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SafetyTravel Safety: Africa: Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: Republic of Zimbabwe
Capital: Harare
Population: 11,376,676
Currency: Zimbabwean dollar (ZWD)
Languages: English (official), Shona, Sindebele (the language of the Ndebele, sometimes called Ndebele), numerous but minor tribal dialects
Religions: syncretic (part Christian, part indigenous beliefs) 50%, Christian 25%, indigenous beliefs 24%, Muslim and other 1%
Borders: Botswana 813 km, Mozambique 1,231 km, South Africa 225 km, Zambia 797 km

Zimbabwe is a developing landlocked country in southern Africa. Tourist facilities are available in Victoria Falls, the Great Zimbabwe, major cities, and selected game parks. The capital city is Harare.

The political, social, economic, and security situation in Zimbabwe remains fluid. Crime, especially burglaries and carjackings, is a serious problem. There are also ongoing incidents of land seizures, police roadblocks, political violence, intimidation in urban and rural areas, and business closures. U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Zimbabwe should be aware that they are taking a risk in visiting any commercial farms, or straying outside normal tourist areas. The behavior of police or military personnel is not always predictable or rational. In November 2002, Zimbabwean police outside of Mutare killed an American citizen at a roadblock. Tourists may also be subject to harassment or arrest for photographing roadblocks, occupied commercial farms, and government buildings or installations. Resident or visiting Americans have been arrested, detained or threatened with expulsion for activities that would not be considered crimes in the U.S., including the expression of opinions regarding the current political regime in Zimbabwe.

Victoria Falls is a major tourist destination and is considered relatively safe, but visitors are urged to use the same security precautions they would exercise in any urban area of the developing world. While Harare is a clean and pleasant city, street crime is a serious problem, particularly in tourist areas. Harare has experienced a significant rise in the number of serious crimes committed during the past year. Although the vast majority of these crimes were nonviolent, there has been an increase in the use of firearms. The downtown sector of Harare is a particularly high crime area.

U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Zimbabwe should be aware of continuing conditions that could affect their safety, including the outbreak of sporadic demonstrations driven by deteriorating economic conditions. Demonstrations occur in both urban and rural areas. Clashes between police and demonstrators have sometimes resulted in injuries to demonstrators as well as innocent bystanders. Political activity can also result in serious violence, and U.S. citizens are urged to avoid all political rallies and demonstrations.

Other ongoing conditions that could affect the safety of tourists in Zimbabwe include the occupation of commercial farms by the National War Veterans' Association and others. The war veterans have not targeted resident U.S. citizens for violence, but American tourists and residents should avoid areas where war veterans are active. In May 2002, an American was assaulted on an occupied farm by so-called war veterans.

Zimbabwe has experienced serious nationwide fuel shortages since January 2003. Since spot shortages occur intermittently, fuel supplies are not consistently available, and gas stations around the country may not have sufficient provisions at any given time. Travelers should carefully assess the fuel situation, keep their tanks full, and carry extra fuel before making any long-distance journeys.

U.S. citizens participating in nature and rafting excursions in Zimbabwe should be aware that even with an organized tour group, tourists are often allowed to participate in activities that may pose great risks to personal safety. Tragic attacks involving wildlife have occurred at M a na Pools. Visitors to Nyanga should avoid Pungwe Falls, Mterazi Falls, and Honde Falls. There have been numerous incidents of armed robbery, theft, assaults, and attempted rapes reported at these sites. Land mines along the Mozambique border, situated beyond the main tourist areas, make travel to that border area potentially hazardous.

Zimbabwe offers opportunities for observation of wildlife in its natural habitat. Many tour operators offer structured, safe excursions into parks and other wildlife viewing areas for close observation of flora and fauna. However, travelers should keep a safe distance from animals and remain in vehicles or other protected enclosures when venturing into game parks. There have been a few instances in which tourists have faced last-minute cancellations or have had to leave a game park earlier than planned as a result of labor unrest and/or ownership disputes.

Carjacking, street crime, rape, and credit card fraud are on the rise. Much of the increase in crime is due to high rates of unemployment and deteriorating economic conditions. Americans and other foreigners are perceived to be wealthy and could be targeted by criminals who operate in the vicinity of hotels, restaurants, and shopping malls in Harare and in major tourist areas such as Victoria Falls.

Travelers should watch their luggage at airports, railway and bus stations, and when making calls from public telephones. Travelers are advised to avoid displaying or carrying unnecessary valuables in public. Items such as passports, money, jewelry, and credit cards should be placed in hotel safety deposit boxes when not being used. Incidents have occurred, however, in which valuables left in room safes have been taken. Visitors should not carry large sums of money or multiple credit cards while shopping and should be cautious when leaving banks and automatic teller machines.

Teams of thieves frequently prey on victims in the downtown area of Harare. Purse-snatchers will often work in teams of two with one person acting as a diversion. A typical mugging involves a group of young males who surround and overwhelm their victim in a public area. Tourists and out of town shoppers continue to be considered lucrative targets. Cell phones are of particular interest to local thieves.

Travelers should avoid driving at night outside the low-density suburban areas. Car doors should be locked and windows rolled up. Handbags, wallets, and other items should be placed under car seats or in the trunk of the car. While stopped in traffic, drivers should look around to identify potential trouble and should leave sufficient maneuver room between their vehicle and the one in front. Travelers who suspect that their vehicle is being followed should drive to the nearest police station or some other public area for assistance. Drivers should be alert to �smash and grabs,� where thieves break the windows of cars stopped at stop lights and take items from inside the car. Drivers should also be cautious of persons offering assistance in the event of a flat tire.

Travelers are encouraged to make two photocopies of the biographic/identification page of their passport. They should leave one copy at home with friends or relatives and carry the second copy with them for identification purposes.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Zimbabwean law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Zimbabwe are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

It is against the law to make any gesture or statements that might be construed as offensive to the president of Zimbabwe, a member of his government, or the Zimbabwean government itself.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens to exploit children sexually via pornography, the Internet or other means or to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a person under the age of 18 in a foreign country, regardless of whether there was intent. Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Medical facilities outside of Harare and Bulawayo are limited. Travelers are urged to carry an ample supply of their prescription medications because they will not likely be available in Zimbabwe. Provincial hospitals in rural areas are not equipped to provide medical care in case of a serious accident. Doctors, hospitals and air ambulance medical evacuation services often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Zimbabwe is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of public transportation: Poor
Urban road conditions/maintenance: Good
Rural road conditions/maintenance: Fair
Availability of roadside assistance: Fair

The main roads throughout Zimbabwe are generally well maintained and access to service stations is available. Inter-city commuter bus travel, except by �luxury coaches,� is dangerous due to overcrowding, inadequate maintenance, and drivers who fail to adhere to local speed limits and to obey traffic rules or regulations. The drivers are frequently fatigued, after driving for long periods of time without mandatory rest stops. Travelers should exercise extra caution when driving at night due to pedestrians (in dark clothing) and animals walking in the poorly lit roads. Motor vehicles on the road at night often have no headlights or tail lights. Traffic moves on the left and many people drive over the speed limit. The passing lanes are not always clearly marked, and road visibility at times can be restricted. Few roads outside the urban areas have shoulders or a breakdown lane.

It is illegal to operate a cellular telephone while driving in Zimbabwe. Drivers are required to wear seat belts or helmets if driving motorcycles but car seats are not required for small children. Travelers should pack several pairs of latex gloves in the event of a road accident involving serious injuries or bleeding, as Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection in southern Africa.

The Ministry of Transport is the government authority responsible for road safety in Zimbabwe. There is no national established network of roadside emergency service. However, the Automobile Association of Zimbabwe, similar to the American Automobile Association, is willing to provide roadside emergency service to nonmembers for a fee. Travelers interested in contacting the service during their stay in Zimbabwe may contact AA Zimbabwe at 263-4-752-779. AA Zimbabwe�s 24-hour emergency roadside helpline is 263-4-707-959.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of Zimbabwe 's civil aviation authority as category 2 -- not in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Zimbabwe 's air carrier operations. At this time there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers, nor economic authority to operate such service, between the U.S. and Zimbabwe. For further information, travelers may contact the department of transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. In addition, DOD does not permit its personnel to use air carriers from category 2 countries for official business except for flights originating from or terminating in the U.S. for information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at 618-229-4801.

Zimbabwean authorities are extremely sensitive about the photographing of certain locations and buildings, including government offices, airports, military installations, official residences and embassies. Tourists have been arrested and incarcerated for several days for taking photos or videos of government buildings, including the president�s palace. Prior written permission must be obtained from the appropriate government office before taking such photographs.

Please also refer to the separate Travel Warning for Zimbabwe and to the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

July 2, 2004 | Travel Warning

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Worldworx Travel> Safety> Africa> Zimbabwe




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