Reports from Zimbabwe indicate the outbreak began weeks ago and has spread quickly through rural areas and shantytowns to reach Harare, the capital. After initially trying to smother news of the situation, Mr. Mugabe’s government has been forced to acknowledge the situation, while continuing to try to minimize the casualties.
The Herald newspaper, the obedient house organ of Mr. Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, carried a report indicating eight people had died of cholera in the Beitbridge region, on the border with South Africa, “bringing the death toll since Saturday last week to 44.”
Others put the death toll much higher. The Star, a South African newspaper, said on the weekend that “the government is trying to hide the truth, but it is believed that more than 250 people have died so far,” and suggested Harare “could be in the throes of a full-blown cholera epidemic within days.”
The source of the outbreak is no mystery. Mr. Mugabe’s despotic regime has overseen the destruction of Zimbabwe’s economy and infrastructure, taking a once-prosperous country to the brink of ruin, and beyond.
“Township dwellers have not had running tap water in more than two years,” The Star reports. “There are no chemicals to purify water. Sewer lines are in a state of disrepair, and raw sewage flows across Harare township streets.”
Hospitals are decrepit, lacking basic supplies, drugs and sanitation facilities. An account of a woman whose husband died of the disease:
“We didn’t have water for three months and we dug a well,” Linda Msimanga, 29, said. “My husband started complaining about stomach ache, he started to have uncontrolled diarrhoea which lasted the whole night, and in the morning we pushed him in a wheel barrow to the clinic. The army doctors said he had serious dehydration.
“He couldn’t even clench his fist. They put him on a drip and took him by ambulance to the Infectious Diseases Hospital. The service there was very slow, and we took him to a private hospital.
“When we got there he had fainted, and they gave him oxygen and two more drips, but when the doctor attended to him, they pronounced him dead.”
Reports said staff at many hospitals walked off the job a month ago to protest the lack of supplies and appalling conditions, leaving army doctors and aid agencies to deal with the problem. It was reported on Tuesday that riot police sealed off the country’s main referral hospital, one of the few still operating, to prevent doctors, nurses and medical staff from joining a march into the city centre to protest the deterioration of the system.
The chronic chaos of Zimbabwe has been worsened by ongoing wrangling between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, headed by Morgan Tsvangirai. Forced to consider a power-sharing arrangement after losing elections in March, Mr. Mugabe initially reached a deal with the MDC but is now trying to change the constitution to enable him to continue the run the country he has ruled for 28 years.
While unable to halt the cholera from spreading, the 84-year-old Mugabe has nonetheless sent a reported 3,000 troops to assist the government of the Congo battle a rebel outbreak.
Zimbabwe Today reported that Congo president Joseph Kabila “is said to have appealed for help from both Zimbabwe and Angola several weeks ago, after his own troops failed to defeat Nkunda and his forces.
“Mugabe was quick to respond, for the usual reason – his involvment will be rewarded with choice pickings amongst the Congo mineral deposits, which include diamonds, gold and copper. This trick of exchanging troops for treasure has enriched him and his cohorts in the past, and will do so once again.” – Source: National Post