Zimbabwe is, how can I say this without sounding harsh?... a hole. It’s a friendly hole. Even a fairly clean hole. But it seems like a deep dark pit where people live, hoping for the day when someone will come along and relieve the pain.
As a tourist, it was pleasant. Within a few days I had relaxed and felt welcome. The people are friendly, to the point where it’s almost as if they are saying, ‘Hey look… white people. D’you remember them? They were the one’s who brought us work. Wouldn’t it be nice to have them back?’
The lack of white people is staggering. Looking carefully into cars, houses, back yards and streets, I counted a grand total of three; yes three white people who were neither tourists or people working in the tourism industry or scientists or students studying the wildlife. Resident whites are conspicuous by their absence. It’s alarming to say the least. And with them, gone are so many businesses and the life they create.
My travelling companion was Dave Van Graan of Masezane Expeditions, Like me, the purposes of the trip for him were also two-fold. Apart from keeping me company, he wanted to set out a new route for his self-drive tours and also needed to find out if Zimbabwe was a safe bet for his clients. My reasons were to shoot my TV show, and to find out if it is a place I would want to return to.
We began at Great Zimbabwe near Masvingo, then Matopos, Hwange, Vic Falls, Lake Kariba via Matusadona and Mana Pools. It was mostly tar roads broken by two days of very rough going driving between Vic Falls and Kariba, which required a ‘bush camp’ because the distance and slowness of the road meant it couldn’t be done in a single day.
This was a pleasant surprise. Asking around and it seems as if Harare and Bulawayo are the two hotspots. Do not leave your packed vehicle unattended in these two cities. (Much like downtown Joburg). Vic Falls isn’t a good spot either, but apart from that it’s relaxed and, we were told, hardly ever and issue.
Clean, tidy and efficient, but run-down. I watched the employees, many of whom hardly ever get paid, making great efforts to keep things working; the ablutions clean and the paths swept. They mostly welcome you with bundles of firewood and let you now that if there is anything you need, they will be there. And I didn’t get the feeling that they were just looking for a tip either. It occurred to me that they were trying to make things right again.
Road blocks and police
There are road blocks aplenty, and cops with a speed camera outside of towns. Be very careful how quickly you speed up again after leaving a town. If you get caught, they will likely tell you that you were going to fast to pay an admission-of-guilt fine, and that you’ll have to see a magistrate in a few days time. This provides them a ploy to get some personal payment to let you go. Not unlike our own Joburg Metro Cops. The main difference is, our cops get decent salaries.
Avoid the big border posts if at all possible. Beit Bridge is a nightmare even when it’s not busy. We were helped no end by a brilliant article in SA 4x4 Magazine written a few months back. And have all your papers ready. Keep calm, polite and don’t let it be obvious that you’re in a hurry - like all of the Third World, it’s the best way to get border officials to slow down. Be cool to be quick! Avoid going through at night. It makes an unpleasant situation much worse.
I’m frustrated when South Africans look with scornfull eyes at our neighbours. Look at South Africa. Fuel is more expensive, groceries are more expensive, the security situation for the most part is worse than in Zimbabwe! I am happy to announce that Zimbabwe is easy, relaxed and as long as you do a little extra preparation (vehicle paperwork mainly), it’s a great place to take your family.
Mana Pools is truly fantastic with animals keeping us awake most of the night, with lions and hynena around the tents and grumpy buffalo in the campsite. Hwange is a great alternative to Kruger, with far fewer people and almost as much game. While Kariba Town is a bit of a dump, the lake is a truly brilliant venue if you’re on a houseboat.
I'll be back soon.