Zim cholera fears grow as rains peak

Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic, which has killed more than 1 600 people, could get worse as the rainy season peaks, its health minister said on Monday.

The outbreak has heightened the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, where Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) are deadlocked over a power-sharing deal and the veteran leader is resisting Western calls to step down.

The World Health Organisation said last week that cholera had killed 1 608 people of 30 365 reported cases and the infection rate showed no signs of slowing.

The water-borne disease has spread because of the collapse of health and sanitation systems.

The rainy season peaks in January or February and ends in late March.

Health Minister David Parirenyatwa, speaking at the launch of an anti-cholera information campaign in Harare, said the rains could hamper efforts to stop the disease.

”While the statistics seem to be stabilising, we are now approaching the heavy rainy season and we may have more outbreaks,” he said.

”Floods are a predisposing factor for cholera. We hope we don’t get floods this year.”

Zimbabwe’s low-lying areas, especially the northern Zambezi valley, are prone to floods, which killed dozens last year.

Parirenyatwa said aid agencies and foreign governments had responded to Zimbabwe’s call for assistance in fighting cholera, bringing much-needed water treatment chemicals, equipment, drugs and volunteers.

Cholera, which causes severe diarrhoea and dehydration, has spread to all of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces.

Zimbabweans are already suffering from hyper-inflation and severe food, fuel and foreign currency shortages. There is not enough money to pay doctors and nurses or buy medicine in a country once seen as among Africa’s most promising.

Mugabe ‘set to form govt’
Meanwhile, the state-run Herald newspaper reported on Monday that Mugabe is expected to form a new Zimbabwean government by the end of February despite stalled talks with the main MDC party.

The veteran leader, who started a month-long holiday this week, began preparations for a new administration last week when he fired nine ministers and three deputies who lost seats in last year’s parliamentary election.

The move was seen as the clearest sign yet he had lost patience with talks on forming a power-sharing government with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

The Herald said a senior ruling Zanu-PF party official, Nicholas Goche, met Sydney Mufamadi, the representative for mediator Thabo Mbeki, on Saturday to discuss ways of ending the impasse.

”The president has had enough of games from the opposition and he made this quite clear in his meeting with MDC leader Professor Arthur Mutambara,” a source told the newspaper. Mutambara heads a splinter faction of the MDC.

”They agreed that a government should be put in place sooner rather than later,” the paper said.

It would most likely be in place by the end of next month, the source said.

Mugabe, leader of the main MDC Morgan Tsvangirai and Mutambara signed a power-sharing pact on September 15 last year but it has been held up by a dispute over Cabinet posts.

Mutambara has in the past said he would not join a government without Tsvangirai.

The Herald said Goche and Mufamadi also discussed a letter, apparently written by Tsvangirai to Mugabe, which said the opposition leader was not prepared to take up the post of prime minister, as agreed in the September deal.

Tsvangirai won a presidential election in March last year but by too few votes for an outright victory. He pulled out of the subsequent run-off, citing violence against MDC supporters.

Activist ordered to hospital
Also on Monday a Zimbabwean judge ordered that prominent peace activist Jestina Mukoko, who has been accused of plotting to overthrow Mugabe, must receive medical attention before the case proceeds.

Judge Gloria Takunda says police must comply with an earlier court order that Mukoko be taken to a hospital so allegations of torture can be investigated.

Mukoko and 31 other activists appeared in the Harare magistrate court on Monday. The case has been postponed to Tuesday.

Mukoko had been missing for three weeks before she appeared in court in late December. She and the other activists claim they have been tortured while in police custody.

The opposition has dismissed the plot as fabricated amid an increasing clampdown on dissent. — Reuters, Sapa-AP

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