On Friday, July 3, Mail & Guardian Africa held a Zimbabwe Trade and Investment Forum at the Hyatt Regency in Johannesburg, South Africa, to explore ways in which businesses could help generate an economic comeback for the country.
“Why?”, many asked ahead of the forum, “does Zimbabwe have anything to offer today?” Yes, the country has an incredible history, and institutional strengths that can serve it well. Here we look at 10 things about Zimbabwe, some of which will surprise those who follow only its controversial political story:
1. Zimbabwe hosted Africa`s first ever sponsored horse race, The Castle Tankard in 1960. This was two years ahead of Rothmans sponsoring South Africa`s famous Durban July. Aesthetically, Zimbabwe`s Borrowdale race course is considered to be one of the best looking tracks in the world.
2. Zimbabwe`s “Great Zimbabwe” is referenced by Vasco da Gama`s squire Tomé Lopes as the location for the Biblical region of Ophir. King Solomon received cargo of gold, silver, pearls and sandalwood from Ophir, every three years.
3. The third oldest stock exchange in Africa was established in Zimbabwe`s second largest city, Bulawayo in 1896, when the white settlers arrived in the country. This was after the Egyptian Exchange formed in 1883 and the South African exchange established in 1887.
4. Zimbabwe is home to a sizeable population of the Lemba people, a community whom popular myth believes descended from seven Jewish men who left Israel 2,500 years ago and married African women. The Lemba refrain from eating pork or other foods forbidden by the Torah and wear Yarmulke-like skull caps.
5. Cecil John Rhodes, a British businessman and co-founder of De Beers Consolidated Mines – one of the world`s leading diamond industry players – whose dream was to extend the British Empire from Cape to Cairo is buried at World`s View, Matopos Hills in Zimbabwe. Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Rhodes University in South Africa were named after him.
6. Zimbabwe has a mobile penetration rate of 106.4%, which has helped improve the level of financial inclusion, through leveraging on mobile banking and mobile money transfers. Currently 77% of Zimbabweans are included in the financial system. Ecocash, Zimbabwe’s leading mobile money transfer service has cumulatively transacted over US$11 billion since September 29, 2011 when it was launched.
7. Between 2013 and 2014, Zimbabwe spent approximately US$1.089 billion importing cars from various countries, with Japan being the most prominent source.
8. Estimates put Zimbabwe`s total road network at 77,868km, comprising 18,338km of state roads; 5,290km of urban roads; 54,240km of rural roads. Of this stock of national roads, about 15,000km is paved.
9. According to a recent survey by FinScope, approximately 70% of adult Zimbabweans reside in rural areas and 36% of adults in the country rely on money from farming. Farming is the main source of income for the majority of Zimbabweans.
10. Zimbabwe’s Boka Tobacco Auction floors are the largest tobacco trading floors in the world. The trading floors were built by former Zimbabwean banker Roger Boka.