Zim cholera under control, says Mugabe

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe said on Thursday that doctors had tamed a cholera epidemic that has left 775 dead, even as South Africa declared a disaster on its border because of the disease.

In a nationally broadcast speech, Mugabe denounced calls by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and United States President George Bush for him to resign, saying the epidemic was no longer a reason for him to leave office.

“I am happy to say our doctors have been assisted by others and WHO [the World Health Organization] ... so now that there is no cholera,” he said.

“Because of cholera, Mr Brown wants a military intervention,” he said. “Bush wants military intervention because of cholera.”

“There is no cause for war any more,” Mugabe said. “The cholera cause doesn’t exist any more.”

His announcement came just one day after the WHO said 775 people had died of cholera in Zimbabwe, with more than 16 000 cases reported.

The agency warned that the disease could afflict up to 60 000 people in the coming weeks.

Cholera disaster
Hours before Mugabe spoke, South Africa declared a disaster area along its border, where hundreds of people have fled Zimbabwe to search for treatment for the deadly but curable disease.

So far 10 people have died of cholera in South Africa, and the number of Zimbabweans coming in search of medical care is straining the resources in Limpopo, a government official said.

“The provincial government took a decision that the whole of the Vhembe district should be declared a disaster area,” Limpopo provincial government spokesperson Mogale Nchabeleng said.

The Vhembe district includes Musina, a bustling town at the 24-hour border crossing between South Africa and the cholera-hit town of Beitbridge in Zimbabwe.

The disaster status frees up funding and helps focus relief efforts, Nchabeleng said.

“It helps to cut on government bureaucracy and speed up the pace of the response.

“We are likely to experience problems,” he said, adding “the sooner you come in, the better. It’s under control but we would not want to leave [anything] to chance.

“These people come in infected and have to be treated. That has been a strain on the capacity of our health infrastructure to respond.”

More than 650 cholera cases have been treated in South Africa, according to local health officials, but the disease is only one of the troubles pushing Zimbabweans to flee Mugabe’s rule.

Nearly half of Zimbabwe’s people need emergency food aid to survive crushing shortages across the country, according to the United Nations.

The once-vibrant economy is in tatters with 80%t of the population in poverty and struggling to survive under the world’s highest inflation rate, last estimated at 231-million percent in July.

Sheer desperation has driven millions of Zimbabweans to South Africa and other countries over the last decade.

Tensions between the migrants and locals erupted into deadly xenophobic violence across South Africa in May, when about 60 were killed and more than 100 000 displaced.

The cholera epidemic has highlighted the collapse of even basic services in Zimbabwe, where running water is spotty and broken sewage pipes lie leaking in the streets.

Aid agencies warn that Zimbabwe’s cholera crisis is spreading to neighbouring countries, and the region’s shared waterway, the Limpopo River, has tested positive for the disease.—AFP

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