Beware in Zimbabwe
Before visiting Zimbabwe you need to know what to expect. It can be very costly not to.
And before you think I am one poor disillusioned neophyte let me mention that I have spent a lifetime travelling, and have more than 110 countries behind me. There are only two I would not go back to, and Zimbabwe is one of them, (Nigeria is the other.)
Recently I spent a couple of months in the countries of Southern Africa, with about a week in Zimbabwe. It is extremely corrupt at every level.
Check in to any hotel and discover your room has no – towels –soap – tissues – chairs – light bulbs – pillows – door lock - etc. Take your pick of several of the above. Call the desk and ask to have the missing items provided and be assured that it will happen immediately. Then get a procession of separate staff come one by one with one item each, tell you how hard it was to find it, and stand around waiting for a tip until you chase them out.
I understand they are poor, and I will quite happily tip for good service, but I won’t be held up to pay someone to do the job they should have done in the first place, but deliberately botched.
Go to a supermarket and they suddenly have no change. You will have to scream and dance to get attention, since suddenly they no longer speak English.
Stand on the street and look in a shop for too long and the local cop will fine you on the spot for loitering.
Drive across the border into a neighboring country and the border guards will search your safari vehicle and help themselves to any of your gear and supplies that they fancy.
Have your empty plastic water bottle confiscated at the airport because one of the security people expressed a liking for it and her supervisor told her to "just take it.". Try to see an airport manager to complain and once again they suddenly speak no English. Attempt to go back through the control point to find someone and they summon an armed guard, their English returns, and they threaten you with arrest.
At the airport make the mistake of not carrying on all your baggage and find that your checked bag is not on your plane when you arrive in South Africa. (together with the bags of about thirty other passengers.) Apparently the plane was “too heavy.” When you receive it the next day, it (and all the others,) will have been looted of everything of value, together with your dirty underwear, socks, shoes, sandals, and even a plastic spoon used to take medicine.
The suitcase was secured with TSA approved luggage locks, and was still locked when it was returned. So it is evident that only the airport customs people could have opened it.
When reported to the airline the only comment was “There’s nothing we can do, it happens almost every day.”
The countryside is interesting; the scenery and the wildlife great; Victoria Falls are stunning; and so much more.
But the country and the people, from the President to the street sweeper, are totally without pride or honor.
Go if you must, but BEWARE. Take nothing that you value.Related to:
- Adventure Travel
- Family Travel
Facilitators at the Beit Bridge Border Post
This postcard picture I'm using here shows a picture of Beit Bridge border post which is quite unlike any of my ten memories of going through it (I flew into Harare twice, a much easier border crossing than Beit Bridge). The first time we arrived at the border post we arrived just before it opened at 06:00 and we were already quite far behind the front vehicles in the queues. There were a lot of trucks in the queue and lots and lots of people. This empty border post is actually unimaginable as one deals with the crush of humanity and the frustration of paper work for the vehicle, for ourselves. Even the South African side can be a pain, but the Zimbabwean side is nightmare.
This tip is to ensure that you do NOT in any circumstances give your passport to anyone who offers to help you facilitate the paper work. The paper work is all free and if you need to pay anything to anyone you should get an official receipt. That will discourage them from asking. Taking Zimbabwean currency in and out of Zimbabwe is fraught with difficulties and you might have to pay something like customs duty for something (and the "regulations" change from day to day) in Zimbabwean currency which will be given to you in exchange for South African rands or dollars at a ridiculous legal rate. Think of it as feeding the official's family because otherwise it will annoy you.
As I said, the Zimbabwean side is more likely to be a problem, but the South African side may also try to rip foreign tourists off.
Once you cross Beit Bridge be aware that prices for locals and for tourists will be different. Very annoying, but part of the joys of visiting Zimbabwe.Related to:
- Family Travel
- Budget Travel
THE SHAME OF ROBERT MUGABE
Zimbabwe is a dictatorship and a badly run one at that. Over the last couple of years the economy has been run into absolute ruin. Zimbabwe used to be a major EXPORTER of food. Now it relies on outside food aid to feed its people – when the government lets the aid in. What does this mean to you as a traveller? You cannot get petrol. Plan on that fact. Also meat is hard to find. Just look at the picture of the shelves in the grocery store in Victoria Falls. What meat you find is frozen and must be cooked within an inch of its life. That’s because electricity goes off in the afternoons. It may have thawed before. Vegetables and other items can still be found. If you have a car, take everything you need from another country. It’s a shame, but that’s the state of affairs.Related to:
- Road Trip
- Budget Travel
DO NOT EXCHANGE MONEY AT THE BANK !
Or in the street either. You are looking at 1 MILLION DOLLARS! Unfortunately its Zimbabwe Dollars. Yep, 5 notes shouldn’t make up 1 Million of any currency. So here is the trick – and it is a trick. At the time I was there I got between 750,000 and 800,000 Zim dollars for $1 US or a cool 1.6 Million for every £1 (UK). If I had gone to the bank and gotten the OFFICIAL rate I would have only gotten about 260,000. That’s just how crooked the government is. And if you change money on the streets it could cost you, or more likely the local person, some time in prison. So how do you win? Go by the Travel/Excursion Operators and ask around. They will sort it out. Don’t get too much; even locals don’t want this Monopoly Money. Besides, the grocery stores are empty and there’s no fuel!Related to:
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
One of the Worlds Most Repressive Society
Freedom House publishes some great facts on "freedom" and Zimbabwe is on the list of the
"Worst of the Worst: The World's Most Repressive Societies 2007"
Other "Winners": Belarus, Burma, Chechnya, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Haiti, Laos, Libya, N Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tibet, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Morocco
In 2006, Zimbabwe suffered...deterioration of political rights and civil liberties amid a near-total collapse of the country’s economy.
protests prompted the large-scale deployment of security forces, the use of excessive force, mass arrests & physical abuse of detainees.
crackdown on the country’s few remaining independent media outlets, employing new technologies to jam radio broadcasts...monitor and intercept internet-based communications.
inflation over 1,200%...put the price of basic goods—including food and fuel—out of the reach of most Zimbabweans.
The government’s seizures of white-owned farmland..precipitated the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy...[once] the majority of the country’s exports, foreign exchange, and jobs. ...seized land went to officials & loyalists...w/o farming background....making Zimbabwe the world’s fastest-shrinking economy in a country without an active war or insurgency
Corruption is rampant....at the highest levels of government...lack of transparency in govt allows graft to thrive.
security and military forces...abuse citizens with impunity. ...ignore basic rights regarding detention, searches, and seizures....govt has taken no clear action to halt the rising incidence of torture and mistreatment of suspects... human rights abuses such as assault torture, rape, extralegal evictions, and extralegal executions without fear of punishment.
Prison conditions are harsh and life-threatening.
Women enjoy extensive legal protections, but de facto societal discrimination and domestic violence persist.
Homosexuality, decried as un-African by Mugabe, is illegal in Zimbabwe.
Animalpoachers and headhunters
Although the Matetsi is a national park which means the animals aren't meant for hunting or game, but on the other side of the river, on the zambian side there is no national park or reserve, which means that hunters from villages and pochers illegale cross the river and kill animals in the national park. They then drag them over the river by small boats. This is very bad because some animals like elephants can become hostile against humans, and the herds are damaged when the killers come. This is beeing prevented by patrols driving around and keeping an eye out. The sentence for poachers is death, if they run the patrols have license to shoot on sight, so it is very serious. When I was there three men where shot on sight just few days before and we saw three men on the Zambian side running for it when they saw our tourboat. If you see anything suspicious, talk to your safariguide.Related to:
Only Go if You Know a Local
Usually I’m the kind of person to shrug off peoples “warnings” about traveling here and there, but Zim is different! This is a very dangerous place to explore on your own. I’ve driven myself through several African countries, and I won’t go here again unless accompanied by someone who knows exactly how to deal with the conditions there. Zimbabwe is a beautiful country, with a horribly repressive regime squeezing its people to death. Not surprisingly, many of the 80% who are unemployed and living under a 1000% inflation rate, turn to criminal means to survive. I’ve been assured by my friends there that things have only gone downhill since my visit 3 years ago.Related to:
- National/State Park
Zimbabwe has got one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world, with estimation that one in three black Zimbabweans have the virus today. Hence use prevention; else you probably play Russian roulette with a fully loaded gun.Related to:
- Study Abroad
- Business Travel
Due to isolation of the current regime, and a general shortage of foreign currency this airline is as cash strapped as the rest of the country. Also Robert Mugabe seems to be using "his" national airline at good will whenever he chooses to go on a trip. If the aircraft are flying it is dangerous enough, but at times you may arrive at the airport to find that Uncle Bob is one his way to Cuba or China and takes the aircraft away from under your nose.
On a lighter note the airline is in the Guiness Book of World Records for the scheduled flight with the least passengers - Dubai to Harare, one passenger boarded!
Do I need to say more?Related to:
- Business Travel
- Luxury Travel
- Family Travel
We got no gas...
As people might know, there have been shortages of petrol in Zimbabwe for some time. Whereas it is not as bad as it was a few years ago, there is still the possibilty of shortages. Each gas station will have a sign along the road that will tell you yes or no to the types of fuel they have.
Keep an open eye while on the road.
If you are driving at night, be careful when your vehicle is stopped. People have been known to run up to cars and smash the window in order to try and grab something of value. Someone we know was driving and someone tossed a brick at their window. It bounced off. How does a brick bounce off glass anyways?
Be careful of the exchange rates.
Do NOT exchange your money anywhere the government has set up. The best place for you to change money is on the black market. If you aren't getting $100,000 Zim for $1 US, you are getting ripped off. The charge for a half hour of parking at the airport was $350,000 Zim. Of course...you have to find the black market to exchange your money...
Patience required when entering
Be prepared to wait a long time in line when entering Zimbabwe! Be sure you have your visas if required, and some cash (US dollars work well). And btw: When they charge you something in dollars, be aware that their own currency is called dollar, too! Don't make the mistake of paying them in US dollars!!!Related to:
- Road Trip
Beware of crowds of people!
Particularly in markets people will crowd around you wanting you to buy things, whilst someone else slips there hand in you pocket. Be gracious but firm, and tell them to go away before they actually swarm you.
Care at ATM's!
Be very careful when leaving an ATM machine, especially in Vic Falls and Harare, I have heard of people being mugged as they have just left. Also I have heard from locals, that the area near the Railway line in Vic. Falls is particularly dangerous to wander round on your own after dark, so it is best to go in a group, particularly if it is very late.
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