Victoria Falls: from the ground ...
Trip Start Mar 17, 2007
435Trip End Ongoing
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After an hour drive, we check out off Botswana and check into Zim. The whole picture changes. The next hour we see almost no cars. There is no fuel in his country! Dr T tells me the history of Zimbabwe, Zambia and how the situation is now. This is his story:
"Rhodesia was once a jewel of Africa, like South Africa: rich with mineral and agricultural resources. And like South Africa, it had a huge gap between the wealth of the minority Whites and majority Blacks. It attained democratic rule much earlier than South Africa. Its new president was Robert Mugabe who was initially hailed as a great man; as we now revere Nelson Mandela.
But he installed a Marxist government and the country's wealth gently declined; even though the neighbouring non-democratic countries gently grew. For example Botswana's economy grew from US$200 per year per person in 1970 to US$10,000 today. The newly named Zimbabwe did the opposite: its economy waned, and although the Black majority could now vote, their standard of living declined. South African watched nervously: many were afraid that it too would collapse if majority rule occurred. It is to the credit of Mandela and Mbecki that South Africa has done so well since 1994, despite the huge challenges it faces, and did not become "another Rhodesia".
Although some in Southern Africa still revere Mugabe, the rest of the world views him as a war criminal. He has stolen vast sums of money from his corrupt country and stashed it overseas, to the impoverishment of his countrymen. He maintains his grip on the country using a brutal police force which routinely beat up opposition voices. Such politicians and journalists routinely show up for medical treatment in South Africa, often with video evidence.
It was "Land Reform" that really screwed up the country. Wealthy White farmers owned 70% of the land, but represented only 3% of population. Mugabe decided to buy the land from the White farmers at a fair price, and give the land to retiring military. The reasoning was that these huge farms were essentially run by a pool of skilled Black workers. Only the management would change: retired army officers should be able to handle the management.
Initially Mugabe paid a fair price; but then he decided to save money by using his police to toss the farmers of their land without any compensation. The farmers who tried to resist were beaten by the police. Obviously this is illegal in any country which aspires to a rule of law, but Mugabe's police beat up anyone, judges, politicians, farmers, journalists, or honest cops who objected.
These displaced farmers started to show up in Australia and Britain. They were destitute. They had lived for generations in Rhodesia and had no pension, no money, no passport. What could they do? Many were granted Aussie citizenship and resettled in Australia. They are skilled farmers with generations of experience. And the international community called vigorously for them to be compensated or their property restored.
Mugabe has ignored this. We now know that mostly the army veterans did not receive ownership of the farms. Mostly ownership has been given to Mugabe's wife, and to his friends.
Even worse, production on the farms collapsed. In theory the work was done by skilled Black workers and the farms should operate without the Whites. But, this did not happen. Those farms have all collapsed. The stock has long been shot for food, there is no grain for replanting, the equipment is rusting, and the buildings are crumbling. The workers have drifted to the cities. Around 180,000 Black workers have lost their livelihoods as a result of this. But Mugabe's wife and friends still own the vacant land.
Rhodesia was the breadbasket of Africa, exporting throughout the region. Now it is starving, importing food and its economy has collapsed. It has inflation like 10,000% per year. This hyperinflation is inconceivable to us in a normal world. Imagine that your pay check can only buy a tenth of its worth at the end of the month. Strict currency rules prevent ordinary citizens converting their money to hard currency. And with merchants unable to pay for goods there are widespread shortages of basic goods like petrol or food.
Mugabe has tried to control inflation by sending police to merchants: if they inflate the price of, say, bread, then the police will beat them. As you can imagine the merchants simply don't sell these goods any more.
The rules preventing the exchange to hard currency impacts tourists as well. It is not possible to get a fair exchange rate officially. The black market flourishes. But Police will dress up for the street and try to entrap tourists. If you are caught selling money to a policeman you can go to jail and certainly will end up losing any money you are carrying. There is no rule of law.
Mugabe blames the problems on a conspiracy by the White Western countries against the poor Black Africans. No one in Zimbabwe with brains or common sense will believe him, but a few people do. Tourists, including Australians, have been attacked by locals simply because they are White Westerners. And the police will not assist or protect. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs strictly warns against visiting Zimbabwe. Civil war must eventually occur - too many people are suffering. And when it does, foreigners will be trapped. Tourism, previously a big money winner has consequently dropped by 70%.
The West has frozen the bank accounts of Mugabe, his wife, his cabinet ministers and his friends. They may not enter Europe or any Commonwealth countries. Zimbabwe has been chuck out of the Commonwealth, and nobody will play cricket with them anymore.
Why doesn't somebody just shoot this man? Well Mugabe is surrounded by multiple layers of guards, selected for loyalty and tribal membership. An outsider cannot get close enough, and the bodyguards are paid fabulously by local standards. We can only hope he has a heart attack, or that a bodyguard turns on him ASAP. Yet when he dies or is deposed, Rhodesia will not recover any time soon. The whole society is so damaged that this will take decades, and at least one civil war to repair."
I am glad he did not tell me this yesterday. At 10, we are at the entrance of Mosi-Oa-Tunya park, containing the Vic Falls and a game park. Douglas asks whether we have special wishes. Yes, sky diving and/or a flight. He takes us to a tour operator, very nice man. Unfortunately: no sky diving, even no planes but helicopter flights. We book one for 13h30. We step into the national park and walk the 2 km along the Falls. The sound is overwhelming, the power of the water unbelievable, so hard that it blows up and rains on you. Two things are surprising to me: the amount of water splattering up: some points we are in the pouring rain! And: the Vic Falls are not 2 km of continuous falls, like the Niagara Falls are. We walk by the statue of Dr Livingstone, who found the falls. If you do the falls one day: PUT ON YOUR WALKING SHOES! We wear our slippers and this is a bad idea in the wet roads. We walk till the end of Zim and turn back.
Douglas is waiting for us at the exit. OK, lunch. We ask for something local. He takes us to a little restaurant: the river cafe, next to the office, where we leave for our heli flight. We get the menu: hmmmm: does not sound African at all: hamburgers and ciabatta. I am sorry afterwards, that we stayed. The beer was expensive and the food crappy. We check into the office for our flight. The owner is reading his newspaper, telling us that he school money this year increased by 1000 percent. He gives me a pile of money: it is 15 cm high. All notes of 750.000 Zimbabwean $. It is worth 36 Euros. He says that a Zam friend of his made a joke about it: years ago, you went to the supermarket, with money in your pocket and a wheel barrel to take your groceries home. Nowadays: you got shopping with a whee; barrel full of money and what you can buy for it, fits in your wallet ... .
When the bus, which will take us to Zambia for the flight (there is no fuel in Zimbabwe, ergo no flights) I am still wet, my white t-shirt transparent. In the car there is a completely veiled lady, black veil, only leaving her eyes bare: quite a difference with me.