Into Zimbabwe

Bulawayo Travel Blog

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Whange National Park

The roads down to Whange National Park were in very good conditions, sealed two lanes.  Whange National Park is famous for its watering holes with elephants and rhinos.  Inside the rangers building had a 70’s feel, with all the displays from that period including a large photo of Robert Mugabe hung above the desk.  We spent a few days in the park travelling different routes and a couple of challenging routes for 4x4 (turning around once where the bridge was gone), a couple of nights in a compound by a famous watering hole with a stone viewing platform.  From here we enjoyed watching hundreds of elephant, some only 5-10meters away and other animals coming to drink, keeping a close eye on the few crocodiles in case they managed to feed.

Whange National Park
  Speaking with Godfree, the Park ranger, he said he had not been paid for 3years.  He told us the story when he found a lion that had jumped up into the viewing platform one night and he found it looking at him early next morning when he entered, the only thing to do was to back away slowly and open the gates to the compound and waiting for him to leave.  Before we left the watering hole we gave him some of our spare food. 

At the park we saw a yellow Botswana wildlife helicopter and speaking to a ranger during a walking tour into the bush one morning (didn’t see much on foot), he said they were there to help spot and dehorn rhino with the help from their small plane also.  At 50,000USD per kilo of horn Zimbabwe is losing lots of them each month kill poachers.

Whange National Park
  When asked what they do with poachers he lifted his rifle and made a gesture like shooting them, shoot first and don’t ask questions is the way it is done here.

Our final night inside the National Park was up on a wooden platform we had booked, only both of us.  We transferred our mattress from the our roof tent laying it out and tied up a mosquito net, the hammock was tied up.  We cooked and watched the wild life arrive to the water hole.  The closest people where 35kms away and that night we heard various animals, couldn’t tell you what they all were.  At one point I went down into the Land Rover and flashed up full lights but this spooked the animals and stopped it as a bad idea.  Before getting into the bed I tried to block off the wooden stair with a couple of chairs and the waterproof cover for the roof tent when folded down, you never know what might take an interest in us up there! 

We left the park after our unique experience on the platform, it was the same place  we read in a magazine weeks before about this spot.

Whange National Park
Spent a night at the main south east entrance, this was a larger gate and speaking to one worker, Radson, I found out he’d worked there since 1971, 40years, he was connecting a cable for us to run our fridge/freezer from the main power.

Out on the road again with all clothes nicely washed, and by now the extra 25liters of diesel from the water containers were in the main tank.  We headed for Bulawayo, passed some road tolls with police with no problems.  Going into town there was something weird about it, the people, the place...  The Streets are clean, grass is cut, buildings with their signs look like the 60’s.  We wanted to go to the ‘Great Zimbabwe Ruins’ over in the north east but, that meant we needed a fuel stop here as we didn’t see any on the way in so this was our best hope in Bulawayo.

Whange National Park, sleeping on the platform
  Some stations had people but no fuel and the places looked tidy but old, dated and not maintained, staying clear of empty ones that had maybe dirty fuel or diesel cut with paraffin.  Looking around I followed a couple of minivan taxis who looked to heading a established route through town by side street, following it wasn’t long until I saw a queue of taxis going into a small compound, fuel!  A popular station with taxis should carry good fuel, we queued.  I got out and spoke to the white owner, born in Rhodesia (mid to late 70’s).  He’d been put in prison, land taken off him, closed a resort he owned in Vic Falls.  Now they have taken his water drilling company off him and are cutting up the equipment for scrap.
Whange National Park
  Told me about farms taken of the white farmers and given to Robert Mugabe’s family and friends within his dictatorship who were unable to run a business or maintain one. Things would run for a year or two before crops failed, then the equipment was sold off and the places stripped of anything of value and left to the nature.  The bread basket of Africa is no more.  Mugabe’s rein has brought the place to its knees, ruined its economy.  China is one country that does support him, Zimbabwe has natural resources for the taking... 

When diamonds were found in the north east towards Mozambique he sent in helicopter gunships to clear the people out (people tried to get them classified as Blood Diamonds on the world market, less lucrative but I’m unsure if that ever happened, one of Mugabe’s wives was caught coming into London Heathrow airport with a big pile of diamonds the story goes.

Whange National Park
.).  In Bulawayo I realised what was different here, the strange thing I could not work out.  The poor people, where were they all?  Every African city I’ve been in has a lot poor, barely clothed locals trying to eke out a living somehow but here everyone was dressed well enough and clean.  Robert Mugabe introduced a program ‘Clean Operation’ that used force to relocate these people to the countryside, make the live on the land way from the cities.  His way of cleaning up the place and keeping control of the population by spreading them around, not having concentrations of them in towns and cities.  His main supporters are from the country side, not the educated city folks.  At the times of elections he would give free maze and other artificial support to buy votes, the dead were somehow able to cast their vote from the grave (I also remember this happening back home in N.
Ireland!).  People in areas that voted for the opposition with sufficient numbers to annoy Mugabe, everyone would be rewarded with indiscriminate beatings from trucked in security forces. 

After filling up at the chaotic little station we travelled through the well maintained main roads through countryside where we meet lots of police check points (asking if we had animal skins), they were non-threatening, checking our papers and driving licence with no requests for bribes.  The people in general seem well dressed, no begging, clean houses (some with TVs) and they seem to be doing ok?  This is in contrast with what I thought, reading it had 70% unemployed.  We saw various towns, nicer houses both in and out of the cities than I would have expected.

  Zimbabwe is a very rich nation, lots of mining operations (which employ many people) for various semi precious and precious materials, gems and it also has natural gas.  So where are the rest of the poor people?  It is my thinking, maybe because of the current society driven by Robert Mugabe a lot of them have ran south to seek a better life in South Africa…but end up in the slums?  Before I left South Africa non-nationals in Cape Town townships were running away fearing the publicised xenophobia attacks that were waiting for the end of the World Cup 2010.  Some didn’t wait down in Cape Town.

You see all sorts of vehicles on the roads and a bus attached like a trailer to lorry cab made me laugh, things keep on rolling.

Great Zimbabwe Ruins
  We visited the ‘Great Zimbabwe Ruins’ the largest agrological significant site outside of the Egyptian pyramids in the continent of Africa.  Travelling south afterwards during this short time in Zimbabwe we entered another Matogo National Park to see the famous Matogo rocks paintings.  Going towards the border we went across country off the sealed road and onto the gravel rocky tracks, over a few dry river beds.  Was a shorter route and more interesting.

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Whange National Park
Whange National Park
Whange National Park
Whange National Park
Whange National Park
Whange National Park
Whange National Park
Whange National Park
Whange National Park, sleeping on …
Whange National Park, sleeping on…
Whange National Park
Whange National Park
Whange National Park
Whange National Park
Great Zimbabwe Ruins
Great Zimbabwe Ruins
Great Zimbabwe Ruins
Great Zimbabwe Ruins
Bulawayo
photo by: davidx