12 Most Common Tourist Scams in Zimbabwe

Safety at Harare, Victoria Falls, Bulawayo, Mutare, Kariba, Gweru, Nyanga, Masvingo

 

Image source: businessdaily.co.zw

 

As one of the premier safari and adventure destinations in Africa, a trip to Zimbabwe is not to be missed.

Besides marvelling at Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world, you also have other UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Mana Pool, Khami Ruins, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins and Matobo hills!

What’s more, there are gushing rivers, lush mountains, laid-back towns and the Big Five (lion, buffalo, elephant, rhino, leopard) at the national parks!

However, due to years of economic mismanagement, crime is rife here. Although not targeted at tourists, it still pays to be careful in avoiding the hotspots and dangers of the place.

Read on to find out more!

 

 

A. TOURIST ACTIVITIES

1. Pickpockets

 

How it works:

Pickpockets’ favourite spots include (non-exhaustive):

  • Main cities: Harare, Bulawayo
  • Crowded streets
  • Train stations, public transportation
  • Markets, shopping malls, restaurants
  • Tourist attractions: Victoria Falls, Honde Valley waterfalls, Mana Pool national park, safari camps in Hwange
  • Areas around hotels / hostels 
  • Nightspots

These thieves work in gangs, and will hang around to spot anyone carrying an expensive or neglected phone / jewelery / valuable / bag and where it is stored.

Once they mark a target, they will surround him or her and then work like this:

  • One will keep a lookout and block passer-bys from seeing the scene.
  • Another will block, push or distract the target (e.g. ask you an innocent question / survey / drop something and ask you about it).
  • A third will steal your valuable / slash your bag and then passes it on.
  • The last will hide the loot under a jacket / coat / newspaper and then escapes with it.

 

What to do:

Stay alert and watch out for suspicious characters, though that is easier said than done.

The best solution is still, to not make yourself look like a target. 

Make it impossible for thieves to steal from you with these methods:

  • Carry around a photocopy of your passport instead of the actual one.
  • Carry small amounts of cash in a cheap spare wallet that you wouldn’t mind losing. Do not leave it in your back pocket.
  • Conceal small valuables in a money belt / hidden pouch, large valuables in a slash-resistant and lockable anti-theft bag.
  • Leave most valuables in your hotel / hostel / apartment, secured with hotel safety tools.
  • Get travel insurance so even if all else fails, you are still protected.

 

2. Snatch thefts

Image source: thezimbabwean.co

 

How it works:

Snatch thefts are common in urban areas (downtown sectors of Harare), at night, city centersstreets, parks, bridges and fields.

Generally, there are two versions of snatch thefts – strike and run, or distract and grab, in many possible contexts:

  • Bikes / mopeds riding past, with a pillion rider doing the snatch.
  • Snatching from behind you, then running into a getaway car to escape.
  • At restaurants, stealing unattended bags / valuables on the chair or table.
  • Hotels airports, where distracted / tired tourists carry all their valuables out.
  • The beach where tourists are relaxed, or when they head to the water.
  • Nightclubs, where “prostitutes” pretend to proposition tourists by grabbing them but are really trying to steal your valuables.
  • Seats beside a train’s doors where a thief gets out just before the doors close.
  • Stealing of bags on overnight trains / buses.
  • Valuables snatched through a car / bus window.
  • Thefts around ATMs.

 

What to do:

At crowded places, even seemingly safe places like at a restaurant or hotel:

While out walking / on transport:

  • Use a cross body anti-theft bag facing away from the road / windows of your vehicle.
  • Do not carry valuables in your hands when walking by the road or when beside a vehicle window / train door.
  • Avoid wearing obvious jewelry which can be easily ripped off.

Other protection measures:

 

3. Sculpture shipping scam

Image source: africantradingport.co.za

 

How it works:

This was perpetuated by an infamous gallery owner Tapiwa Chiadzwa near Victoria Falls who has since been arrested.

There are tourists who buy sculptures in the area, and who have Tapiwa’s company (Southern Africa Gallery) to ship these back to their country.

Obviously, Tapiwa did not do so.

Worryingly, there have been reports of some other scam companies following in the same footsteps such as: MEBS Global Logistix Zimbabwe (PTY) LTD; Ship A Lot Freight.

 

What to do:

If you really want to get some sculptures, check with your hotel / hostel staff on legitimate places to shop at.

 

4. Aggressive street touts

Image source: nyaladzani.com

 

How it works:

Just like anywhere around the world (e.g. Egypt, France, India), around tourist areas such as Victoria Falls, you will find yourself hounded and hassled by many street touts of overpriced, low quality items.

 

What to do:

Avoid buying, but if you want to, haggle hard.

 

B. TRANSPORT

1. Carjacking / car theft

 

How it works:

Similar to the scam in South Africa and UK, car thieves have found a hack, where after you alight from your car and try to lock it via remote, they can use a remote control to block your locking signal to your car.

Once you leave the scene, these thieves will move in and steal whatever they can find in your car, or they may even steal your car!

There have been reports of this at the Beitbridge border post.

 

What to do:

Always double check by pulling your door handles to make sure it is really locked.

Ensure that your car doors are locked and windows are up.

Do not leave any valuables / items indicating that you are a tourist exposed in the car:

Finally, get travel insurance for two key purposes:

  • Monetary compensation for any losses.
  • Medical coverage in case you are assaulted.

 

2. Highway robberies

Image source: iharare.com

 

How it works:

The first variation is at busy intersections with traffic jams.

  • Hotspots include the route to Harare Airport, Borrowdale, Masvingo-Beitbridge and Harare’s Churchill roads.
  • Thieves move around looking into cars for valuables.
  • If they spot any, they will smash your windows and grab the valuables.

The second variation is that of thieves slashing your tires.

  • They then beckon you out of the your car.
  • While you engage in discussion with, an accomplice sneaks in from the other side to steal any valuables from your car.

 

What to do:

Ensure that your car doors are locked and windows are up.

Do not leave any valuables / items indicating that you are a tourist exposed in the car:

Also, use a cheap spare wallet with some cash inside which you can give up when faced with an armed robber.

Finally, get travel insurance for two key purposes:

  • Monetary compensation for any losses.
  • Medical coverage in case you are assaulted.

 

3. Pirate taxis

Image source: globalpressjournal.com

 

How it works:

In Bulawayo, the police have not been able to sweep the streets clean of unofficial taxis (usually Japanese vehicles such as Toyota Vitz and Honda Fit).

These taxis are usually driven recklessly and have no insurance coverage, and so you may be at risk of injury.

The more malicious ones may simply drive you somewhere secluded and then rob you.

 

What to do:

Avoid taking these. Instead, use official radio taxis such as Rixi Taxi or taxi booking apps such as GTAXI.

 

4. Corrupt traffic police

 

How it works:

Basically, along popular tourist routes and routes to the airport, you will come across multiple police checkpoints.

At each of these check points, you will be accused of a traffic violation you may or may not have committed and asked to pay a fine / bribe.

 

What to do:

If you drive, follow all laws and make sure to bring your driving license along.

Hide your cash and valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch and use a cheap spare wallet with not much cash inside.

This will allow you to negotiate the bribe down when you show that you have not much cash on you.

 

C. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Muggings, armed robberies, hotel invasions

Image source: jenmansafaris.com

 

How it works:

Unfortunately, muggings are not uncommon here. In fact, just in June to October 2017, it was reported that at least 100 tourists were robbed at Victoria Falls.

Hotspots for tourist robberies include national parks, the Harare International Airport, banks and ATMs, parts of Nyanga (e.g. Pungwe Falls, Mterazi Falls, Honde Falls).

 

What to do:

Use a cheap spare wallet with some cash inside to give up, while hiding other valuables in a money belt or hidden pouch.

Bulk of your valuables should still be left in your hotel or hostel room safe / apartment, secured with hotel safety tools.

Finally, get travel insurance for two key purposes:

  • Monetary compensation for any losses.
  • Medical coverage in case you are assaulted.

 

2. Currency exchange scam

Image source: bbc.com

 

How it works:

Similar to the scam in the Czech Republic, if you are approached by someone on the street who wants to change currency with you at a rate more favourable than the bank rate, this is an obvious scam in waiting.

They will count the money out on the table, but will then roll it up under the table as they claim that they do not want the police to see.

What happens of course, is that they will take some notes out of the pile.

 

What to do:

Only change at official money exchanges, the airport, the bank, or with your hotel reception.

 

3. Card skimmers

 

How it works:

Around the world, scammers rig ATMs to steal your card details (e.g. Hungary, Morocco).

In Zimbabwe however, the ATMs have mostly ran out of cash.

As such, criminals here collude with staff at shops, restaurants, hotels and other service providrs to skim your cards.

For instance, they could provide the staff a skimming device, and should the staff swipe your card twice, that is a sign that your card may have been skimmed.

 

What to do:

Pay in cash if possible. Else never let your card get out of sight when paying.

If you suspect something is amiss (swiping multiple times), check your bank statement and check with your bank as well.

 

4. Secret filming and selling

 

How it works:

This is a crime carried out by lowlife in Zimbabwe.

It was reported that corrupted resort / lodge staff in Harare and Bulawayo have installed hidden cameras to capture guests having sex and then selling the footage.

The mastermind of this scam are suspected Nigerian businessmen who will bribe the staff at these resorts and lodges, without the management being aware of it.

Even some hookers are part of this set up, where they bring customers to rooms where a hidden camera has been set up.

 

What to do:

Two signs to watch out for:

  • Malfunctioning switches which cause the lights to always be on.
  • Use of light curtains to enhance lighting in the room.

 

D. KEY SAFETY ISSUES

This is not a fear mongering exercise, as most visits are trouble free as long as you exercise some common sense.

However, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Information below has been compiled from:

                                                     

1. Violent crime, hazards, hotspots, terrorism, civil unrest

Image source: smartraveller.gov.au

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Violent crime: high crime in hotels, restaurants, shopping areas, attractions, parks, bridges, fields, Harare, night time.
  • Hazards: landmines around Mozambique border and Lupane District in Matabeleland North Province.
  • Hotspots: criminal groups around Mozambique border.
  • Terrorism: no recent history, but should not be taken for granted.
  • Civil unrest: demonstrations (September 2018) as government clamps down on unlicensed street vendors in the Harare central business district.

 

What to do:

Stay alert, avoid secluded areas, travelling alone at night, and don’t look like an easy victim.

Monitor local media in case of any terrorist threats, and avoid participating in demonstrations.

Some hotspots of violent crime to avoid / be careful at:

  • Cities: Harare, Bulawayo
  • Tourist areas: Victoria Falls, Honde Valley waterfalls (e.g. Mterazi Falls and Pungwe Falls), safari camps in Hwange and Mana Pools national parks

 

2. Medical care

Image source: parihosp.org

 

How it works:

Medical infrastructure and facilities are subpar and limited here, especially out of Harare and Bulawayo.

For more serious injuries or illnesses, patients will most likely be evacuated to South Africa.

Diseases to vaccinate against / watch out for include:

  • Insect borne diseases: malaria, african trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), crimean-congo hemorrhagic fever, chikungunya, lymphatic filariasis, malaria, rift valley fever, and west nile virus.
  • Food and water borne diseases: travellers’ diarrhoea, bilharzia, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, measles.
  • Animal borne diseases: rabies.
  • Human borne diseases: HIV, tuberculosis.

 

What to do:

If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel, as:

  • Emergency health services can cost a bomb.
  • Insurance providers can make complex logistical arrangements to get you the best medical treatment fast.

Vaccinations to consider:                                                

  • All travellers: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, flu shot.
  • Most travellers: Hepatitis A, malaria, typhoid.
  • Some travellers: Hepatitis B, cholera (if going Harare, Mashonaland West), rabies (outdoor activities, or working around animals).

Prevent insect bites:

  • Protective clothing
  • Insect repellents
  • Insecticide treated bed / cot nets
  • Plug-in insecticides
  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass

Food safety:

  • Practise safe hygiene such as washing hands with soap.
  • Only drink bottled water or water that has been boiled.
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, ice cubes, uncooked and undercooked food.

 

3. Natural disasters

 

How it works:

A brief summary:

  • Rainy season: November to April, may cause flash flooding leading to impassable roads.

 

What to do:

Check the latest media reports and weather forecast.

Effective preparation and prevention involves staying at the “right” place, travelling at the “right” time and getting adequate travel insurance protection.

 

4. Transport safety

 

How it works:

Driving is hazardous here, due to many reasons:

  • Not obeying traffic laws.
  • Recklessly driven public transportation (e.g. kombis, long distance buses).
  • Pedestrians like to walk on the roads, and there are animals as well.
  • Numerous and deep potholes.
  • Major roads are in fair condition but lack safety features (e.g. lanes, shoulders, breakdown lanes, lighting, reflectors).
  • Motorbike and bicycles without light.
  • Poorly maintained and lack of road signs and traffic lights.

As for public transportation, minibuses (Kombis) and inter-city buses (except luxury coaches) are generally unsafe, due to

  • Overcrowded conditions.
  • Fatigued drivers.
  • Poor maintenance.
  • Not adhering to traffic rules.

 

What to do:

Check the latest media reports and weather forecast.

Stay alert while driving, always wear seatbelts and keep doors locked and windows up.

Again, we can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance in case anything goes wrong.

To get around Zimbabwe, use a taxi arranged by your hotel or you can book through apps like GTAXI.

 

E. GETTING HELP

1. Emergency numbers to call

Image source: voazimbabwe.com

 

  • All emergencies: 999
  • Fire: 993
  • Ambulance: 993
  • Police: 995

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