South Africa declares Musina disaster area

HARARE (Reuters) – South African officials have declared the border with Zimbabwe a disaster area because of the surge of Zimbabweans fleeing a cholera epidemic in search of treatment, a provincial government spokesman said on Thursday.

The outbreak has killed nearly 800 people in Zimbabwe and spread across the busy border. The collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy and health care system has left cholera victims to fend for themselves and driven many to try to escape to South Africa.

"The whole of the Vhembe district has been declared a disaster," Mogale Nchabeleng, a spokesman for the Limpopo provincial government, told Reuters. The provincial government took the decision after an emergency meeting earlier this week.

"Extraordinary measures are needed to deal with the situation," Nchabeleng said.

South Africa has said it has no plans to quarantine Zimbabweans crossing over to Musina or other border towns.

At least 774 Zimbabweans have died from cholera and more than 15,000 are believed to be infected with the easily preventable disease, according to the World Health Organisation. Zimbabwe’s government has said the epidemic is under control.

The outbreak, coupled with an economic meltdown, has prompted calls for international humanitarian assistance as well as calls for President Robert Mugabe’s resignation from Western leaders and some within Africa.

Zimbabwe’s government accuses foes abroad of using the epidemic to try to oust Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, and blames Western sanctions for ruining the once relatively prosperous southern African country.

Mugabe’s critics say his policies have wrecked Zimbabwe.

There is little hope of recovery while deadlock remains between Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai over implementing a power-sharing deal. Recent abductions of government critics have added to doubts over the agreement.