The secret of Zimbabwe

I’m the first to admit that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from our trip to Zimbabwe after 11 years away.  Since 2000 it’s pretty much been one of the most hellish periods of this landlocked African country’s recent history, with reports of election rigging, then widespread violence against political opposition members (and frankly anyone who voted against President Mugabe), followed by a time when there was simply no fuel and no food in the shops, coupled with a Zimbabwean dollar that wasn’t even worth using as toilet paper.  It’s been heart breaking to witness what was once the bread basket of Africa literally crumbling under the weight of this dictatorship.

Wildebeest at Humani

If you’re like me, judging by the last lot of awful media reports we all saw coming out of Zimbabwe, you’d think things were pretty rough over there and it would probably be the last place you’d want to go on holiday.  My friends living in Zim were telling me it was fine, but was it really?  It was hard to know if I’d been back in Australia too long (therefore wrapped in cotton wool) or if my Zimbo mates were shell-shocked by long term stress…

What a shock for me – and a huge relief – to return there and find that things are really okay.  It was true what they were saying – it was not just okay, but pumping!  In Harare, the capital city, the shopping centres are open and full of stock, the pubs and cafes are great, there’s no longer any fuel shortages, and the Zim dollar has been replaced by the US dollar, which means the economy has pretty much stabilised.  There is an air of hope, dare I say it, since the unity government came in a few years ago, making Morgan Tsvangarai Prime Minister (Mugabe remains President, but there is a power sharing arrangement which has really changed things for the better).

Sol's first game drive

I returned to my old haunt, Humani in the Save Valley Conservancy with my hubby, Andy and toddler, Solo expecting to find widespread destruction of game fences and the annihilation of the wildlife for which it was famous.  After all, we’d been told that almost half of the conservancy had been taken over by war vets and settlers and much of the fences around the conservancy stolen to make snares.  And that was true.  The poaching has been severe in this part of the world and maintaining an active anti-poaching team as well as repairing fences is a massive and ongoing job.  But what surprised me was just how much game we did see.   At night I would lie in bed in our cottage on the Turgwe River listening to the impalas rutting and lions roaring in the distance.  By day we saw everything from warthogs with trios of babies to hippos in the Turgwe and wildebeest on the Bedford plains.

What we were seeing in the bush is reflected in the scientific data.  Recent aerial game counts in the conservancy over the last few years have shown that several species are bouncing back after the severe poaching of the mid 2000s, including buffalo, eland, giraffe, impala, kudu, sable and warthog.  What has been harder to control is the rhino poaching, driven by the demand for horn in Asia and the Middle East.  This is an ongoing fight.

Zimbabweans, like my friends the Whittalls at Humani, did seem worn down after years of instability and at times downright threats to their lives.  Some have lost their farms and are struggling to make a new existence for themselves.  Many white farmers have left.  The Shona people I spoke to have also suffered incredibly, battling just to survive through waves of famine and political oppression.  But from what we saw, Zimbabweans of all ethnic groups have an incredible resilience about them, and above all, a sense of humour that has probably kept their sanity from disappearing altogether.  And they need people to start coming back to Zimbabwe to start building this country’s economy again.  So that’s what I’m here to say.  Go to Zimbabwe!

Solo & I trek up the Great Zim Ruins

I have to ask, now that I’ve been, the real question is:  why wouldn’t you visit Zimbabwe?  Zimbabwe is probably the best value for money safari you can get at the moment.  Going back reminded me just how special this part of Africa is, not only because it still has some of the best wildlife areas you’re ever likely to see (Hwange, Kariba, Victoria Falls), plus one of the most ancient ruins of African culture (Great Zimbabwe Ruins), but above all because the people are just so damned friendly, you feel like part of the family by the time you leave.  That hasn’t changed.  And I doubt it ever will, because if the last decade hasn’t dimmed their ability to smile and make visitors feel genuinely welcome, then nothing will.

Zimbabwe remains one of the best places to go on safari, and what you’ll get at the moment is something particularly special, because the secret is this – Zim is just as fantastic as ever and a visit there now, before everyone else works this out, means you’ll be treated like royalty.   It’s perfectly safe for tourists, so safe in fact that we never once worried about the fact that we were there with our 18 month old son, who we would never put at risk.  So if Zimbabwe sounds like your cup of tea, drop me a line for some tips on where to go and what to do.  If you can overcome perceptions of the bad press of a few years ago and realise that that really is old news, you’re in for a real treat.

More from me about Karen the hippo lady’s work and how Animal Works is getting involved to help the Save Valley Conservancy keep its wildlife afloat in a blog to come…

  1. Katja

    Hi Tammie,
    what a great article. I have just recently returned from my first Zimbabwe Trip ever. I travelled through most parts of the country on an educational for 12 days – I was absolutely blown away by what Zimbabwe has to offer and also by the friendliness & humour of the Zimbabweans.
    However, I am not sure if Zim is really ‘good value for money’ — I agree, I’d love to send as many people as possible there, it’s a fantastic destination, but it’s really not cheap, even compared to Botswana.
    Anyway, we are actively marketing Zimbabwe and all of us here in the Jenman Office are convinced that it is a great place to enjoy an excellent holiday.
    Keep well

  2. Carole

    Thumbs up on an encouraging note of our beloved country, to Zimbabweans scattered around the world who long for their own culture, kith and kin, et al! Can we go home, yes.. Should we, yes. When? Either you have gobs of investment money to start a roaring business – or you camp out on the shores of Lake Kariba and fish to feed yourself. Both scenarios are compelling, perhaps there are many more ideas. My 40 year old son (with a 10 year old) returned to Zimbabwe three years ago – ‘to make a difference, to help rebuild the country’ – and I quote: ‘It’s the best decision I have ever made’.

  3. Apollo Broom

    I am initiating a B&B in Washington DC and having a great time next to the Anacostia River/Washington Navy Yard renovations. US is still a developing country and this city has its flashbacks to being in Africa with its 80% African population. But I love Zim and Kariba is my dream. Once I get my B&B set up here, we’ll have a place for you all in DC and I’ll go get a place in Kariba for those freezing cold winters over here. In 1990 they tore up my residence status and made me a tourist so I ended up in DC chasing all those yankee girls. After all my travels I’m pretty much a world citizen now and I am truly so glad that I grew up in Zim. There is not a finer place for a child to grow up. Thank you so much to my Mom and Dad for giving us kids that opportunity.

  4. John Berry

    Thanks for this balanced view on Zim!

  5. Tammie

    Great to hear from a Zimbo in the States! It seems like before they were the best farmers in the world, now they’re the most multicultural in the world – you find Zimbabweans everywhere these days!

  6. Melody Warren

    It was really wonderful to read something positive from Zimbabwe. I was born and raised in Bulawayo and left in’76 for college in the states. My extended family now all live in Natal so trips back to Byo have stopped. Thanks for the positive news!

    Melody Warren – Reno, Nevada

  7. Tammie

    Duncan – good point – it’s a great time to go to Zim as a tourist, but it’s probably more expensive to live there now with the US dollar being the currency and everything being imported. Still, you can’t beat the weather, the animals and the quality of life overall – my friends there have a rocking social life too. It’s still cheaper to buy a house in Harare than in Sydney’s east by a long way!

  8. Duncan

    I visited in November and had a great stay with a friend running Rhino safari camp. I agree that it is good to see well stocked supermarkets. One problem – whereas years ago most goods were locally made providing work and saving forex, they are now nearly all imported. In a country with limitted earning capacity and mass unemployment this cant be good. Would I go home to live ? You bet! Can I? With an earning capacity of $100000 pa in Australia and an offer from a University in Zim of $9120 – not even enough to rent a house…..

  9. Tammie

    Lucky you, Maria – you’re in for lots of fun! Are you going to Sango?

  10. Alison MacColl

    Very good news Tammie. As a Zimbabwean, this is joy to my ears! Thanks for your efforts and this article.

  11. Beate

    its good news Tammie, reading your report made me feel very positive about the country, thanks!

  12. Maria

    Hi Tammie,

    loved reading your article, I am heading to Zim in 10 days and was honestly quite nervous about what we might encounter, as I too am taking my children (3 of them). Having never been there before we have no idea what to expect. We have been fortunate to have been invited to stay with friends and we will be staying on the Save Valley Conservancy and going to Kariba and Vic Falls so I’m thrilled to hear the wildlife is abundant! My husband is a photographer so is very keen to capture our adventures on film.

    Zim here we come!

  13. Doug

    thats very good to hear Tammie, like most people I figured Zim was stuffed and would never recover.

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