Nothing but bad news seems to emanate out of Zimbabwe at present, whether it is rumours that the undeniably toxic president celebrated his 91st birthday with a million-dollar banquet or that the National Park service is busy selling-off elephant calves and lion cubs to stave off bankruptcy.
What is less publicised is what remains - one of the safest and hassle-free countries in Africa where, despite the unpleasantness of the political elite, the ordinary people, both black and white, are delightful and genuinely pleased to see you.
Zimbabweans have always been understandably proud of their wildlife estate which does not present the same emotionally charged reaction as land ownership. But in a country where the government struggles to supply the basic education and healthcare to its people the protection of natural resources comes to be seen more and more as a luxury, not an essential, and the only way to preserve it is to continue to give it value. If it pays it stays.
Some people may feel uncomfortable about tacitly supporting an oppressive regime by spending their tourist dollars here – but the counter-argument is that never has the wildlife department or safari operators needed your support more, and the wildlife areas have stayed surprisingly unscathed by the economic chaos that has reigned around them. Nature is remarkably resilient.
So the up-side of visiting now is, in addition to the warm glow that you may feel by supporting a cause in-need, the level of service and sense of exclusivity are probably better than they have ever been. Both the die-hards who never left and the generation of new guides coming through are all very aware that their guests could have chosen to go elsewhere, somewhere easier with less risk of it hitting the headlines pre-departure.
Zimbabwean guides remain the best trained on the continent and this has always enabled enterprising operators to offer real adventures, there has been no race to the bottom here, no lowest common denominator approach where one size has to fit all. Whether a multi-day canoe trip down the mile-wide Zambezi or exhilarating walking safaris in one of the wonderful multi-syllabic parks - Gonarezhou, Matusadona, Chimanimani - the very fact that Zimbabwe is, in concept at least, a challenging choice has helped it attract adventurous souls looking for genuine experiences.
With Zimbabwe it is all too easy to talk of what has been lost – prodigious commercial farms have been turned in to a patchwork of subsistence small-holdings, great guides have moved on and are now plying their trade further north or have left the industry turning their hands, as Zimbabweans were always able, to another trade on another continent. But the game and wilderness remains, for now.
A boycott of Zimbabwean tourism as suggested by a clique of citizen journalists on social media will have a catastrophic effect on the very thing that they are purporting to support – wildlife and wild areas.
Tourism in Africa has an enormous trickle-down effect; one person employed in a camp will often support tens of people. Remove this in an already depressed economy and the pressure to use protected forests for fuel, wildlife as a food source, poach elephant and rhino for cash and open the door to mining in National Parks (because they are no longer an asset but a liability to the Government) is enormous – the list of regression is both long and frightening.
Edmund Burke famously stated that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” and this certainly holds as true now as it did when first uttered in 1795.
Choosing Zimbabwe is a progressive choice - and as well as having a great time in some of the most diverse and game-rich habitat on the continent while being guided by the best in their field you will be actively supporting the long-term survival of the wilderness areas in this incredible, friendly, welcoming and law-abiding country.
Rod Tether has worked as a guide in Southern Africa for the past 20 years. Few people are in a better position to help you plan a safari to Zimbabwe. Please drop him an e-mail if you are interested in investigating a trip to Zimbabwe.
Posted by: Rod Tether