooking oil, bread, margarine or cellphone SIM cards, risking years in a dank prison if caught."

Shumba was said to boast: "You can only afford those things if you're a black-market guy."

Then I met Daniel, who calls himself a tobacconist.

He's one of the big boys who flood South Africa with poisonous Zimbabwean cigarettes.

"Every time your government hikes cigarette prices, my market expands tenfold," he told me.

"I love your Minister of Finance. May he continue with his sin tax."

With that he raised a glass and toasted Trevor Manuel.

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