Difference between revisions of "Zimbabwe"
Revision as of 09:19, 20 March 2008
Zimbabwe  is a country in Southern Africa. It is landlocked and is surrounded by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia to the northwest, and Mozambique to the east and north.
Although the country is landlocked, its great rivers are used for transport. The Zambezi forms the natural riverine boundary with Zambia and when in full flood (February-April) the massive Victoria Falls on the river forms the world's largest curtain of falling water. The falls have been a major tourist attraction.
Once known as the Breadbasket of Africa, in recent times Zimbabwe has undergone a politically induced economic depression. Due to political activities, many commercial farms have been taken out of large-scale production. Press freedoms have been curtailed and law and order has been compromised by armed gangs.
Stone cities were built in many locations in present-day Zimbabwe. The most impressive structures and the best known of these, Great Zimbabwe, were built in the 15th century, but people had been living on the site from about 400 AD.
The population was overwhelming made up of Shona speakers until the 19th century when the Nguni tribe (in 1839-40) of the Ndebele settled in what is now Matabeleland, and then in 1890 the territory came under the control of the British South Africa Company under charter from the British Government.
The United Kingdom annexed Southern Rhodesia from the British South Africa Company in 1923, when the country got its own government and Prime Minister. A 1961 constitution was formulated that favoured whites in power. In 1965 the government unilaterally declared independence, but the UK did not recognize the act and demanded more complete voting rights for the black African majority. UN sanctions and a guerrilla struggle finally led to both free elections and independence (as Zimbabwe) in 1980.
Robert Mugabe was the first leader of Zimbabwe and still clings on to power 28 years later. He initially pursued a policy of reconciliation towards the white population, but severity towards regions which had supported a competing guerilla group (ZAPU). From 2000, Mugabe has instituted a policy of extensive land redistribution and of "national service" camps, which are suspected of political indoctrination. In recent years, the economy has shrunk 30%, inflation has shot up to over 2200%, informal homes and businesses have been destroyed, and there are shortages of food and fuel. Zimbabweans of all colours have been leaving the country in large numbers. The prospects of change seem remote at present.
Tropical; moderated by altitude; rainy season (November to March). Although there are recurring droughts, floods and severe storms are rare.
Mostly high plateau with higher central plateau (high veld); mountains in east. Lowveld in south eastern corner.
Elevation extremes : lowest point: junction of the Runde and Save rivers 162 m highest point: Inyangani 2,592 m
You need a visa to get into Zimbabwe. At least on the Livingstone/Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) you will get it on demand, but it costs 30 US$ even for a day's visit. For Canadian visitors the price is even higher.
Be aware that it is not allowed to import the home currency (the Z$) into Zimbabwe. This is often controlled at the border posts.
Harare International Airport has a number of international flights, mainly to other African countries. When coming from Europe you can fly directly with Air Zimbabwe from London. Air Zimbabwe also operates to Dubai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Singapore in Asia. However, a good option is to fly with South African Airways  via Johannesburg. SAA operates to quite a few European airports and has many flights to South Africa and other African destinations. When coming from South Africa you can also use the no-frills airline Kulula.com . KLM offer flights from Amsterdam via Nairobi which continue on to Lusaka from Harare. 
British Airways operates non stop flighs from London Heathrow to Harare on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. 
Zimbabwe is accessible by road from the countries that surround it.
The N1 highway from South Africa will take you from Cape Town via Bloemfontein and Johannesburg/Pretoria right to Harare. Please note that this is a toll road, especially when coming closer to Zimbabwe. (You can reach the N1 from nearly anywhere in South Africa, as it goes straight through the country.) Gas stations are easy to spot in Zimbabwe due to the long lines waiting for gas, as fuel shortages are common. Most realiable gas that is available is the coupon system that is sold and particular gas stations. The N1 highway is only within South Africa and ends at Beitbridge Border post as you get into Zimbabwe.
Regular deluxe bus services operate from Johannesburg to Harare. A number of buses also travel from Johannesburg to Bulawayo. The more adventourus tourists could travel by train from Bulawayo to the Victoria Falls. The train also passes through Hwange National Park, one of the biggest national park in Africa.
Between the cities buses are still running - but are bad even by African standards. The only exception is with buses from the RoadPort in Harare which run to Lusaka, Lilongwe (not Blantyre) and some other destinations.
Minibus taxis still run in the cities - and the Bulawayo - Vic Falls train is a good experience - although you will pass through the wreckage of the 2006 train crash that claimed quite a few lives.
Given the price of petrol nearly everyone traveling between cities picks up hitchhikers (for a fee) - as a tourist you'll get to the front of the queue every time.
The languages spoken are English (official), Shona, Sindebele/Ndebele, and numerous but minor tribal dialects.
The official currency is the Zimbabwean dollar ($ or Z$).
Getting money is the biggest hassle of a visit to Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is currently experiencing hyperinflation standing at somewhere above 150 000% as of March 2008. The Consumer Price index is around 1 000 000 000% (yes, that is 1 billion), so the price of goods may increase substantially over even the course of a single day. The official exchange rate, where US$1 buys Z$30,000 is ridiculous; as of January 2008, the black market rate is around Z$3 million.
Note that by the time you read this things may have changed drastically
Changing money at the official rate makes Zimbabwe the most expensive country on earth for travellers: a loaf of bread might cost US$12. Hence, despite it being illegal, travellers will probably want to buy Zimbabwean dollars on the black market. However, it is very risky to change money on the street — it would make a Zimbabwean policeman very happy to catch a western tourist conducting 'economic sabotage' due to the huge bribe you'd have to pay to escape his clutches. You will have to use your wits to find someone reliable to change money. Your guesthouse / backpackers will be able to put you in touch with someone although you may find it difficult to get more than US$50 worth of Zim dollars at any one time. Not all black marketeers will change Euro.
You can use foreign money at roughly the black market rate at some, but by no means all, shops. Most proper shops, hotels and tourist class guesthouses will NOT accept US dollars at the black market rate (the Central Bank does strict audits). Independent shops, market stalls etc will happily take foreign currency. In such cases, US dollars are your best bet; bring lots of small bills as no one will be able to give you change in forex.
Under a unlawful hoarding law it is illegal for anyone to be in possession of more than Z$500 million in cash. It is also illegal for any trader to accept more than Z$250 million in cash for any single transaction. With one litre of petrol costing around Z$12 million, this makes it technically illegal to pay in cash for a tank of fuel.
You will find that many places charge non-Zimbabweans more for entry (national parks, Victoria falls, various museums) and you can only pay in foreign currency unless you show a Zim passport. One trick you may want to try is to change some money (US$50 maybe) at the official rate at a forex bureau, get the receipt, and show this receipt every time you visit a foreign currency only place, and then pay in your (black market) Zim dollars. The very enterprising may want to sell this receipt to a fellow traveller when leaving the country.
As for costs - non-imported things are very cheap (especially labour intensive things), however for a tourist drinking coke and eating pizza prices are not that much lower than in South Africa.
Sometimes,the prices of bread -if you can get it- go up twice in a single day.You'd have to wait long hours to get a few commodities and when you get to the front of the queue,the prices would have trebled!
Haggling for a better price is common, but keep in mind that most people are very poor so don't try to abuse their desperation.
For a sample of what Zimbabweans eat (in some form, nearly every day), ask for "sadza and stew." The stew part will be familiar, served over a large portion of sadza - a thick ground corn paste (vaguely like polenta and the consistency of thick mashed potatoes) that locals eat at virtually every meal. It's inexpensive, quite tasty and VERY filling.
If you want to really impress your African hosts, eat it how they do: take a golfball-sized portion of the sadza in one hand and kneed it into a ball, then use your thumb to push a small indentation into it and use that to scoop up a bit of stew before popping it into your mouth.Don't 'double dunk'.
For extra credit, clap your hands together twice gently when it (or anything else for that matter) is served to say "thank you." Trust me: they'll be very impressed!
A variety of domestic brews are made in Zimbabwe, mainly European-style lagers with a few milk stouts mixed in for good measure. If you're feeling very adventurous, you may want to try the unusual "beer" that most locals drink, a thick, milky beverage known as Chibuku - guaranteed to be unlike anything you've ever tasted outside of Africa. It is generally sold in a 2 litre plastic bottle called a 'skud' but is often decanted into a plastic bucket after a good shake. Beware, however: it's definitely an acquired taste!
Imported drinks and locally made franchises are available as well as local soft drinks. If you are offered Mazoe, this is the local orange squash (or other fruit flavour). Bottled water is also available. Tap water is of variable quality, depending on the area and source. In Bulawayo it is usually excellent. However this depends on whether there is water in the reservoirs, as there are sometimes water cuts in order to divert water to areas that are low.
There are various hotels and motels in the town. If you are on a safari tour there are chalets and camping sites in most of the safaris areas. Several hotels have international partnerships, such a Meikles Hotel, Crown Monomotapa Hotel, Holiday Inn in Harare and Bulawayo.
You also have access to lodges in the towns.
Given the political and economic instability in the country, travellers to Zimbabwe should take care with their personal security and safety. However, on the whole the country remains very safe for foreign visitors (certainly more so than South Africa, for example) and you are likely to find it very welcoming and quite inexpensive. Simply exercise the same caution and sensitivity you would as a relatively well-heeled tourist travelling in any very poor country or in cities like New York, Rome or London. And don't forget to tip; times are tough for locals, and they depend on your generosity.
If you tip a street kid,you are highly likely to be given the correct directions to any place, have your rental car looked after,sometimes for protection or sometimes to jump ques!
Recently, security forces including the army and the police have been striking or resigning in large numbers, as have medical professionals. You might not be able to rely on their presence to ensure your personal safety... or to keep order in general.
Though in general Zimbabwe remains a safe place, don't be shocked to see a policeman slap and kick-about a local. It's the rule of law over there. Don't be shocked to see the locals beat up a thief sometimes to the point of death. Its the rule of the law in ALL of Africa, its called public justice over there. They don't go to the police station, the public love to deal with pick-pockets.
In the current economic situation many medicines are in short supply, so you are strongly advised to take all medications with you. Private doctors, hospitals and pharmacies are of a good professional standard in the towns, although specialist medicine or surgery may require a visit to South Africa. Again, however, current circumstances may severely restrict medical supplies.
HIV/AIDS is very common in Zimbabwe. Obviously you should never have unprotected sex. If you form a serious relationship, consider both getting an HIV test before taking things further.
Malaria is prevalent, so unless you are going to stay entirely within Harare or Bulawayo, anti-malarials are advised. Drugs reduce the severity of the disease but don't prevent infection, so also consider precautions such as:
Bilharzia is present in some lakes. Ask locally before swimming.
Snakes are common in the bush, and most bites are on the foot or lower leg. If walking, particularly in long grass, wear proper boots and either long, loose trousers or thick, concertinaed hiking socks. Shake out boots and shoes in the morning, in case you have a guest. These precautions also reduce the chance of scorpion sting. If you do get bitten or stung, stay calm. Try to identify the exact culprit, but get to medical assistance as rapidly as you can without undue exertion. Many bites and stings are non-fatal even if not treated, but it is safer to seek treatment, which is very effective these days.
Clapping twice is an accepted "thank you", especially when someone is handing you something (food, a purchase). If one hand is full you can clap the free hand on your chest. As in Asia, taking items passed to you with both hands is polite.
When shaking hands or handing anything valuable to someone, it is polite to support the right forearm with the left hand (or vice versa), to signify the "weight" of the gift or honour. In practice this often means just touching the forearm, or even gesturing towards it.
When taking something from a local, it is strictly done with the right hand as it is seen as an insult if the left hand is used regardless of dexterousness. The same rule applies when passing something.