Back to Zimbabwe – The Road to Victoria Falls (Part 1: Bus Ride North)

7 July

This morning involved more packing than I had envisioned and it was good that we had planned to go to the mall for one last wifi session, as that time gave us what we needed to finish packing. We were doing one last ‘tough’ trip, without some of our amenities that we have taken with us around south Africa while we had our vehicle.

Alisa’s new backpack nearly fit everything we were taking until we saw that none of our supplies nor toiletries would fit, and so we repacked with half in the new Adidas soccer bag that I bought for this trip, that I have begun to hate immensely because of the strap not sitting flat on my shoulder and a rip that has formed and is to lengthen along the zippers end. Carrying it while heavy thus becomes an arduous task with the strap burying into my shoulder despite me constantly stopping to adjust it. While Alisa caved and bought a proper backpacking pack, I will unfortunately have to finish with the adidas bag and save up to buy one like Alisa’s before my next venture to Africa.

Once we were packed, Garth gave us a lift to Park Station where traffic made it difficult to get around, but the daylight made the area safer for us to walk through and we got out and walked the block and a half left to the station, with the normal stares from locals who must have wondered where we were going with Alisa carrying two backpacks, one on the front and her new one on her back, and me with a backpack, my duffle, and a Woolworth’s insulated bag with our remaining food.

Once checked in and off to the bus, I could immediately see Alisa doubting her approval of me picking Continue reading


Last Minute Packing for Zimbabwe

July 6

Today we hung out at the house and started packing. It took us awhile to really get started because we had to do laundry and separate everything that was going with us for two weeks from what we would leave at Elna’s. In addition, we packed my nice REI rolling duffle with all our souvenirs that Alex will take back to the states with him.

Alex spent a good portion of the day registering for classes and organizing our transportation to Cape Town. We have decided to bus from Joburg to Kimberely and Kimberely to Cape Town and then we will take the Shoshaloza train back to Joburg from Cape Town. I booked us at Cape Town Backpackers for our 4 nights in Cape Town, which I believe is where my mother and I stayed in 2007. So off from Joburg on the 19th at 10am, arrive in Kimberley in the afternoon, have dinner, then see the sights all on the 20th, and catch another bus that night taking us onwards to Cape Town. We’ll depart Cape Town on the 25th, taking a 24 hr train trip back to Joburg so we can have one more day in Gauteng before we fly onwards.

At 8 pm we order Italian take-away from across the street and went to Garth’s friends house to watch the semi-final match between Uruguay and the Netherlands. I think Alex enjoyed it because David, Garth’s friend, knew enough about soccer to have a conversation about players and teams with him, which Alex doesn’t get when he watches the games with me.

Last minute packing tomorrow and then were off to Zimbabwe.

Gold Reef City and Our Trip North Through Zimbabwe

After last night’s planning and booking for our overland trip through Botswana, we went to booking the rest of the journey in order to have us in Victoria Falls by the 11th of July. This meant booking a bus from Johannesburg to Bulawayo where we will then catch a train that runs from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls. Luckily Elna’s odd internet allowed us to load and we purchased our bus tickets of R280 on an overnight bus departing 1400 on the 7th of July, which will have us into Bulawayo at just past 0500 the next day. From there, we will catch the train that departs Bulawayo every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday to Victoria Falls. Many travel sites have talked about doing this, but it wasn’t until we stumbled across seat61 that I felt much comfortable about going this route. Tickets for the train can only be purchased day of, and the website makes it seem like this train is never full, so bookings are not difficult. Thus upon arrival (which will surely be much past the 0500 that is advertised), we shall head to the station and book a ticket for the train that departs each night just before 2100 and completes the 480 km trek north to the Falls. This also means we can save two nights of accommodation by taking the two overnight trips, however, our last overnight trip to Maputo wasn’t very restful and it wiped me out the next day (though the after effects of my food poisoning probably didn’t help). Thus we are looking for someplace in Bulawayo that we can perhaps drop our stuff off, and maybe catch a nap. Lonely Planet doesn’t have many backpackers listed, and neither does We shall do more research on possible accommodation as we get closer to departure in the case we do need to sleep the day away someplace.
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Another Call for Assistance for Zimbabwe

If one was to look back through the Archives of this blog, one would find a post where one of the authors of this blog promised a step by step plan for how to help Zimbabwe, instead of the typically useless ‘calls for solidarity’. As the formation of this plan went along, holes began to develop and the whole idea became vastly more complicated and detailed than was originally set out to be. The African File’s now defunct sister site, The Fertile Cresent File, tore into the drafts of this project, and as time went along the situation on the ground continued to change right up to the unity government that was forced upon the MDC and Mugabe by SADC. Since then the world has watched (though less so than in 2008) as the two rivals parties try to form something resembling a functioning government. I had given up on any prescription because the situation seemed to deal more with personalities and certainly a little bit of luck, rather than any post-conflict organizational chart.

Since then, we have had a MDC Minister arrested, Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife has been killed in a traffic accident, and Mugabe has celebrated his 85th birthday.

All of which leads to this article from the Huffington Post by two ICG writers:

International Crisis Group – Sydney Masamvu and Donald Steinberg in The Huffington Post.

I have a few issues with this piece, other than the repeated calls for aid.

First deals with this paragraph:

…failure would likely lead to a new seizure of power by Mugabe and his hardline allies, even greater repression and isolation, and new hardship and abuse for the long-suffering Zimbabwean people.

I think this does quite an unjustice to Mugabe. I mean, it would be awfully hard to top the repression and isolation that has gone on in the country. I would be curious to learn where there were any areas in the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans that wasn’t ‘hard’ already. To suggest that it could be worse, is to suggest that Mugabe hasn’t been at the top of his game. I wonder how he’ll respond to that criticism. 

Second, is the impression that the regional body SADC actually gives a damn about Zimbabwe through the channeling of funds:

The regional grouping of the Southern African Development Corporation (SADC), has recognized the stakes, and is putting its money where its interests are, including through new financial support from South Africa and Botswana. It is time for the broader international community to do the same.

Masamvu and Steinberg realize that these are the only countries that would even have money to contribute, yes? Angola is spending their saved up petro dollars on football stadiums for the next ACN. Mozambique is just getting its budget together after years of actually useful help from the IMF/WB. Zambia is getting poached by vulture funds. Namibia is dealing with water shortages and aid reductions. The DRC is the DRC. Madagascar is suspended, Tanzania has never made a meaningful contribution to regional development lately, and everyone else is too small to have any kind of political or economic impact. Thus to back up a claim that SADC is actually interested in solving Zimbabwe’s crisis by funding through Botswana and South Africa (who are coincidently asking us to help pay), does not really make much sense. On top of that, they include a quote by Tsvangirai saying “Don’t make us pay for working with Mugabe.” They fail to read between the lines of this quote, because what Tsvangirai really means to say is “Don’t make us pay for working with Mugabe….because you made us do it“. SADC thought they had performed their role by holding the firearm in this shot-gun marriage. With their hands now washed of Zimbabwe, they can now blame the MDC and maybe ZANU-PF if and when they screw up.

Finally, to suggest that it is the US/UK refusals to contribute humanitarian assistance as the reason for service failure in Zimbabwe is overstating the effect of Western aid. Nothing short of an invasion by medical personnel, engineers, and teachers would help begin to tackle the challenges faced by the country. To suggest that simply freeing money to support these ventures would cause anything more than a bump in PR rating for the West buys into the antiquated belief that aid can have profound effects on a country simply by giving more and more. Many books have recently been published that should diminish this belief that aid can achieve anything when funneled through sovereign service delivery agencies or that half-ass projects by the UN or the West will cause significant societal changes. People would certainly argue that something is better than nothing, but I would argue quite the opposite. Either invade Zimbabwe with services and personnel, say to the unity government “take seat, you can come back in 10 years” and then commit to a decade long project of education and service improvements, while letting the politicians map out a long-term plan of reconciliation and civic society building, OR let the Zimbabweans figure it out on their own. Anything in the middle will just prolong the final product of a safe and prosperous Zimbabwe.