Last week a met a man at my flying club who told me he was from Zimbabwe. I had told him that I had recently gone there on a look-and-see trip to find out if it was still as bad as people (including me) thought. I found out that he had lived there, when I did. That was back in 1966, when I was six. We had stayed just six months, living in a thatched cottage not far from what was then called Salisbury. Then he got talking about his primary school - Highlands. The coincidences came one on top the other. He also lived in Highlands. It turned out that not only did he live in the same suburb, he went to the same school and his sister was in my class. Not only that - he lived in the same street - on the same side of the road about ten houses apart. Now why am I telling you this, you may ask?
Because it’s my job to get things right, especially when people’s safety is at stake. This man was a blessing to many a would-be Zimbabwe visitor. He explained that he had travelled from Beit Bridge to Vic Falls, and onto northern Zambia in February this year. (Three months ago) And his story was the polar opposite from my own. It had taken more than US$1000 in bribes to get him through the country. The police would stop them, arrest them without even asking questions, and tell them they had to pay a spot fine or see a magistrate in three days, and while they waited, it would be in a jail cell. The offence was sometimes speeding, when in fact the radar camera was not on display and the actual speed bore no resemblance to that claimed. There were claims that the front reflectors were not the right size and others ridiculous charges. They had also been hijacked in Harare. This I am told (and was warned during my visit) is common practice. In the centre of Harare, gangs will spike a tyre and when you pull over to repair it, you are hijacked and your cameras, wallets and cell phones are taken. The warning is, even if you destroy a tyre – drive on! Even if you wait until the ‘coast is clear’, they wait, hidden and wait until your backs are turned.
So, my conclusions… would I take my family on a motoring holiday through Zimbabwe? I'm not that keen any more.