Despite the seemingly endless reign of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe is stable today, underlined by current positive growth figures. Challenges include power delivery and the policy of indigenisation.
Zimbabwe’s starring role as the basket case of Africa may be over, but challenges remain. The fragile coalition between the opposition MDC and Mugabe’s Zanu PF is flimsy at best, and elections in 2012 may strain the relationship further, as well as plunge the country once again into conflict. However, most services are back to a semblance of normalcy with fuel, food and goods readily available. Power and water remain sporadic, especially in areas of high density. Since the dollarisation of the economy (US dollar is legal tender), it has become expensive, with many ordinary Zimbabweans unable to afford basic provisions. Tourism and mining is picking up, despite the recent indigenisation drive, which requires all multinationals to cede 50 percent of their business to local shareholders.
Harare is the capital city and far away the most important centre, with Borrowdale its trendiest area. Bulawayo in the south is the second city, but Mutare in the Eastern Highlands and Victoria Falls in the west are economic hubs.
Zimbabwe has a pleasant climate, hot and wet in summer, cool and dry in winter. The average Harare temperature is 23°C.
Travellers from the following African countries can obtain visas at entry point, for no charge – Botswana, DRC, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia. For Egypt and Seychelles, $30 to be paid at entry point. All others need to apply in advance.
Internet is available, with various operators competing. Cell phone use is widespread as the landline infrastructure is in need of upgrading. Roaming agreements exist with Econet, NetOne and Telecel and the choice is manual from your phone. Ask a local which has better reception for a particular area.
Roads Zimbabwe’s road system is curious – very good out of the cities and challenging in the urban areas. Harare is particularly bad, with potholes and defective traffic lights. However, traffic is manageable by African standards, though great care needs to be taken with unroadworthy vehicles.
Toll roads and roadblocks Contrary to popular belief, Zimbabwe’s traffic police are generally law-abiding and fair. Roadblocks are frequent, mostly checking licenses and roadworthiness. Be friendly and open, do not bribe, and it will be reciprocated. Zimbabwe’s toll collections are a simple chair and a few officers taking your grubby $1. Do not, however, expect good roads.
Airport Harare’s airport, 10 kilometres from the centre of town, is modern and spacious. Taxis and transfers abound, and are well mannered and organised, with little of the East and North African hard sell on display. Most visitors are met by their accommodation transport, or they take a taxi.
Money US dollars are accepted and legal tender. South African rands are also widely accepted.
There is no bus or rail service worth mentioning and most travelling is done by private car. Car hire is expensive, but available, and taxis are the chosen form of transport in the cities. Internal flights are generally reliable, with charter flights increasingly popular. The inter-city road structure is surprisingly good.
Zimbabwe has excellent private hospitals, but insurance is crucial. Malaria is a serious problem in the south-east Lowveld and the west around Lake Kariba. Bottled water is recommended.
Websites – www.zim.gov.zw; www.zimbabwetourism.net; www.zimbabweconsulate.co.za
Population: 13 million
Time zone: GMT+2
Plugs: Three-prong square
Dialing code: +263 +area code + number
Currency: US dollar
GDP growth rate (2010): 9.1%
Language: English is widely spoken and understood