While I have not yet been to Zimbabwe, I have met refugees from there and talked to enough people who have visited there to collect some first hand accounts. I am not going to delve into the history of the situation, but if you truly want to gain an understanding of what is going on there you must read the history.
While I have not yet had taken the opportunity to go to Zimbabwe (or as many call it in casual conversation “Zim”) but I have been close enough to get a taste of what is going on there. While we were going to the Sowa Pans we had a 5 hour layover in Francistown Botswana. Francistown is less than 100 Km from the border with Zimbabwe. And because Zimbabwe usually doesn’t have things like, oh, food and gasoline many Zimbabweans come to Francistown to shop and then take back with them much more than they can carry. Not everyone in Zimbabwe can do this of course, because the Zimbabwe Dollar is at around 1,000,000,000% inflation, so they have to have foreign currency (the Pula, Rand, or U.S. Dollar) to make purchases in Botswana. These monied shoppers come to Francistown and buy in bulk. Food, gasoline, electronics, mechanic parts. As a result every store supplying these items has come to look like a Sam’s Club with discounts offered for bulk quantities. This is good for Francistown, but bad for Zimbabwe as capital flight has become to standard method of spending liquidated money.
So while we were passing time in the direct sunlight to wait for our bus to Sowa Town I decided to go find out what was going on next to the Zim bus. First thing I noticed when I got into the crowd of people waiting in “line” to get on the bus or to get their goods loaded on the bus was that the smells reminded me of Haiti. The smell of human beings, charcoal fires, diesel fumes, and whole leaf tobacco rolled in butcher paper being shared among groups of men. If I shut my eyes and thought about the grime on the bus and everything being loaded on it I could be in Haiti. The major difference is that people ride on top of all that stuff on the roof in Haiti, and the buses are older.
So I wanted to talk to some people who were getting on the bus. Where were they going in Zimbabwe? What did they buy in Botswana? The first guy I asked, probably in his late 30’s (but it is difficult to tell age when I don’t know if this particular person is a farmer or an office worker) just joked with me that his 5 gallon jerry cans were full of marijuana when they were obviously full of diesel or gasoline. I was wanting to know if it was for the bus or he was just transporting it. He wouldn’t say. OK, fine. So I tried a lady who I figured was a similar age. She would not even meet my gaze and just told me to “Go talk to those people over there” without motioning to or looking at anyone in particular. I was way out of my understanding and quickly gave up on finding an informant as the guy who had a clipboard that seemed to be tracking who put what on the bus got in an altercation and slapped another guy I had tried to talk to. I moved back to our waiting place and watched as this bus filled up and another one pull up to start the loading process all over again.
Even though people were not talking to me I noticed almost everyone was taking cooking oil and grains. There were electronics (TVs and DVD players) loaded on top of the bus by the dozens…
I don’t know why exactly people did not want to talk to me or answer my questions. I can think of several reasons, after all I don’t know if I would tell a stranger what I was transporting if they came up and asked me. But I bet a really good reason for Zimbabweans being suspicous of strangers asking questions has more to do with this Amnesty Internation report (link to full report is 2/3 the way down the page)