Translating IT Support from Fox Valley to Zimbabwe

In 1990 and 1991, PC Methods was instrumental in providing a complete workstation and power conditioning system to Living Bible Translators in Harare, Zimbabwe. We learned about six lessons that will still apply to setting up systems in other countries.Zimbabwe 

The reason for the project was to provide additional support to a project that was translating "The Living Bible" from English to Shona and Ndebele. Those two languages cover about 98% of the population of Zimbabwe, although most Zimbabweans learn English in school.

Up until 1991, the translators were using manual typewriters to transcribe the pages of the Bible and those pages had to be letter perfect to submit to the editor.  This made for a lot of retyping.  The director of the Harare office, Pius Wakatama, had gone to Wheaton College in the late 70's and early 80's and he knew that computers could be helpful for this effort.

Due to a variety of circumstances, PC Methods Inc. was brought in on a pro bono basis to evaluate what type of computer could be purchased or donated to the office. In 1990, I went to Harare on mission trip with about 20 other people and part of my project was to identify five areas of computer support that needed special attention:

  • Duties - (even for donated items) were about three times the cash price of the donated item in the US. There was a $200 exclusion, per person, so $200 worth of items could be brought in without paying duty.
  • Power conditioning was what I considered in 1990 to be terrible. By 2011 standards, with brownouts all over the US, Zimbabwe power doesn't seem as bad to me as it did then, but no question, power could fail at any time and probably would at least two times a week.  
  • The frequency of the power grid is 50 hz in Zimbabwe (same as the U.K.) and the voltage is 220 AC. This presented some problems.
  • Supplies were scarce and expensive - even paper and dot matrix ribbons were many times more expensive in Zimbabwe than in the US. Paper had to be the A4 style rather than 8.5" by 11". (Wordperfect and the printer had no problems with this).
  • Service companies to fix and repair computer equipment were quite common and reasonably priced. There was also a good supply of people trained on PC's and Wordperfect. 

In 1991, we brought in a 286 PC running Dos, Wordperfect 5.1, OKIData ML 320 dot matrix printer, battery backup unit, supplies, and a step down transformer which translated the 220VAC power to 110VAC.   We were able to get the printer to run on the 220VAC power directly by flipping a configuration switch. We were not able to use the battery backup because the 50 cycle power would not charge it, since the electronics of the charger were set up for 60 cycles. We did have a surge protector which worked fine to protect the PC against power surges. We were able to reduce the amount of duty paid to a minimum by breaking the donation into parts and each person carried a portion of the equipment.  We still had to pay about $1100 USD of duty. 

Other than the battery backup, everything worked fine, and the office was able to effectively use the donated equipment for many years without incurring a lot of support cost or repair cost.

The same areas of concern would be true for any operation that needed to move or relocated equipment to another country:

  1. Check governmental regulations as regarding duties and computer equipment.
  2. Check on supplies - availability and pricing will probably be different.
  3. Check on local talent. Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised. 
  4. Check on local service providers.  Many companies (Microsoft, Dell, Sage, IBM) have a worldwide presence. Availability and pricing will definitely be different.


Peter Heinicke

Peter Heinicke

Chicago area ERP consultant with over 40 years of experience in Sage 300, Sage Pro, Quickbooks ERP and other systems

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