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Keith and I visited Zimbabwe in December 1998. Impressions and opinions are mine alone.


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 climate. 

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 participation.

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 reliable airline.

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.


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