Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in Southern Africa which borders South Africa to its south, Mozambique to its east, Botswana to its west and Zambia to its north.

English is the official language and is widely spoken in all parts of the country. Major indigenous languages are ChiShona, spoken in the north, and SiNdebele, spoken in the south.

Agriculture forms the basis of the Zimbabwean economy. Cotton, tobacco and sugarcane are Zimbabwe’s three main crops and manufacturing industries rely on these crops for the production of goods such as sugar and textiles.

Horticultural production is a rapidly growing sector and has become Zimbabwe’s second highest export earner after tobacco.

Gold mining is also a vital economic activity.

Zimbabwe’s tourism industry has the potential to be the fastest growing sector in the country’s economy. Zimbabwe ranks fourth out of the top tourist destinations in Africa.

Zimbabwe has international airports in Harare and Bulawayo with daily international flights from over twenty foreign airlines. The national cargo airline, Affretair, offers bi-weekly flights to major European destinations and is available for charter anywhere in the world. There is a departure tax of US$20.00 (payable in foreign currency). Among the major projects planned or underway in Zimbabwe is the building of the new Harare International Airport.

A network of regional flights to airports at Masvingo, Kariba, Hwange, and Victoria Falls is offered by Air Zimbabwe. Visitors are advised to re-confirm all airline bookings, including domestic flights, as the increase in tourism has resulted in frequent over-booking at peak times.

Zimbabwe has a good road network and inter-city roads are of first class standard. Most freight is transported by road.

There are international car hire agencies in all the major centres. Driving is on the left. Car hire is expensive (upwards of $70 per day for the smallest class of car). Gasoline is freely available.

Most visitors to Zimbabwe require visas except nationals of Commonwealth and West European countries, Japan, Switzerland and the USA. Regulations change from time to time. Obtain up-to-date information from your travel agent or the Chief Immigration Officer, Private Bag 7717, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Travellers cheques in UK sterling and US dollars are readily exchangeable at banks and hotels. Credit cards are widely accepted in Harare but not in the countryside, and not for gasoline purchases.

Zimbabwe has an efficient and reasonably well-developed health system. It has modern hospitals as well as private clinics. There are pharmacies in the major centres although they may not stock specialist medications. It is strongly recommended that visitors take out travel insurance that includes a good all-purpose medical cover as this is usually insisted upon as a prerequisite for treatment. AIDS is prevalent in Zimbabwe.

Visitors do not require yellow fever innoculations unless they come from an infected area. Malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis A & B, and schistosomiasis may be contracted while travelling in Zimbabwe. The risk of contraction is based on a number of factors including location, individual’s state of health, current immunisation status, and the local disease situation.

Most of the low lying regions of Zimbabwe are malaria areas and visitors to these areas should take appropriate prophylactics. In certain parts of the Zambezi Valley, tsetse fly causing sleeping sickness in cattle and humans is prevalent. There are no preventative prophylactics but curative drugs are available.

The postal service in Zimbabwe is adequate but its telephone service is notorious for its inefficiencies and frequent breakdowns.

Zimbabwe has full Internet access and there are many Zimbabwean users connected to it.

The international dialling code is +263.

Zimbabwe is generally considered a safe country for visitors. As in all big cities, Harare is safe provided one takes the usual personal safety precautions. There have been occasional reports of hijackings and theft but not on the scale of other countries in Africa.

Zimbabwe’s climate is sub-tropical with generally pleasant winters (May to August) with average temperatures in the 14-20·C range. Summers are hot, in the 25-35·C range. The best time to visit is October. The rainy season occurs from November to March.

Business hours are generally 08:00 to 17:00. It is recommended that appointments be made to see people beforehand and reconfirmed shortly before the meeting. Punctuality is expected of visitors but they should not expect it in return. Business attire is usually formal. Business cards are essential and should be handed out liberally. Reaching agreements on business discussions can be a long drawn out process and patience is recommended.

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Opportunities for Investment

Zimbabwe’s ill-fated socialist policies of the 1980’s have given way to a market-driven economy and recent changes in government policies have brought a favourable climate for investors and exporters. Foreign currency is now freely available and foreign import restrictions have been loosened. Restrictions on the repatriation of profits have been removed. Export Processing Zones and liberal tax regime have been introduced.

Zimbabwe also has a small but steadily growing domestic market and access to the larger regional market has increased with the end to civil war in neighbouring states. Although landlocked, it has access to seaports in Mozambique and South Africa.

Opportunities opening for business and investment can be found in tourism, processing, packaging, telecommunications, information technology, mining, electric power generation, building and construction sectors of the country’s economy. Although Zimbabwe’s infrastructure is more sophisticated than its neighbours (with the exception of South Africa), opportunities for investment are still available in the rehabilitation and modernisation of infrastructure. Service providers and consultants in a wide range of disciplines are also required.

The Zimbabwe Stock Exchange is one of Africa’s most active and has been open to foreign investors since 1993. Privatisation of state-owned enterprises will also provide opportunities for investors once the government makes concrete moves in this area.

Zimbabwe has low labour costs relative to its neighbours and its workforce is educated to a higher standard than neighbouring states.

Zimbabwe is active in promoting itself as an attractive country for new business ventures and investment opportunities and there are many sources where detailed information for the business person may be obtained. Sources of funding are many from foreign aid, development banks to the country’s own banking sector which offers sophisticated financing packages.

Departments offering specific assistance to potential investors and business people include the Zimbabwe Investment Centre (ZIC) , ZimTrade and the Zimbabwe Tourism Development Corporation (ZTDC).

Challenges to Investment

Zimbabwe is prone to periods of drought and has a consequent pressing need for access to water resources. Its economy, which is still recovering from the last severe drought in 1992, is improving but is still greatly dependent on foreign aid.

The population in general, while better educated than that of neighbouring states, lacks many of the essential technical and managerial skills required by modern business operations.

The ruling ZANU-PF party which has dominated Zimbabwe politics for 16 years, has a record of making arbitrary changes to legislation and although strongly pressured by foreign donors to continue creating an investor-friendly climate, are likely to lose the confidence of foreign investors.

Zimbabwe’s high lending rates and runaway inflation are significant disincentives for potential investors. High interest rates have led a number of investors to opt for investment in neighbouring South Africa. Pronouncements by President Mugabe that future investors would require black Zimbabwean partners and that big business should award shares to its workers, initially 20% ownership by blacks, may be seen as further negative factors.

As in most countries of the world, nepotism, corruption and bribery is a feature of business life in Zimbabwe. Scandals involving irregular government tendering procedures and alleged ‘kickbacks’ to government officials and staff in several parastatal organisations have frequently been reported. However, the incidence of bribery of petty officials is not on a scale as seen in many other African states.

The telecommunications infrastructure in Zimbabwe, notoriously inefficient, is another challenge to businesses. The government monopoly on the provision of telephone services hampered the growth of the cellular phone market causing a local businessman to resort to the law courts in order to have the state monopoly on telephone services declared unconstitutional. However, shortly after the state-owned Posts and Telecommunications Corporation launched its own cellular operation, NetOne, two privately run cellular phone networks, Econet and Telecel, were established. NetOne and Econet both experienced rapid growth and provided thousands of jobs. In 1999, all three companies had plans to invest in the expansion of their networks.

Further Challenges facing Zimbabwe

Although Zimbabwe has placed emphasis on education and has a high secondary school enrolment in comparison to other African countries, it still has a shortage of skilled labour and local professional management expertise. Zimbabwe has two of its own universities but the relatively better working conditions and salaries offered in neighbouring states cause many skilled Zimbabwean workers to leave the country.

There is a high unemployment rate in Zimbabwe, mostly of unskilled workers, and many people are dependent on state famine relief. The power of trade unions has been largely held in check by the government which prevents strikes in essential services.

The incidence of AIDS in Zimbabwe has rapidly increased in recent years. The epidemic has hit the economically active 20 to 40 year age group the hardest. The life insurance business continues to report higher AIDS-related claims and has warned of possible higher rates. With the incidence of HIV/AIDS affecting all levels of the workforce including the small pool of skilled and professional staff, workplaces need to develop policies and programmes to cope with affected employees.

Urban growth has seen a rapid increase and about a third of the population now live in urban areas. The urban poor constitute the majority of urban dwellers and operate within the “informal economy”.

Shaun Bakamoso

Greetings. I'm Shaun Bakamoso, and I'm thrilled to be your guide through the dynamic world of business news in South Africa here at mbendi.co.za. With a passion for staying informed and a keen interest in the ever-evolving landscape of business, I've dedicated myself to providing you with timely, insightful, and comprehensive coverage of the latest developments impacting the South African economy. bakamoso@gmail.com / Instagram