Zimbabwe is a land about the same size in area as
California with a population (1995) of 11.2 million. Land-locked and
bordered by South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia, Zimbabwe at
time of writing is a safe place to travel; English is commonly spoken and
prices still reasonable.
It is a beautiful, lush and unspoiled country with
an abundance of life of almost every kind, and an almost perfect
But there is trouble in paradise.
The majority of Zimbabweans are black, of the Shona or Ndebele tribes,
though the white minority still enjoys, in general, a much higher standard
of living. Since the War in 1980, which brought Zimbabwe its first general
election and installed President Mugabe as head of a socialist state, the
native population has started to participate in all levels of Zim life,
though many citizens still live in what we would consider great poverty,
in the rural Zimbabwean villages.
Though Zimbabwe continues to struggle through economic crises, political
turmoil, residual bitterness as a result of the civil war, and the very
difficult growing pains of any new nation, there remains a sense of
optimism and enthusiasm. This country is rich in resources and populated
by spirited, devoted and determined men and women. Such potential
underlines the great irony of Zimbabwe's present difficulties.
What are the difficulties?
Many people, particularly the urban and the white population, are
distressed with the corruption of
Mugabe's 18 year old government. There were high expectations for this new
regime, but few reforms succeed while government officials amass great
fortunes and have no fear of accountability. As the Zim dollar plummets,
President Mugabe takes no responsibility for the economic failures and the
lack of any real improvement in the standard of living for the majority of
Zimbabweans, despite the country's great wealth.
"Mugabe's private war" is
what some call the Zimbabwean involvement in the civil war taking place in
the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rumours --lots of rumours --abound
regarding President Mugabe's interest in sending Zim troops to fight DRC
rebels. In any case, troop morale is low at all levels, and inaccurate
casualty reports cause suspicion about the reasons for continued Zim
The List which appeared in the fall of
1998 targeted close to 800 white commercial farmers with threats of
appropriation without compensation of their farms and homes. President
Mugabe has often stated that it is a priority to restore Zimbabwean lands
to native (black) Zimbabweans. This is problematic on several counts:
first, that the listed properties were successfully employing thousands of
people in a country with close to 40% unemployment; secondly, these
businesses bring much needed foreign currencies into the country; and
thirdly, most of the white farmers are second and third generation farmers
and consider themselves no less Zimbabwean than any other citizen. Those
whites who could not tolerate the ideas of a black president and votes for
all black citizens left the country during or after the 1980 war. Those
that remained made complete financial and emotional commitments to their
farms and to the new Zimbabwe, and trusted the President to honour his
promise that they would be permitted to remain on their farms.
To further President Mugabe's aim of more land
ownership for native Zimbabweans, the farmers pointed out to me that there
are many farms abandoned or for sale which could be purchased by the
government and returned to black farmers. At time of writing the
government has decided not to appropriate the listed farms, but those who
were under threat wonder when it may next be politically expedient to make
such public threats again.
...But there are many things to be proud of
Zimbabwe at the time of writing (1998) enjoys a free
press, and I was always interested in the lively debates which
appeared in the many newspapers the country supports. Recently there have
been some attempts by President Mugabe to control the press. If he
succeeded it would be disastrous for the country. What good are free
elections if there is no free press?
Natural resources...people always say
what great potential Zimbabwe has, and it is true that the country is
blessed with an abundance of natural resources and a population committed
to making the country work.
Zimbabwe is a relatively safe
country, with only common sense measures necessary when traveling.
There is a good transportation
infrastructure in place, with mostly well-maintained roads and a usually
The people of Zimbabwe are justifiably
proud of their country, and are happy to show it off to tourists.
July, 2001: We have heard from our Zimbabwe
friends. Please read this important update.