From The Horse’s Mouth – 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 of Zimbabwe is Harare. Zimbabwe has 16 official languages, the most common of which are English, Shona, and Ndebele.

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

It is common to shake hands when greeting. The common Shona greetings for different times of the day are “mamuka sei” (good morning), “maskati” (good afternoon), and “manheru” (good evening). A common Ndebele greeting is “sani bonani,’’ which means ‘’hello.’’

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, and Sindebele by 20%. Other minority languages include Venda, Tsonga, Shangaan, Kalanga, Sotho, Ndau, and Nambya.

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 the road. There are roughly 88,000 km of classified roads in Zimbabwe, and around a quarter of them are paved.

How important is punctuality?

Punctuality is an important part of Zimbabwean culture.

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.

  • For a taste of Zimbabwean music, listen to and Simon Chimbetu’s Saina.


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, 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.


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. The 15th and 16th of April marks the annual Jazz Festival. Famous African musicians take to the stage and there are workshops for budding talent. All 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 the 23rd to the 27th of May. 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 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 and non-profitable 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.

What are the seasons like?

Zimbabwe has a tropical climate with many local variations. The southern areas are known for their heat and aridity while parts of the central plateau receive frost in winter. The Zambezi valley is 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.

What are the country’s major industries?

Minerals, gold, and agriculture are the main foreign exports of Zimbabwe. The mining sector remains very lucrative, and tourism also plays a key role in its economy. Zimbabwe has several major tourist attractions. Victoria Falls on the Zambezi, which are shared with Zambia, are located in the northwest of Zimbabwe. The Eastern Highlands are a series of mountainous areas near the border with Mozambique.

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.

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 that is unique due to its fruitiness and lack of chemicals.

What is a popular local dish?

“Mealie meal,” or cornmeal as it is known in other parts of the world, is used to prepare a porridge of a thick consistency called Bota. It is usually flavoured with butter or peanut butter and eaten for breakfast. Cornmeal is also used to make sadza, which is usually eaten for dinner or lunch. This meal is usually served with vegetables and meat. Sadza is also commonly eaten with chicken or curdled milk, commonly known as “lacto.’’ Rice and chicken with coleslaw salad is often served as the main meal.

What do you pay, on average, for the following?

(1 USD = approx. ZAR 17,63)

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.

  • A basic lunch at a midrange restaurant will cost approximately ZAR 191.
  • A one-litre bottle of milk will cost approximately ZAR 29.
  • Half a dozen large eggs will cost approximately ZAR 75.
  • A two-litre bottle of Coca Cola will cost approximately ZAR 38.
  • A 1kg bag of potatoes will cost approximately ZAR 74.


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.


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Written by Eloise Williams

Edited by Saudika Hendricks