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ZIMBABWE

Introduction

Zimbabwe is a spectacular country that offers what most travellers dream of, beauty, tradition, culture and soul. From the historical wealth of the ruins of Great Zimbabwe to the wonderful wilderness of Mana Pools National Park, the thrilling activities and contemplation over the Victoria Falls, the lush Eastern Highlands known for superb mountain hiking, the rich arts and cultures, and the many parks and reserves prolific with exceptional wildlife, Zimbabwe offers something for everyone and boasts some amazing natural sites and biodiversity.

Of course the country has been having well publicised economic and political problems but it remains safe if you stay away from politics. It is a great time to visit the country and explore a land of hospitable, warm hearted people and many marvellous treasures.

Population

Ethnically, Zimbabweans are of Bantu origin of whom 9.8 million are Shona and about 2.3 million Ndebele.

The rest of the population is split between the Tonga (or Batonga), people of the upper Kariba area, the Shangaan (or Hlengwe) of the Lowveld, and the Venda of the far south. Europeans (18 000), Asians (10 000) and mixed Europeans and Africans (25 000) are spread around the country.

 

English is the official language of Zimbabwe, used in government, legal and business proceedings but is the mother tongue of only 2% of the population. Most Zimbabweans speak Shona (mainly in the north and the east) or Ndebele (in the centre and west).

 

As for religion, the country counts 50% of syncretic (mixture of Christianity and traditional beliefs); 25% are Christians, 24% follows traditional beliefs and 1% are Muslims.

History

The first inhabitants of Zimbabwe were the San (hunter-gatherers) and the KhoiKhoi (living a pastoral life).

Around 500 AC, Bantu farmers (ancestors of the Shona people) settled in the area.

 

From the 11th century, they built Great Zimbabwe, the richest and most powerful religious and political capital in Southern Africa, influenced by Swahili traders. Great Zimbabwe saw a decline during the 16th century.

 

It was virtually deserted when Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived on the east coast of Mozambique in 1502, followed by Portuguese traders who monopolized the Rhodesian plateau in search of wealth and gold. They were expelled by the Natives in 1690.

 

In 1834, a Ndebele group under the command of Mzilikaki invaded the area from the south and established a Ndebele state. Businessman Cecil John Rhodes and his British South Africa Company stretched their domination over the lands between the Zambezi and the Limpopo Rivers and gained control over the mines with the help of the British.


In 1895, Rhodesia was born (named in honor of Cecil Rhodes); its government set up “for, by and of” the whites. A massive European immigration followed.

 

The Shona formed an alliance with the Ndebele and by 1896 the first Chimurenga (‘War for Liberation”) had begun. It was stalled in 1897 when its leaders were captured and hanged.


In 1930, white supremacy was legislated in the form of the Land Apportionment Act, which disallowed blacks from ownership of land and excluded them from any skilled professions.


In 1966, ZANU guerillas (Zimbabwe African National Union party) attacked Rhodesian forces during the second Chimurenga in Chinhoyi but failed to achieve liberation. South Rhodesia gained independence in 1980 and was then named Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe, ancient chief of the guerilla, was elected Prime Minister.

 

After an initial euphoria, rivalries between the two nationalist movements ZANU (Shona) and ZAPU (Ndbele and Matabele) lead to an 8 year civil war. Robert Mugabe (ZANU PF) was elected president in 1987 and implemented an authoritarian regime.


In 2000 a land reform programme was adopted by ZANU PF who called the “veterans” (ancient fighters during the War for Independence) to occupy white farmers’ properties. These expulsions were accompanied by violence against white farmers, black workers as well as the members of the opposition suspected of supporting the whites. The latter saw their rights diminish.


Year 2002 saw Mugabe’s fraudulent victory in the presidential elections.


In 2003, the land reform programme led to a serious agricultural and political crisis. Zimbabwe faced a famine threatening 7 million of people.70% of the population was unemployed. Zimbabwe removed itself from the Commonwealth.


In 2005, violence and corruption surrounded Mugabe’s victory in the legislative elections. A constitutional reform was adopted limiting rights to own property and allowing the government to deprive everybody of passports in the name of “national interests”.


Inflation exceeded 1 000 % in 2006, and 100 000 % in 2007 causing more and more people to flee to neighboring countries.


In January 2008, the annual inflation rate reached 100 580, 2% while the unemployment rate reached 80%. The country experienced serious shortages (petrol, food, bank notes, etc.) Mugabe was defeated in the march 29 presidential poll, but opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai failed to cross the 50% vote to win outright. Under the constitution the two rivals had to square off in a run off election but Tsvangirai pulled out, citing violence from State Police against his supporters in the run-up for the poll. Mugabe was reelected.


After intervention of the Southern African Development Community and the African Union as mediators in the crisis putting the nation on the verge of a civil war, a coalition government was formed in February 2009, with Mugabe as president and Tsvangirai as Prime Minister.


The coalition government has managed to restore political and economical stability and despite the fact that Mugabe and Tsvangirai are still squabbling over implementation of the power-sharing deal, Zimbabweans enjoy a normal and quiet life for the first time in a decade.

Geography

Superficie: 390000 km2.

Capitale: Harare.

Zimbabwe is landlocked, roughly three times the size of England and bordering Zambia in the south, Mozambique in the east, South Africa and Botswana in the West. It lies within the tropics and consists of a highveld and middleveld plateaus between 900m and 1700m above sea level, characterized by bushveld dotted with massive granite outcrops and domes of smooth rock.

 

In the South, the lowveld is hot and dry and covered with savanna.

 

A low mountain range stretches across the country from the Mvurwi Range to the Matobo Mounts which divides the Zambezi and Limpopo-Save River systems. The main mountainous region is the Eastern Highlands, which straddles the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Zimbabwe’s highest point, Nyangani, peaks at 2592m.

Climate

Although located in the tropics, Zimbabwe has a temperate climate, moderated by altitude and the inland position of the country. The cooler, dryer months (May to October) are like the Mediterranean summer, with warm, sunny days and cool, clear nights and are ideal for the observation of wildlife.

 

The lowveld and the Zambezi Valley have hot and humid conditions, especially during summer (November to mid March). Spring (mid August to November) and autumn (mid March to mid May) are mostly dry and warm.

Economy

The government of Zimbabwe faces a variety of difficult economic problems. Its 1998-2002 involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo drained hundreds of millions of dollars from the economy.

 

The government’s land reform program, characterized by chaos and violence, has badly damaged the commercial farming sector, the traditional source of exports and foreign exchange and the provider of 400 000 jobs, turning Zimbabwe into a net importer of food products. The EU and the US provide food aid on humanitarian grounds.

 

Until early 2009, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe routinely printed money to fund the budget deficit, causing hyperinflation. The power-sharing government formed in February 2009 has led to some economic improvements, including the cessation of hyperinflation by eliminating the use of the Zimbabwean dollar and removing price controls.

 

The economy is registering its first growth in a decade, but will be reliant on further political improvement for greater growth.

 

Main sectors: mining (gold, coal, nickel, copper, steel and tin) agriculture (maize, cotton, coffee, tea, tobacco, wine, sugarcane) farming, forest products, tourism.

 

Main partners: South Africa, United Kingdom, Germany and United States.

Biodiversity

Most of Zimbabwe is covered with bushveld (thorny acacia savanna) and miombo (dry open woodland).
The south and southeast however, are characterised by thorny scrub and baobabs among which you will find euphorbias, 30 diverse species of aloes, wildflowers, jacarandas and a many succulent tropical flowers and palms.

 

The country also hosts a huge elephant population, as well as the full range of African predators and herbivores such as giraffe, zebra, buffalo, hippo and many species of antelope.

 

The rivers, dams and lakes are home to 117 species of fish.

 

Hundreds of bird species are found all over the country, including buff-spotted fluff tails and stripe-checked bulbuls. Matobo National Park, for example, is home to one-third of the world’s eagle species.

Pratical info

Visas and passports...

International visitors must be in possession of a valid passport of at least 6 months.The Visa is purchased on arrival at the airport at US$ 30.

Departure taxes…

International visitors who leave Zimbabwe by air must pay a departure tax of US$ 30 (or Euros 20).However this tax is normally included in the fare of those who already possess a ticket on departure.

Money…

Since 2009, the currency used is the U.S. dollars or the South African rand.

Telephone…

The international code is 263.

Electricity…

The voltage is 220 volts, but the plugs are non standard {Similar to those of South Africa) and you will need an adapter.

Victoria Falls

The Victoria Falls, known by the local Kololo tribe as Mosi oa Tunya- The Smoke that thunders, is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and one of the largest and most spectacular waterfalls on earth. The Falls are 1, 7 kilometres wide and nearly 550 million litres of water cascade 70 to 108 metres into the gorge below.

 

Victoria Falls offer dozens of view points along the tropical forest, revealing "scenes so lovely (that they) must have been gazed on by angels in their flight" (David Livingstone). The rainforest boasts magnificent flora such as huge mahogany, wild fig, sausage trees, date palm groves, orchids and ferns as well as other precious trees. Many species of birds and small mammals may be spotted beneath the protective canopy of the forest.

 

The Falls themselves are not the only attraction. For the visitor seeking adventure or relaxation, many activities are on offer, such as: White-water rafting and River Boarding; Canoeing ; Elephant-back Safaris ; Hot-air Ballooning ; Bungi Jumping ; Cruises, Gorge-sliding ; Jet boating ; Walking Safaris ; Horseback Riding and Safaris ; Game Drives ; Cultural tours ; Village Tours ; Birdwatching and Birding Safaris ; Fishing; Golf ; Hunting.

Mana Pools

Along the shores of the Zambezi River lies Mana Pools National Park (2,196 km2) a remote, wild and fascinating area, that has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site and is surely the most beautiful park in Zimbabwe.


It is home to a wide range of large mammals, over 350 bird species and aquatic wildlife. The word “mana” means four in Shona language and refers to the four pools around the park nurturing crocodiles, hippos and aquatic birds.

 

The vegetation consists of beautiful trees growing on the fertile terraces of the park such as the Acacia albida, giving way to dark green mahogany, figs, sausage trees, rain trees, tamarinds and tawny vetivaria grass.
Further away from the water, the valley surface is a harsh environment, especially in the dry season with spiky jesse bush, mopane trees and baobabs.

 

Mana is best known for the unique opportunities it offers to get very close to wildlife. Visitors are allowed to explore the park on foot as it is an open terrain and walk through areas hosting wild animals such as elephants, elands, buffaloes, impalas, waterbucks, baboons, monkeys, zebras, warthogs and hippos.


Predators such as lions, leopards, spotted hyenas and cheetahs are present in the area, but more difficult to see. It is however rare that a visitor leaves Mana Pools without seeing at least one of these large carnivores.

Walking and canoe safaris as well as fishing are the main activities of the park.

Hwange National Park

Named after a local Nhanzwa chief, Hwange National Park is the largest Park in Zimbabwe occupying 14 650 square kilometres in the northwest of the country.


It is extremely prolific in terms of wildlife: the park has about 90 species of animals (including many predators and 30 000 elephants!), 413 species of birds and approximately a 1000 species of trees and shrubs.


The vegetation ranges from savannah grassland and acacia scrub to grassy vleis and mopane woodlands.


Thanks to the park’s many roads and viewing platforms close to the waterholes, you are bound to experience the best in terms of a Safari experience, whether it is during the day, or at night…

Gonarezhou National Park

Gonarezhou National Park is situated in the south eastern lowveld of Zimbabwe and stretches over 5 053 square kilometres. "Gonarezhou" meaning "Place of many Elephants" is an extremely scenic park full of rugged and beautiful landscapes. It is the second largest national park in Zimbabwe.


It is part of the Great Limpopo Transfontier Park, which includes South Africa's Kruger National Park and Mozambique's Limpopo National Park. This area is dedicated to conservation, biodiversity and the economic development of local communities. The vast and diverse nature of the park will provide world-class eco-tourism to the visitor.


Gonarezhou is home to a range of wildlife: lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants, hippopotamus, wild dogs, buffaloes, giraffes, zebras, roan antelopes, sable and many species of large antelopes are present within the park. Do not miss the rare nyalas and smaller sunis, two of the park's smaller antelopes. In addition, hundreds of species of birds can be spotted.


Unique species of aquatic wildlife such as the Zambezi shark, Freshwater goby, Black bream and the unique turquoise Killifish are found within the park's rivers and pools.


Three main rivers, the Save, Runde and Mwenezi run through the park, host many fish and attract hundreds of bird species and wildlife.


In the Save-Runde area, rugged red sandstone Chilojo Cliffs (at 153m above sea level, lowest point of Zimbabwe) offer magnificent scenery.

Chizarira National Park

Chizariza National Park is the most remote national park in Zimbabwe. It is a wild and splendid region at the top of the Zambezi escarpment, crossed by rivers, gorges and natural springs.

 

Chizarira is home to elephants, buffaloes, zebras, kudus, waterbucks, bushbucks, grysboks and impalas as well as lions which are more difficult to see. There have also been exceptional daytime sightings of leopards.

 

The landscape is astonishing: baobab forests in Gwembe valley, scrub savanna and slender trees strewn across grasslands at the top of the escarpment, thick vegetation cascading down the gorges… On the escarpment, the northern plateaus are covered with typical highveld Brachystegia woodland and mopane scrub in the south.


The Busi River, flanked by plains of characteristic Acacia albida trees, marks the southern boundary.
Chizariza is also home to 406 of Zimbabwe’s 580 species of birds recorded here, among them the rare and beautiful Angola pitta, the Livingstone flycatcher, African broadbill, Taita falcon and the rarely seen black stork.

The Greater Zimbabwe

.On a continent more used to impermanent buildings of mud, wood and grass, Great Zimbabwe is almost miraculous. Southeast of Harare, Great Zimbabwe is the greatest medieval city in sub-Saharan Africa. This religious and political capital, (of 10 000 to 20 000 people), dominated a realm that stretched across eastern Zimbabwe and into modern-day Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa.


It has been proven to be of Bantu origin, with outside influences contributing to its development. Swahili traders were present along the Mozambican coast from the 10th century and trade goods have been found in the ruins.


Great Zimbabwe was first occupied in the 11th century. Fuelled by Swahili gold trade, the city grew powerful and became the heart of Roswi culture. By the 15th century it saw its influence decline due to overpopulation, overgrazing, political fragmentation and uprisings. People immigrated to more productive lands. When the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century, the city was virtually deserted.


The word Zimbabwe is derived from Shona phrases meaning either “stone houses” or “venerated houses”, building in stones being statements about permanence and power.


The site consists of several complexes, the most famous being the Great Enclosure, originally a royal palace and a powerful symbol of the community, its massive walls studded with conical towers. Inside were at least three hundred separate structures, all built without the use of mortar. It has walls over 9m tall, 4m thick and over 228m in circumference, giving approximately 485,521 cubic metres of hand-trimmed mortar-less stonework.

The majestic setting and the walls filled with history definitely qualify as a highlight of Southern Africa.

Chimanimani

In Chimanimani lies a wild paradise of crystal-clear rivers, steep sandstone peaks, waterfalls splashing into icy cola-coloured pools, savanna valleys, and the most astonishing stone forests.


This wilderness is home to many flora species such as giant wild banana trees, tree ferns, cycads, orchids, hibiscus and protea. Lobelia, heather and other wildflowers cover the spread out savanna plains. The visible wildlife consists of baboons and antelopes.


Chimanimani National Park covers 175km2 and is only accessible on foot. Whether you’re doing a day hike or a five day camping trip, you are bound to treasure unforgettable memories.