Greetings from Harare - and some impressions after a few days in this (still) beautiful country - where the trees are taller and the skies are bluer! We usually try to make an annual trip 'to the North' but current problems with fuel and currency exchange have made this difficult over the past couple of years.
We were going to drive and carry our own fuel but discovered that Kulula (to give them a little advertising) have provided a competitive flight from Johannesburg to Harare. We were saved the hassles of carrying fuel, the cost of an overnight stop and the driving and border processing time. The main disadvantage of flying is that we did not get a close-up view of the southern part of the country, which looked dry from the air.
Opinions are always flavoured by a particular point of view. The political reporting on Zimbabwe is justifiably, but grossly, biased against the present 'holders of power'. There are many aspects in their favour but these are not apparent in the 'product'. Economic reporting is completely factual. Inflation is mind-boggling to experience and bewildering to the visitor.
On the conversion rate, prices are generally much cheaper in Zimbabwe than they are in South Africa. If one has access to 'forex', living is cheap and any product is available in main centres - BUT relatively few people earn forex and most live out of the main centres. As a relevant and familiar example to Lowvelders - a bottle of Amarula (again a little advertising of this extremely well marketed product) costs Z$ 1,500,000.
The exchange rate is at present around Z$15,000 to 1 Rand but inflation is around 400 percent so prices increase daily. There has to be a melt-down very soon. As in South Africa, municipal service delivery is severely lacking. Water and power supplies are erratic and poorly maintained and serviced - especially in the outer suburbs of larger centres and in smaller towns.
Roads, as in South Africa, are generally potholed within local council areas. Living conditions in Zimbabwe are very similar to those in South Africa apart from the desperate, daily, financial struggle of those imprisoned by local currency.
External reporting is at fault in its biased view on conservation issues in Zimbabwe. Reporting has generally picked on isolated and emotive issues which are given undeserved prominence among a na´ve international audience.
Past And Present
In the past, many privately owned areas were set aside as wildlife reserves. Some of these private reserves were for the protection of endangered species. In the 'wild' areas of numerous farms species were often introduced to be culled or cropped for meat in organised game farming operations.
National Parks and Wild Life areas were sometimes heavily culled and hunted in order to manage habitat and to produce revenue to justify the setting aside of such areas to economically minded critics.
Quality tourism was encouraged and the government controlled hunting industry earned valuable revenue. Under Intensive Conservation Areas (ICAs) the country was, generally, well managed. Some of the communal areas, as in South Africa, showed the effects of land-abuse. With an end to private ownership, land was portioned out to all and sundry.
The lack of ownership and accountability exposed most of the wildlife and protected areas to irresponsible hunting. Many confined and rare species were decimated. Government's inability and disinterest in conservation and their occasional involvement in the destruction left the protection of any remaining wild areas to the private sector.
The few dedicated conservationists in government positions are continually overruled by new political appointees. There have always been crooked officials, in any country, but there is normally recourse to a sound justice system. Where the country's leaders are involved crime is condoned and complaints are silenced. South Africa has some sad examples from the past. This is much the position in Zimbabwe today.
Despite the destruction on much of the previously, private land, there are still viable game parks attracting the few tour-ists and local groups. There are areas within municipal boundaries still well stocked with large animals that are protected by trusts and societies. National Parks still provide attractive tourist facilities at reasonable rates. The wildlife sightings are as good (and wilder) than those in other southern African countries.
There has been some poaching within the Park boundaries, but no more than in the Parks of South Africa. The only National Park area that has been 'invaded' along a very ill-defined boundary, has been down in the south east. This matter has been sorted out. None of the National Areas have been ceded to local communities.
While some rare species have been decimated, there are probably more wild animals in total than there have ever been. I say this because the authorities have not had the finances to carry out the heavy culling programmes that were previously conducted within the National Park areas. The Veterinary and Tsetse Departments previously destroyed thousands of head of wild animals in control operations.
At the same time they denuded mature, riverine vegetation from along several rivers. The ripple effect has never been reported. There never could have been greater destruction of animals (although officially planned) than there was previously.
Today there are more elephant than there have ever been and a certain conservancy very probably has the largest population of rhino within the region. Not all is doom and gloom! The Wattled Cranes are reported to be increasing in number as are many other species.
Hope For the Future
With poorly controlled ownership and resultant lack of accountability, one is struck by the destruction of woodlands and wetlands. At the same time it pays those with historic recollections to remember the days when it was 'right' to cut out the woodlands for timber to fuel early tobacco barns, or to clear for new lands. Dams were constructed on most of the major rivers and generally degradation of natural systems was the order of the day.
The vegetation is coming back on the derelict farms and there is no money for fertilizer and pesticides - so there seems to be some sort of natural balance taking place. Of course this is of no help to the economy but to an ecologist there is encouragement. It is interesting to note that the wildest, least developed areas are most sought out as holiday destinations. All the old haunts still offer excellent fishing and accommodation facilities.
Animal control was, previously, conducted in National Parks with some discreetness and sensitivity for the public visitors. It is now frequently done openly and brazenly in front of tourists, resulting in negative publicity. The number of animals destroyed is probably the same and the use to which they are put has not changed.
The commentators are just a lot more critical. While most of the tourist hotels are barely operating, some are running at 65% occupancy, which is good by any standard. Fuel is difficult to obtain at present but there are still many vehicles on the roads. The shop I was in a couple of days ago was fully stocked with every commodity you could have wished for - including piles of white and brown bread.
There obviously are periodic shortages of various items and the local cost is unbelievable - but, as I have said previously, if you have forex you will find it much cheaper than in SA. I can strongly recommend a trip to Zimbabwe. Organise it before hand and probably best to fly if you have friends or relatives with wheels up here.
You can bring in duty free fuel for your travelling in the country and there seems to be no problem with foreign exchange. We experienced very courteous and helpful officials. As long as you keep out of politics and obey the normal rules that you have in any country, you will have a really enjoyable holiday.
There is still a surprising amount of commerce and tenacious enterprise. People are friendly although somewhat subdued. Everyone keeps hoping that things will return to normal. The gap between rich and poor is the same as in South Africa.
Greed still rears its ugly head. Gone are the days of CIVIL SERVANTS who have been replaced by corrupt officials who think position is power. What a heavenly place earth would be without greedy politicians!