Robert Mugabe says Zimbabwe cholera outbreak stopped

HARARE – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe announced on Thursday his government had stopped a cholera outbreak that has killed nearly 800 people and prompted Western leaders to call on him to step down.

 

But the United Nations said the death toll had risen and South African officials declared a stretch of the border with Zimbabwe a disaster zone because of the increase in cholera cases as Zimbabweans flee in search of treatment.

"I am happy we are being assisted by others and we have arrested cholera," Mugabe said in a televised speech in which he also attacked what he described as Western plans to invade Zimbabwe and topple his government.

"Now that there is no cholera there is no case for war."

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the toll from the disease, normally easy to prevent and treat, had risen to 783 and that 16,403 were believed to be infected.

Asked about Mugabe’s remarks, OCHA spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs in Geneva said: "The figures speak for themselves. We hope that the joint efforts of the United Nations and government will contribute to halting the epidemic."

The collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy and health care system has left victims to fend for themselves and driven many to try to escape to South Africa.

DISASTER AREA

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

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

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

The World Health Organisation said earlier this week up to 60,000 people could catch cholera if the epidemic gets out of control.

Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai reached a power-sharing deal brokered by regional mediator Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s former president, in September. But they are deadlocked over how to implement it.

The MDC said on Thursday that the cholera outbreak showed Mugabe’s government could no longer rule the country and accused the ruling ZANU-PF party of orchestrating a campaign of abductions of MDC leaders and activists.

"We remain on the side of the people while ZANU-PF remains on the side of terror. We remain on the side of the downtrodden while ZANU-PF is firmly etched in the dark corner of an avaricious, parasitic elite," the MDC said in a statement.