Difference between revisions of "Zimbabwe"
Revision as of 08:40, 4 February 2009
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 are a major tourist attraction.
Once known as the Breadbasket of Africa, in recent times Zimbabwe has undergone an economic collapse and the rule of law has largely broken down.
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 overwhelmingly 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 been destroyed, inflation has shot up to millions of percentage points, informal homes and businesses have been destroyed, and there are severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine, together with the disappearance of the professional class and the emergence of mass unemployment. Life has grown miserable for Zimbabweans of all colours, and they 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
Citizens of most Western countries need a visa to get into Zimbabwe. Many nationalities, such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the USA can obtain a visa on arrival by paying the appropriate visa fees. Visa-free entry is possible for nationals certain countries, including Malaysia, Zambia, Hong Kong and several others. Check this website for the full scoop.
Be aware that it is not allowed to import the home currency (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 have now stopped their non-stop flights between Harare and Heathrow.
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. 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. Entering South Africa at Beitbridge can require 3-4 hours standing in line. Expect to pay police a bribe in South Africa in order to get in expensive-looking camera gear.
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 (there is no reliable information on the schedule or operation of this train). The train also passes through Hwange National Park, one of the biggest national parks 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. you can expect to pay around R50 per person to Vic Falls. Hitching is a better option and can try to negotiate fares with mobile phones and other useful items. Hitchhiking is probably the more comfortable and fastest way to go. 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.
In late January 2009, the government allowed the use of foreign currencies. Almost immediately, businesses stopped accepting Zimbabwe dollars. The US dollar is now the de facto currency in Zimbabwe, although the South African Rand and Zimbabwe dollar (rarely) are now accepted.
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 tripled!
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. The largest risk to foreigners is being caught up in political violence. 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.
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 queues!
In the current economic situation many medicines are in short supply or cannot be sourced, so you are strongly advised to take all medications with you. Medical attention will be very hard to get: many hospitals even in cities are completely closed or unable to offer substantial care. Some medical personnel may perform procedures for payment, in somewhat dangerous and underequipped surrounds. Medical supplies are severely restricted. Your travel insurance is very likely to be invalid if you travel to Zimbabwe and medical evacuations impossible to arrange.
HIV/AIDS infection rate in Zimbabwe is the 4th highest in the world at around 20% or 1 in 5 infected. Obviously you should never have unprotected sex. If you form a serious relationship, consider both getting an HIV test before taking things further.
There is at present a cholera outbreak throughout the country, including in Hanare.
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.