Monday, March 28, 2011

Zimbabwe’s Chaos: The Powerful Thrive

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, July 28 — Earlier this month, shortly after Zimbabwe’s president, Robert G. Mugabe, proposed legislation mandating a gradual transfer of all businesses to what he called “indigenous” ownership, a Zimbabwean businessman said he received an unexpected telephone call. The caller, a stranger, said that he represented a group of indigenous investors.

The investors, he said, would like to discuss the merchant’s plans for complying with the coming ownership law.

There is a flip side to Zimbabwe’s economic decline, critics and analysts contend, and this is it: As 11 million or more people descend into destitution, a tiny slice of the population is becoming ever more powerful and wealthy at their expense.

No one outside of Mr. Mugabe’s inner circle, of course, can say with certainty why he has pursued policies since 2000 that have produced economic and social bedlam. For his part, Mr. Mugabe says Zimbabwe’s chaos is the product of a Western plot to reassert colonial rule, while he is simply taking steps to fight that off.

Among many outside that circle, however, the growing conviction is that Zimbabwe’s descent is neither the result of paranoia nor the product of Mr. Mugabe’s longstanding belief in Marxist economic theory. Instead, they say, Zimbabwe is fast becoming a kleptocracy, and the government’s seemingly inexplicable policies are in fact preserving and expanding it.

“Their sole interest is in maintaining power by any means,” said David Coltart, a white opposition member of Parliament. “I think their calculation is that the rest of Africa is not going to do anything to stop them, and the West is distracted by Iraq and Afghanistan. The platinum mines can keep the core of the elite living in the manner they’re accustomed to — just in a sea of poverty.”

There surely are other views. One influential member of the governing ZANU-PF party said Mr. Mugabe, now 83, was rushing to empower long-suffering black Zimbabweans before he died.

This, he said, explains why the government seized thousands of white-owned farms early this decade, and why Mr. Mugabe ordered manufacturers and merchants last month to reduce their prices by 50 percent and more. To him, it also explains why Mr. Mugabe now proposes to require that every Zimbabwean business be controlled by native Zimbabweans.

“The old man wants to leave a legacy,” said the politician. “He’s in the twilight of his life, and he wants it to be remembered that he left something to Zimbabweans.”

Yet in interviews in Zimbabwe, Mr. Coltart’s view was widely shared by blacks and whites alike, many with no political ax to grind. Even the governing party politician allowed that whatever the aims of Mr. Mugabe’s policies, their execution had gone terribly awry.

Zimbabwe’s farm seizures destroyed the nation’s rich agriculture industry, and, as a form of patronage, vast tracts of land were handed over to party elites with little experience or interest in farming. The looming takeover of businesses is expected to produce the same result.

“Some of these people, his cronies, are being greedy,” the ZANU-PF official said. “That’s the tragedy of this country. Those who benefited from land reform are also going to benefit from this takeover.”

The circumstantial evidence that Zimbabwe’s decline has become a zero-sum game, in which one side’s loss inevitably is the other’s gain, is not easy to ignore.

Zimbabwe’s plummeting currency — 200,000 Zimbabwe dollars now buy a single American dollar on the black market — has rendered the salaries of working Zimbabweans all but worthless. Yet the official exchange rate is not 200,000 to 1, but 250 to 1. Those with connections to the government’s reserve bank are widely said to buy American dollars cheap, sell them dear — and reap an 800-fold profit on currency transactions.

Mr. Mugabe’s government declares currency trading illegal, but regularly dumps vast stacks of new bills on the black market, still wrapped in plastic, to raise foreign exchange for its own needs, business leaders and economists say.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Experience Africa


The Wolwedans Private Camp is located in the Namib Rand Nature Reserve in South-western Namibia bordering to the south of the huge red surreal sand-dune seas of the renowned Sossusvlei; the clay pan of the central Namib Desert, lying within the Namib-Naukluft National Park.

The immense 172, 000 hectare Namib Rand is a private nature reserve founded in 1922 by J.A. Bruckner encompassing a diversity of desert landscapes. This photogenic variety combines manifold dune valleys, red Kalahari-esque sand and grassy plains with the mysterious appeal of the Skeleton Coast. Moreover, the beguiling expansive fields of bare ‘fairy circles’ being geologically inexplicable have unique appeal stretching along the edge of the Namib Desert into southern Angola.

The stark habitats are home to the dune lark among many varied species of fauna and flora. Access to the reserve is restricted in accordance with strict eco-tourist criteria such that lodges and camps may accommodate a maximum of twenty beds and is devoid of overland trucks and tour buses. Guests are obliged to pay a daily park fee.

Wolwedans’ collection of camps is organically woven into the dune landscape, from the rustic charms of Dune Camp, more sophisticated Dunes Lodge and Mountain View Suite to the secluded Private Camp (sleeping four) and discreet granite rock site of Boulders Camp (accommodating eight).

Private Camp situated in a scenic valley with siesta-sala day-beds especially offers contemplative silence. The distinctive pole structure design is of raised wooden decks and roll-up canvas walls. Desert Land Rover trails explore the varied wilderness scenery.

Sundowner drives are of about 1-2 hours’ duration traversing across about 10 km of dune capture the dramatic sunsets; the return is under nightfall when supper awaits.

Morning and afternoon excursions cover distances of 40-50 km taking 3-4 hours while a full day’s sortie of about 120 km conveys the full scope of the reserve and its vast emptiness. Two-day TokTokkie trekking trails of golden grass savannah landscape reward botanists while shorter 2-3 hour guided walking trails along the ancient hunting grounds of the bushmen are an alternative. The remarkable experience of hot-air ballooning to survey the extraordinary terrain as accompanied by a champagne breakfast is also available.

A further airborne option is to take an afternoon scenic flight along one of several routes taking in variously: the Diamond Coast, Sossusvlei’s camelthorn tree-studded Tsauchab River Valley and Dead Vlei, the Atlantic coast’s Spencer Bay, monumental Fish River Canyon and deserted ‘ghost town’ of Kolmanskuppe.

Keen photographers may want to undertake a specialist ‘photographic safari’ while real solitude can be experienced on a remote dune sleep-out under the stars.