We happened pay a visit to Zim in August 2002, the month that the ‘Land Invasions’ started in earnest with white farmers being thrown off their land.
The currency had collapsed. The official rate was that one US dollar purchased 55 Zim dollars. At an official currency exchange store in Mutare in eastern Zimbabwe the man behind the counter asked, “Good morning Sir. What can I do for you?” I was the only person in the store
“I have some American Dollars that I need to exchange for Zimbabwe dollars.”
The man took one look at me and said unhesitatingly: “What rate do you want?”
Without batting an eyelid I answered: “700”. There was absolutely no reaction from the man I was paid out unhesitatingly in 100 red Zim dollar notes- Ferraris as they were called- they go like hell.
The exchange rate went to thousands and then more than that, after which the currency collapsed and the US dollar effectively became the only viable means of exchange in the country.
The whole of our trip was paid for in Zim dollars. Probably the least expensive holiday we had ever had.
Later, on the very lonely and deserted road from Bulawayo to Beit Bridge (the South African border) there was a road block, manned by people dressed to look like policemen. They had a set of road spikes. I thought they were police. My brother Paul, who was driving, wound his window down and had a brief conversation with one of the so-called police in Ndebele (virtually the same language as Zulu) the local language.
“We must see your papers,” Paul was told
Paul’s response: “You are not proper police, you don’t even have proper uniforms so no we won’t be showing you any papers.” All the bandits wanted was money, no trouble. The leader just signalled to the man in charge of the spikes and they were immediately withdrawn, and we were waved through. That incident was the only hint of trouble we had on the whole of our journey through Zim.
Paul’s language skills saved the day. But for that I am sure we would have been forced to pay-up or worse.