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Published: November 11th 2008
What a beautiful country! We had planned to avoid Zim altogether but circumstances made us change our plans so we considered crossing Zim in one hit from the Mozambique border to Botswana - some 400 to 500 miles - carrying enough fuel to be self sufficient.
In the event we found fuel readily available and the country so lovely that we spent over a week there! The two major towns we visited were Harare and Bulawayo, both of which had lovely wide streets, flowering flamboyants abounded, the people were all friendly. There were two sorts of people we met - the Haves and the HaveNots. We met more of the latter. They were all anxious to talk to us but their mood often appeared to be one of utter helplessness, they felt that they were unable to change things. The Haves, on the other hand, were not interested politically but only interested in making more money.
As for money, we were totally confused by the Zim Dollar, the New Zim Dollar (where they had knocked 9 noughts off the old dollar) and I believe that there is now a new, New Zim dollar. We kept well away from local money and completed all our transactions either in US$ or in Rands. But the one feature that really struck us was that, on the one hand, Zim has all the infrastructure in place - the railway worked, the streets and pavements were in good condition, buildings were well built (some of them quite lovely as well), wonderful roads, while on the other hand there was absolutely no money to work anything. The massive timber plantations of pine, gum and wattle, were all completely idle. Tea estates going to rack and ruin. The one tobacco farm we saw was now just put to subsistence living. Nobody apparently had any seed-corn as it has all been eaten, nobody has any money and, if they do have any today, it is worthless tomorrow with the current inflation levels in astronomic figures. People are starving to death in some parts of the country and the stories we were told were horrific.
We experienced nothing but kindness - never did we feel threatened and we were universally welcomed. We all of us felt that the only people able to sort out this impasse were the Zims themselves. It was heartbreaking to go into the shops where there was absolutely nothing on the shelves, perhaps packets of soap powder, but little if any food whatsoever. The knock on effect of all of this was very apparent in Botswana. The country is flooded with illegal Zimbabweans who have escaped from their country. They have no work and petty crime has shot up in Botswana. In the supermarkets in Francistown, which were well stocked with a wide variety of stuff, Zims (both black and white) were stocking up with goods to take back to Zim.
Talking to them we learned that provided they came as infrequently as once a month and were not excessive with their purchases they could take back what they wanted without any trouble at the border. I asked one (black) old Zim lady how often she came down to shop and her reply was “Whenever we have enough money.” It is all so, so sad. What was once a thriving country is now in rack and ruin. We are all so glad that we have experienced this country which we found utterly beautiful.
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