If an international airport is supposed to be the face of a country, Zimbabweis slipping dangerously towards the edge of a precipice

Andrew Molefe

Andrew Molefe

To step out of an aircraft at Harare International Airport is to step into a chamber of horrors.

If an international airport is supposed to be the face of a country, then Zimbabwe is slipping dangerously close to the edge of a precipice.

The airport ablution facilities aren't working. Human waste greets visitors who need to use the toilets. The taps have run dry.

On my arrival in this doomed country, you couldn't buy a refreshing drink because there was no electricity and staff of the only bar still operational sat around twiddling their thumbs.

I couldn't even make a local call. An international call was out of the question because the ageing telecommunications infrastructure is so arcane and so ancient it cannot cope.

Shop-owners care very little about selling their wares since the government introduced enforced price controls.

"There's no point in selling at a price that is far less than the manufacturing price," said a woman shop assistant.

Most of those who keep their shops open at the airport, use them as fronts for a more lucrative sideline - they are actually moving, breathing and walking foreign exchange ATMs, a serious crime punishable by long spells in jail.

These money-changers have an uncanny ability to recognise a foreigner a mile away. They discreetly give you nudges and winks. They carried that look, the look a hungry dog gives its master. You have to have a heart of stone not to exchange a few notes with them at the risk of ending up in notorious Chikurubi maximum security prison.

At the Monomutapa Crowne Plaza, the horror continued. The pub-lunch a newly-found friend ordered was below standard. It was actually worse than the ordinary meals sold by old ladies in their road-side roasteries.

In various food establishments which haven't as yet closed down, the fare got progressively worse. Without exception, a good ol' chicken meal tasted like leather.

There's an acute shortage of cooking oil in the entire country and chefs have to perform culinary gymnastics just to knock up a meal for you.

But even in some "okay" restaurants, the few that are still operational, food is rationed. At one eatery in Harare called Julie, for instance, I was offered a plate of pap and matumbu - offal - for 180000Z$ - R75,60. The whole combination could easily have fit into a tea cup.

At the Holiday Inn where I was staying, which is another global concern renowned for good service and relatively good food, I was daily subjected to the same fare. I have never wished for something as basic as fruit and freshly-squeezed juice.

I checked out asap.