From The Hippo’s Ears: Zimbabwe

Facts you may not have know about Zimbabwe:

Zimbabwe, officially the Republic of Zimbabwe, is a landlocked country located in southern Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers, bordered by South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique. The capital and largest city is Harare. Zimbabwe has 16 official languages, with English, Shona, and Ndebele the most commonly used.

Zimbabwe has a population of approximately 16 million, is a Unitary presidential republic, and gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1980.

1.  When you first meet someone, how do you greet them?

It is common to shake hands when greeting. The common Shona greetings are “mamuka sei” (good morning), “maskati” (good afternoon), and “manheru” (good evening). A common Ndebele greeting is “sani bonani” (hello).

2. What languages are spoken in the country?

Zimbabwe has 16 official languages. English is the main language used in the education and judiciary systems. Shona and Sindebele are the principal indigenous languages of Zimbabwe. Shona is spoken by 70% of the population, Sindebele by 20%. Other minority languages include Venda, Tsonga, Shangaan, Kalanga, Sotho, Ndau, and Nambya.

3. Do you use a twelve hour clock, or a twenty-four hour clock?

We use a 24-hour system.

4. What side of the road do people drive on? What do we need to know about driving in the country?

We drive on the left side of road. There are roughly 88,000 km of classified roads in Zimbabwe, and around 1/4 of them are paved.

5. How important is punctuality?

Punctuality is an important part of Zimbabwean culture.

6. Which types of music are popular? Who are some of the most popular musicians?

Zimbabwean music includes folk and pop styles. Much of the folk music incorporates mbira, Ngoma drums and hosho. Music has played a significant role in the history of Zimbabwe, from a vital role in the traditional Bira ceremony used to call on ancestral spirits, to protest songs during the struggle for independence.

The mbira is an integral part of Zimbabwean music. It is frequently played in a deze (calabash resonator) which amplifies the sound and augments using shells or bottle caps placed around the edges. The mbira plays a central role in the traditional Bira ceremony used to call on ancestral spirits.

Afro Jazz is a term used for Zimbabwean music influenced by a style of township rhythm that evolved in a Southern part of Africa over the last century. The Ndebele-dominated region of the southwest of Zimbabwe, including the city Bulawayo, has been instrumental in the development of Zimbabwean music. Seminal 1950s guitarist George Sibanda had a following across Africa, and Dorothy Masuka was a major player on the South African jazz scene, for example.

For a taste of Zimbabwean music, listen to Lovemore Majaivana’s Umoya Wami, and Simon Chimbetu’s Saina.

7. Are there any Traditional Dances?

Dancing in Zimbabwe is an important aspect of the Zimbabwean culture, tradition, spirituality and history. There are many dances that reflect the culture of the people, although the dances may have changed throughout the years. Ethnic diversity is also a key factor in influencing the dances of the Zimbabwean culture. Dances may be performed for enjoyment or entertainment, during many rituals including spirit possession, to re-create history, and as an art form. Mbira dance is a characteristic, traditional ritual dance, accompanied by the mbira instrument. It is designed for specific occasions, usually religious in nature, and it is used to express the people.

Watch some examples of traditional local dance here.

8.  What traditional Festivals are celebrated in the country?

Harare International Festival of Arts (HIFA)
April is a busy month for Harare, at least festival-wise. April 15 to 16 marks the annual Jazz Festival. Famous African musicians take to the stage and there are workshops for budding talent. All of the proceeds go to charity and many students are given free entry.

Harare Jazz Festival
STRAB is the abbreviation for the Subterranean Rhythm & Blues experience, an annual music festival which started out as live entertainment for a birthday bash held by a group of scuba divers in 2003. It has grown over the years and now features about 20 live bands. Since 2008 STRAB has continued to provide exposure to bands from rock to blues to jazz to fusions of these.

Bulawayo Music Festival
Presented by the Zimbabwe Academy of Music, the Bulawayo Music Festival is held every two years from May 23-27. Playing host to a wide range of genres including classical, pop, jazz, and gospel, the festival is one of best musical showcases in the country. There are a variety of concerts by both international and Zimbabwean acts, but also informative workshops for festival-goers to attend.

Zimbabwe International Book Fair
Bookworms will be pleased to know that Harare hosts a topnotch literary event. The Zimbabwe International Book Fair, which takes place every July, is a celebration of the word in Zimbabwe. Nearly 100 publishers take part in the occasion, which is held at Harare Gardens. There is also a great program of talks and workshops by renowned authors for the general public to enjoy.

Zimbabwe International Film Festival
Held in Harare annually every August, the Zimbabwe International Film Festival spans 10 days and showcases the best feature films, shorts, and documentaries the region and abroad have to offer. It also hosts workshops, which are open to all attendees. The event is a non-political, not for profit initiative which aims to develop a network of creative individuals in the region.

Harare International Food Festival
Visitors who are lucky enough to visit in November should make a stop at the Harare International Food Festival. Still in its early years, the event is making an impact on the foodie and gourmet scene. Showcasing everything from international cuisine to regional wine, this festival brings together the best cuisine and chefs from around Zimbabwe and overseas to taste everything from wine and whiskey to paté and pasta, and you are sure to leave full.

Jikinya Traditional Dance Festival
Last but definitely not least, the Jikinya Traditional Dance Festival is one of the only events which celebrates traditional cultures in the country. Held annually in November by the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe, the festival brings together primary school children from around the country who perform a variety of indigenous dance numbers. The finale is usually hosted in either Harare or Bulawayo.

9. What are the seasons like?

Zimbabwe has a tropical climate with many local variations. The southern areas are known for their heat and aridity, parts of the central plateau receive frost in winter, the Zambezi valley is also known for its extreme heat and the Eastern Highlands usually experience cool temperatures and the highest rainfall in the country. The country’s rainy season generally runs from late October to March and the hot climate is moderated by increasing altitude. Zimbabwe is faced with recurring droughts, the latest one commencing early in 2015 and ongoing into 2016. Severe storms are rare.

10. What are some interesting facts about the President?

President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa has served as Zimbabwe’s third President since November 2017. Mnangagwa was born in 1942 in Shabani, Southern Rhodesia, to a large Shona family. His parents were farmers, and in the 1950s he had to move with his family to Northern Rhodesia because of his father’s political activism. Hestudied law at the University of Zambia and later at the University of London, and practiced as an attorney.

Mnangagwa is nicknamed ‘Garwe’ or ‘Ngwena’, which means ‘the crocodile’ in the Shona language, initially because that was the name of the guerrilla group he founded, but later because of his political shrewdness. The faction within ZANU-PF that supports him is called Lacoste after the French clothing company whose logo is a crocodile.

He is married to Auxillia Mnangagwa, and has nine children.

11. What are the country’s major industries?

Minerals, gold, and agriculture are the main foreign exports of Zimbabwe. Tourism also plays a key role in its economy. The mining sector remains very lucrative, with some of the world’s largest platinum reserves being mined by Anglo American plc and Impala Platinum.

Zimbabwe has several major tourist attractions. Victoria Falls on the Zambezi, which are shared with Zambia, are located in the north west of Zimbabwe. The Eastern Highlands are a series of mountainous areas near the border with Mozambique. The highest peak in Zimbabwe, Mount Nyangani at 2,593 m (8,507 ft) is located here as well as the Bvumba Mountains and the Nyanga National Park.

12. How do people spend their free time?

Locals spend their free time finding new restaurants and bars, taking part in sports with family and friends, and exploring Zimbabwe’s many hiking and game trails.

13. What is a popular local drink?

Beer is the most popular alcoholic drink in Zimbabwe. Whawha is a traditional maize beer, however Zambezi is Zimbabwe’s national beer. Other major beers include Bohlingers, Lion, Eagle and South African Carling Black Label and Castle. Imported wine, spirits and liqueurs are available in hotel bars. Mazoe Orange drink is a favourite drink, and is unique because it is all fruit and no chemicals.

14. What is a popular local dish?

“Mealie meal”, or cornmeal as it is known in other parts of the world, is used to prepare bota, a porridge made by mixing cornmeal with water, to make a thick paste. This is usually flavored with butter or peanut butter. Bota is usually eaten for breakfast. Cornmeal is also used to make sadza, which is usually eaten for dinner, and by many for lunch too. The process of making sadza is similar to bota, however after the paste has been cooking for several minutes, more cornmeal is added to thicken the paste until it is hard. This meal is usually served with vegetables (spinach, chomolia, or spring greens/collard greens), beans, and meat (stewed, grilled, roasted, or sundried). Sadza is also commonly eaten with boerewors (a sausage made from beef or pork), chicken, or curdled milk (sour milk), commonly known as “lacto” (mukaka wakakora). Rice and chicken with coleslaw salad is often served as the main meal.

15. What do you pay, on average, for the following? (1 USD = approx. ZAR 14)

In place of the Zimbabwean dollar, which was demonetized in 2015, currencies including the South African rand, Botswana pula, pound sterling, Indian rupee, euro, Japanese yen, Australian dollar, Chinese yuan, and the United States dollar are now regularly used.

3 Course meal: ZAR 300
Domestic beer (500ml): ZAR 20
Cup of coffee: ZAR 36
Coca cola (330ml): ZAR 12
Milk (1l): ZAR 20
Loaf of white bread: ZAR 14
Apples (1 kg): ZAR 44
Water (1.5l): ZAR 20

16. Any general safety tips?

Zimbabwe is a relatively safe destination, however petty crimes are a reality. As such, it is advisable not to wear expensive jewelry when walking around, not to leave valuables in view of passers-by in your car, to always lock your car when you leave it, and to walk in groups at night, if possible.

17. In conclusion, famous (and sometimes infamous) people from the country include:

  • Canaan Banana, was a Zimbabwean Methodist minister, theologian, and politician who served as the first President of Zimbabwe from 1980-87. He was Zimbabwe’s first head of state after the Lancaster House Agreement that led to the country’s independence.
  • Cara Black, a professional tennis player from Zimbabwe. She is primarily a doubles specialist, winning 60 WTA and 11 ITF titles in that discipline. A former no. 1 ranked women’s doubles player in the WTA Rankings, she has won ten Grand Slam titles in women’s doubles and mixed doubles combined.
  • Strive Masiyiwa, a Zimbabwean businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. He is the founder and executive chairman of diversified international Telecommunications, Media and Technology group Econet Wireless and Econet Media (Kwesé).


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Sources: [1], [2], [3]. Image sources:  [1].