In January 2005, my brother received a call that I was required to go to Department of Veterinary Services HQ in Harare to process my work papers! Wow. I was impressed by the efficiency of the system. I didn’t even know my exam results! But that was the way it worked back then. The College processed students results and passed the names and contact details to the Vet Field HQ offices for work placement processing. There was no interview, the Director of Veterinary Services personally declared that she was satisfied by the standard of Mazowe graduates for field work!
That’s how, in February 2005, I found myself in Karoi, a charming little town in Mashonaland West. I was a newly-minted Veterinary Extension Assistant, commissioned to work hard for the people, helping them take care of their livestock and land resources and more.
I lodged at the District Vet Offices for the duration of my early period as an extension assistant. I slept in the big common office, stuffing my blankets in the cupboards at dawn before the office opened for business. I was, and still are, someone who liked his sleep and this whole routine cramped my style. But I had little choice. Some very inept human resource clerk was “sitting” on our papers in Chinhoyi and our salaries were not yet processed. In fact, I went for close to 7 months without a salary, but that’s a story for another day…
Karoi District Office was one busy station. There was a steady stream of clients coming in from all over the area: prosperous farmers in their pick-up trucks requiring animal movement permits; dodgy cattle buyers running away from their local vet officers to try to get services where their history was unknown (we always send them back!); weather-beaten small-scale farmers wanting to buy Berenil for the Trynopanosomiasis of their cattle; NGO field officers liaising with the office on one issue or another…it was exciting!
We were 5 or 6 veterinary assistants at the office for induction at the same time. But I was the only one coming from Mazowe Vet College, so from that perspective I was privileged, at least in the eyes of the bosses! Mazowe had this reputation, deservedly in my opinion, of producing really well-rounded professionals that would not need any hand-holding in the field. And it proved true in this instance. Our boss would send the whole bunch of new vet assistants to make cattle movement inspections in the farms, and I was tasked to lead, much to the annoyance of some of the guys, who thought it was favouritism!
Karoi is a small farming town. Originally, it was set up as a service centre for White commercial farmers who ran prosperous farming operations in that wet region of the country. So after the land reform of 2002, most of the White farmers had been displaced and their farms (and stock sometimes) taken over by black elites. One such displaced farmer was a guy called Coetze.
Coetze and I became good friends because he had become a cattle buyer. He would come to the office and pick up whoever was available to go for cattle inspections as he bought the cattle from the small-scale farmers in the local Vuti area. But his problem was he did not “pay” for the officers that he took for his buying jaunts. So a lot of my colleagues avoided him like the plague. I rather liked the outdoorsy, unpredictable nature of the job, and volunteered frequently to go with him. It became such that he would come to the office to ask specifically for me.
Coetze would come early in the morning, usually in the company of a pleasant police constable called Mabuto, who became a good friend of mine. We would pile in the cab of his pick-up and scour the Vuti area for cattle. Normally it was fairly organised, we found farmers with their cattle at designated areas, where they would haggle and argue with Cortze for the prices. He would look at the beast, head tilted at a judicious angle, and bellow:”haina magaro iyi!” (Loosely translated…”it has no buttocks!”). And at some point he tried to enlist me to “translate” some point he was making, and I refused point blank. No way I was going to be party to some rip-off, particularly as the farmers were supposed to be my clients anyway. It was a bit of an ethical dilemma.
We worked late hours with Cortze. At some of the buying points, we ended up using torches, as the patient sellers and tired buyer plugged away. We would then drive along winding dirt roads, avoiding the hares that criss-crossed in front of the car headlights. So one day I said to Cortze, “please can you run over one of them little ones for our dinner!” He said “no way man”. But when we arrived at his Shambatungwe Farm, he ordered his foreman in his Raparapa rasp: “Eh, George, take the roro big goat and kill for Magwiroto and Mabuto for their meat”. And we took the goat and had it nicely sliced and split into half.
The astonished and admiring looks that I got from my fellow officers the next morning was worth all those long hours…