This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe.
The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Zimbabwe at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime and civil unrest.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Embassy in Harare does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
Review OSAC’s Zimbabwe-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.
There is a serious risk of crime in Harare. Overall crime increased 10-20% across most sectors in the past few years. Lingering effects from the 2016 introduction of Bond Notes drove increasing rates of crime across all sectors. The thirst for genuine U.S. Dollars that can be exported or exchanged on the international markets was the motivation behind the constant criminal threat of targets of opportunity, to include robbery, petty theft, vehicle burglary, home invasion, and smash-and-grab vehicle attacks at intersections at night (usually at intersections with inoperable traffic lights).
Due to the combined political and economic conditions, the U.S. Embassy continues to strongly advise against walking alone in the main city centers of Harare or Bulawayo after dark. Those who make Harare their home should take increased physical (residential) security precautions, such as installing anti-forced entry devices (solid doors/grilles) and robust perimeter fencing at least 6.5 feet high topped by razor and/or electric wire. An automatic or manned vehicular gate control mechanism is also highly recommended. Any system that sounds an audible alarm (with a panic button) is very useful and strongly recommended. Private security “response” capability is also strongly advised, as the police do not routinely patrol residential neighborhoods. Residential crime reports indicate that suspects flee in a majority of the cases when an alarm sounds and/or they encounter other robust security devices. Several U.S. Embassy homes experienced attempted burglaries and trespassing incidents in recent years; burglars found success when installed security measures went unused.
Criminals have specifically targeted businesses known to house or store large sums of cash, victimizing employees in several instances. Employee or “inside jobs” are also believed to be the catalyst for many business crimes.
There have been multiple reports of ATM skimming in Harare, as well as spotting incidents, where criminals followed victims who have just used an ATM, attacking them upon arrival at a residence. Credit card theft/fraud occurs periodically. The U.S. Embassy received information of a far-reaching credit card/identity theft scheme operating in Harare that victimized dozens of persons in the U.S. Due to the chronic economic challenges in recent, crimes of opportunity that involve a low risk of arrest combined with the high chance of obtaining U.S. Dollars remain a key tactic of criminals. Use extreme caution and only patronize ATMs at reputable banks, preferably those that employ uniformed guards to protect customers using ATM services. For more information, review OSAC’s report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.
For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
The streets around the President’s residence and the Botanical Gardens are closed to vehicle, bicycle, and foot traffic from 0600 to 1800 daily. The President and senior government officials travel around Harare with large and aggressive motorcades that have been known to run motorists off the road. Security personnel occasionally beat and harass drivers who fail to pull out of the way quickly. Move quickly off the road and come to a complete stop if overtaken by a motorcade.
The greatest danger to a person’s physical wellbeing in Zimbabwe is being involved in a serious road accident. Large overloaded trucks ply the main roads; highways are often narrow and have abrupt step-downs off the asphalt onto the shoulders. Motorists routinely exceed the speed limit. Most roads lack passing lanes, shoulders, lighting, reflectors, and other safety features. Large potholes are frequent in cities and on the highways, causing drivers to swerve at high speeds. At highway speeds, potholes can be very dangerous, and are difficult to see due to poor lighting. Other hazards that motorists will encounter, especially at night, include pedestrians in dark clothing walking along or on the roads; motor vehicles with no lights; restricted visibility when passing; faded lane markers and non-functioning street/traffic lights; and service stations lacking fuel and spare parts.
Nighttime travel is substantially more dangerous; avoid it if possible.
With little maintenance and frequent power outages, traffic lights are often either non-functional or have one light working per intersection. It is customary for local drivers to use hazard lights when entering these intersections. Use due care in crossing any intersection that is not clearly marked by lights.
Police personnel have routinely stopped motorists at high-profile roadblocks, claiming some traffic infraction. Police officers typically levy a “spot-fine” on motorists and demanded cash payment. Although this practice is technically legal, with a maximum spot fine of US$20 per infraction, it is often used to extort higher amounts from unwitting motorists. Government officials have publicly announced the increased enforcement of traffic violations (such as radar speed traps and other moving violations) due to the high number of traffic deaths as a result of unsafe speed, poor driving, unsafe vehicles, and aggressive driving. The number of roadblocks has significantly reduced under the new administration. However, the government still uses marked and unmarked roadblocks to enforce order and collect fines, particularly in urban centers and on major roads.
For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s reports, Driving Overseas: Best Practices and Best Practices for Road Safety in Africa.
Public transportation is dominated by second-hand minivan kombis. These vans are unregulated, inadequately maintained, and frequently in disrepair. Kombi drivers are often unlicensed and rarely follow the regulations of the road. Kombis are usually filled beyond capacity, which compounds all of the other safety deficiencies. Kombis are either directly involved or are a contributing factor in the majority of vehicle accidents involving U.S. Embassy personnel.
There are a few registered taxi companies in Harare. If you are staying at a reputable hotel, the front desk will likely have a preferred taxi company or driver recommendations. Shuttle Direct, Avondale Taxi, and G-Taxi are some examples of reputable companies.
Air Zimbabwe, the national carrier, is a failing business and is blocked from international travel to the EU. U.S. Embassy is prohibited from flying with Air Zimbabwe due to the airline’s lack of an automated system for tracking the completion of safety checks.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
There is minimal risk from terrorism in Harare. There were no large international terrorist groups claiming a presence or an incident in Zimbabwe in 2018. While the government of Zimbabwe attempts to exercise strong control within its borders and over its population, there are very few acts of extremism in the country. Due to the lack of budget, equipment, and technical capability of the authorities, it is possible that there is a growing number of nefarious individuals transiting or residing in Zimbabwe. There are also multiple crossing points and a lack of overhead monitoring.
There is anti-U.S., and to a certain extent, anti-Western sentiment in Zimbabwe. The Government of Zimbabwe is treading lightly in attempts to improve the domestic business and political environment. It is likely that the previous levels of anti-U.S. sentiment will continue to taper off (save the editorial pages of the government-controlled newspapers).
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
There is considerable risk from political violence in Harare. Under the previous administration, the Zimbabwean government restricted large gatherings of people and generally issued permits for demonstrations only if the demonstration was clearly in favor of the government or a cause that the government supported. If the government supported a demonstration, but was possibly inflammatory, a considerable number of riot police would accompany the demonstrators. Operation Restore Legacy permitted several exceedingly large, peaceful demonstrations in the streets of Harare and Bulawayo, all of which featured light ZDF protection.
Although there are rivalries between the Shona majority and Ndebele minority, religious/ethnic violence is rare. Political infighting among certain tribes continues, occasionally resulting in violence and intimidation. Shona dominate Harare, while Ndebele dominate Bulawayo.
Zimbabwe has old, inadequate infrastructure. There are concerns related to water availability/safety/delivery and sewage disposal, the supply of consistent and adequate power to businesses and residents, and the upkeep of transportation systems, to include highways and trains.
In February, the Central bank attempted to tackle the economic crisis, including a shortage of foreign exchange reserves, shortages of imported goods, and rising prices, bydevaluing its Bond Note currency and creating the new “RTGS” (real-time gross settlement) currency, which merged Bond Notes and electronic dollars. Due to a shortage in hard currency, it is not currently possible to withdraw cash with an international bank card, including at the airport in the capital and in popular tourist areas such as Victoria Falls. Bring sufficient funds in USD for your entire stay in the country.
Carefully review the U.S. sanctions program currently in place prior to engaging in the purchase/sale or transfer of money and other assets with a Zimbabwean citizen or entity. U.S. citizens should consult the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for up-to-date sanctions information.
Intellectual property theft centers on the piracy of music, movies, and computer software.
Personal Identity Concerns
The constitution of Zimbabwe outlaws marriage between people of the same gender and allows for discrimination based on sexual orientation. Consensual sex between men is criminalized in Zimbabwe, with both parties subject to a fine of US $5,000, a year imprisonment, or both. While there is no explicit legal prohibition against sexual relations between women, societal violence and harassment against LGBTI individuals is pervasive.
The Zimbabwe constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, access to public places, and the provision of services. However, the law is not widely known, poorly implemented, and rarely enforced. Persons with disabilities face harsh societal discrimination and widespread physical barriers. Many public buildings do not have wheelchair ramps, operational elevators, or suitable restroom facilities. Public transportation does not include lifts or access by wheelchair. Road crossing aids for the disabled are nonexistent and sidewalks in urban areas are in disrepair and cluttered with numerous obstacles.
Due to the low level of automation and the inaccessibility of private information, concerns related to privacy are low. However, the IT capabilities are being developed and growing in capacity (e.g. wireless hot spots, bandwidth, and digital access).
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Comply with the instructions you receive from the police. At the first opportunity, inform the U.S. Embassy consular section at +263-(0)4-250-593 x 4844.
Crime Victim Assistance
Contact the local police for assistance with any crime. After doing so, contact the U.S. Embassy consular section at +263-(0)4-250-593 x 4844
The ZRP are underfunded and poorly trained. Officers may find it difficult to respond to a call for mobile assistance. Often, a complainant must go to the nearest police station and pick up an officer to assist. Be aware that the level of competence varies. For vehicle accidents, be patient; they will come, but it may take an extended period.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy/Consulate’s Medical Assistance webpage.