Two poachers illegally hunting inside Zimbabwe’s Charara National Park had the tables unexpectedly turned on them recently. The two men slipped into the reserve unnoticed where they had hoped to kill an elephant and harvest its ivory tusks for sale on the black market in Asia. But their excursion ended up going horribly wrong leaving one of the men in the hands of the authorities and the other poacher trampled to death by the very creature he was hunting.
Solomon Manjoro, along with his partner Noluck Tafuruka, allegedly entered the park a few weeks back in hopes that they could bag an elephant, grab its tusks and get out before anyone knew they were there. Apparently Manjoro manged to wound one of the big pachyderms but failed to deliver a killing shot. The enraged animal then charged the men, knocking Manjoro to the ground and trampling him to death. His body was discovered some time later.
Tafuruka managed to escape the wrath of the animal and ran off into the park. He was later detained by authorities who discovered him wandering the premises with an illegal firearm. His capture led to the arrest of a third man living in the capital city of Harare, although what his role in this story is remains a mystery.
Considering the number of elephants that are being slaughtered on a daily basis in Africa, the story of one poacher getting killed by the animal he is hunting hardly seems like justice. Still, I couldn’t muster a single ounce of sympathy for the guy. I’m just sad that his friend “Noluck” managed to get away relatively unscathed.
We’ve all been through lean times during which we’ve lived paycheck to paycheck, just hoping our meager salary would be enough to see us through to the next payday. In these tough economic times, everyone has had to cut back, tighten their belts and learn to go without on occasion. That includes the country of Zimbabwe where a government official announced yesterday that the country had only $217 in its bank account as recently as last week. Yes, that’s just $217 total, which is probably less than most Gadling readers have socked away.
According to Finance Minister Tendai Biti, the country reached this unusually low level after paying the wages of its civil servants last Thursday. But he quickly amended the statement by pointing out that the government took in $30 million in revenue the following day, giving them the operating expenses necessary to keep the country running.
2013 is an election year for Zimbabwe, however, and Biti’s message was a warning that the country may not have the funds necessary to operate the polls unless something changes. It is estimated that it will cost about $104 million to hold the elections, plus millions more for a referendum on a new constitution. That’s money that the struggling African country just doesn’t have at the moment.
With an economy that is still recovering from the global recession and high unemployment rates across the region, there simply isn’t a large enough tax base to fill the government’s coffers. Biti and his staff will attempt to instead find private funds to pay for the upcoming election and referendum.
Zimbabwe’s economy has been in turmoil since 2008 when hyperinflation caused their currency to become all but useless. At the time, the inflation rate skyrocketed by an astounding 231,000,00%. It got so bad at one point that the nation’s central bank had to actually print Z$100 billion bills. In 2009, a new coalition government switched the economy to U.S. dollars, bringing a level of stability to the economy, but the nation has continued to struggle ever since.
While the global recession has been a real struggle over the past few years, we can all take some solace in knowing that last week at this time there was an African government that was as broke as we are. They recovered quickly of course, but thank goodness they didn’t have to post-date any checks.
South African Airways Vacations has introduced a new feature on its website that gives visitors the ability to explore options for travel in Africa like never before. The company has launched a series of “virtual itineraries” that use a combination of maps, photos and points of interest data to help travelers choose the right trip for themselves and to prepare them for their experience when they reach their destinations.
The site offers tours to a variety of locations including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and more. To explore those options simply visit the SAAV website and search for itineraries based on the location you would most like to visit or the type of travel experience that you’re looking for. The search results will provide the name of the available tours, a brief description and the price. There will be a button that will allow you to view the virtual itinerary for any given tour as well.
Opening one of those virtual itineraries presents you with an overview of the tour that includes each of the destinations that you’ll be visiting, the number of nights you’ll be staying there and the type of accommodations you can expect. Selecting the “day-by-day” view zooms the map in close to show more details about the area you’ll be visiting on any given day and offers some suggestions of things to see and do in the region. It will also show you where your hotel for that night is located and even offers images and detailed information about those accommodations. The virtual itineraries also provide notes about the daily activities, giving travelers plenty of information about what’s on the agenda for that day of the tour.
All of these tools help to take the guesswork out of a visit to southern or eastern Africa. Those two regions are popular dream destinations for may travelers, but planning and preparing for such a trip can be an intimidating experience for many. With the SAAV virtual itineraries you’ll know exactly what you’ll be getting when spending your hard-earned dollars, which can be very reassuring for travelers who aren’t particularly fond of surprises.
On Thursday of this week five nations in southern Africa announced plans to form a new international conservation area that will be the largest of its kind once it is complete. This unprecedented move was made to allow the participating nations to combine their conservation efforts and combat illegal poaching in a more efficient manner.
Under the agreement, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola and Botswana will combine 36 nature preserves that are currently managed independently of one another. The newly unified conservation area will be roughly the size of Sweden and will provide wildlife with more than 170,000 square miles of unbroken territory to freely migrate through. This new preserve will be expansive enough to encompass both Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and the Okavango Delta in Botswana, two of the more spectacular settings in all of Africa.
Conservationists are hailing the move as a good one for southern Africa. The newly formed Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area is home to roughly 45% of the total elephant population on the continent and will also feature more than 600 species of birds alone. Other big game, such as zebra, giraffe, buffalo and lion will be plentiful there as well.
Of particular concern for each of the countries involved with the project is protecting the elephant herds that live there. Poaching has become a major concern across Africa where the animals are routinely hunted and killed illegally to harvest their ivory tusks. With each nation working more cooperatively inside the conservation area, however, they hope to prevent much of the poaching that has gone on in the region over the past few years.
After a decade of political unrest, seizures of white-owned farms and record hyperinflation that forced the government to print 100 billion dollar banknotes, Zimbabwe is finally starting to inch back onto the tourism radar, thanks to a power sharing agreement and a move to use U.S. dollars as the de-facto currency of the country.
But Zimbabwe’s long-dormant tourism sector has also received a small boost from the popularity of The Last Resort, Zimbabwe native Douglas Rogers‘ bestselling account of life at Drifters, his parents’ backpacker lodge turned brothel near Mutare, in eastern Zimbabwe. The book won the British Travel Writers’ Guild Book of the year in 2010 and BBC recently bought the film rights. Gadling caught up with Rogers near his new home in Loudoun County, Virginia last week.
People loved this book so much that some decided to visit your parents’ lodge in Zimbabwe?
The book came out at the end of 2009 and within a few months, people started turning up. The first visitor was the Swedish Ambassador. He hugged my mother and said he felt like he knew her. Now they keep coming, at least a few hundred so far. They bring books and want the staff to sign them.
This is very personal memoir where you talk about how your parents’ lodge sort of morphed into a brothel and explain how your parents tried to grow marijuana in the yard as the tourists disappeared. Were you nervous about how your family or the staff at the lodge would perceive the book?
I was more nervous about the politics of it. That there would be negative repercussions for my family there, but so far there haven’t been.
Has Mugabe’s regime banned the book?
No, it’s available in Harare but there are so few bookshops left it’s hard to find. I wanted to change the names of people I wrote about in the book, but the staff at my parents’ lodge were dead set against that. The 2008 election violence was terrifying and, at that point, the book was about to come out. But they wanted their named in the book- they’re very proud and brave.
So many other white owned farms in Zimbabwe have been seized, and your parents had some close calls which you describe in the book, but how is it that they’ve been allowed to keep their property and the lodge?
Legally, they aren’t supposed to lose the place, because it isn’t an agricultural farm. But that doesn’t really matter anymore; people can lose their land for any reason. Officially though, the government owns their property and someone could show up and take it at any time.
When did the backpacking scene at Drifters hit its peak?
It was going strong in the 90’s and really peaked just months before the land invasions started in February 2000. We had lots of South Africans, overland travelers, Americans, backpackers and gap-year students from the U.K. and around Europe.
And then tourism dried up, but it started again after your book came out?
Yes, my parents were quite amazed when visitors started showing up again. During the land seizures, they rented the backpacker lodge out to guys who turned it into a brothel, so they haven’t been managing it on a day to day basis for awhile.
What does it cost to stay there?
It’s very cheap. I think it’s $10 per night. It’s not high-end accommodation, so a lot of people just come to see the place and don’t stay the night. They have a Last Resort guestbook which people like to sign, have a beer and a look around.
You led a small group of travelers on a trip to Zimbabwe last year?
I partnered with a safari company called Aardvaark, and we advertised the trip. we brought a small group of four American travelers to see the place last May. We had interest from a few dozen people but we ended up with just four Americans and we went in May 2011. They were really adventurous. Two friends, one from Kansas and another from San Francisco, who went to college together and a couple from Annapolis, Maryland.
Where did you take them?
It was a two week trip. They had one week in Harare and eastern Zimbabwe where the book is set. And then they did a safari and toured Victoria Falls. Drifters is somewhat run down, so they had an option to stay there or at another place a half hour away. There was no power or electricity when I showed them around, so they ended up at the other hotel. But that ended up being worse I think. Still, it was authentic!
Is Zimbabwe a good place to visit right now?
You can have a great safari in Zimbabwe. And in the Victoria Falls and Kariba areas there are some sophisticated, very nice places. In the last few years, the tourist trade has picked up- new places are being built. You have investors who are anticipating that when the politics in Zimbabwe changes, it’ll take off and they want to be on the ground floor.
2011 was a bad year for dictators, but Mugabe survived.
Right and a lot of them were old comrades of Mugabe. Gaddafi. The Dear Leader in Korea. When I was in high school, we used to get state visits from Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, Ceausescu, Kim Il Sung. Those were the kinds of people who visited Zimbabwe.
So once Mugabe (who is 87) departs the scene, tourism is likely to pick back up in Zimbabwe?
If there’s a stable transition and someone worse doesn’t take his place. Tourism has already picked up in the last year or two. If you watched news reports, you’d think Zimbabwe was Mogadishu or the Congo, but it’s not like that. It’s safe unless you’re involved in opposition politics or you’re a white farmer on a list. It’s completely safe in terms of day-to-day security. The economy has improved; you can buy what you need. The dollar is the currency used. Parts of Harare look like a first world city.
Your parents are part of a very small community of whites there that never left. Is there a movement of whites moving back to Zimbabwe?
I know people who have moved back. I have a cousin who lived in London and has now decided to move back because it’s an easier way of life than in Europe and much healthier for her young kids. Amazing, but true. The weather is good, the schools in Harare are great.
What other areas of the country do you recommend to travelers?
I’d love for people to see eastern Zimbabwe, but that might be more for people who have already spent time in the country before. Northern Zimbabwe where the Zambezi River splits Zimbabwe and Zambia, there’s an area called Mana Pools which is quite beautiful. A lot of safari operators in Zimbabwe are telling people to come now, because it’s cheaper and you can still see all the animals you’d see in other parts of Africa. Hwange reserve is the main game reserve. Kariba is another great place. It’s where Nick Price the golf pro would take Greg Norman on his houseboat. If you live in Zimbabwe, that’s where you go.
Are there still marijuana plants and prostitutes at Drifters these days?
My mother made my father dig up his weed. It’s against the law and she thought they’d be caught. It might have been profitable but she was paranoid, and didn’t want to draw any extra attention. When I returned home and saw that the place had turned into a brothel and my parents had all these refugees (who’d been kicked off their farms) living there, I knew I had to write a book about it.
Was it an actual brothel?
It was an informal knock shop. A place where men would bring prostitutes or a mistress or second or third wife. It’s pretty secluded so it’s perfect for that.
So who frequents the Drifters bar these days?
The occasional hooker, I suspect, but mostly passing salesman, adventurous backpackers, and the new class of foreigner who lives in Zimbabwe: missionaries, aid workers and diplomats.
Zimbabwe is still a really troubled country but it sounds like the people are resilient and ready to welcome visitors again?
You wouldn’t expect it but people are going on holiday to Zimbabwe now. You hear the stories of the people who run small hotels and lodges staying open all these years. Some of them without seeing a single guest for six months. They didn’t have electricity and had to use gas cookers and when the gas went out, they had to cook with wood fires to make meals for their guests. They’d make trips to Botswana and South Africa to find food to feed their guests and smuggle it back in so as not to lose it all at customs. Now, having come through that, these guys are starting to see some business again. They deserve it.