Cholera disaster

2008-11-28 00:00

Cholera respects no boundaries. The collapse of the Zimbabwean economy and its health and sanitation services has allowed the spread of disease to South Africa and Botswana, and raises the spectre of a regional epidemic. Among those urging a speedy resolution of the political stalemate, in a situation spiralling out of control, is United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

In spite of years of repression and manipulated parliamentary elections, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) managed a narrow win in March. This should have been the signal for Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF to be shown the door, giving the MDC an opportunity to reinstate the rule of law, restore good governance, mobilise aid agencies and seek foreign investment.

Instead, nearly eight months have passed while Zimbabwe’s neighbours have placated Mugabe. The MDC has justifiably refused to compromise. It needs a free rein to overcome years of corruption and human rights abuse under Zanu-PF. Leaving the latter with any measure of control over the army and police is an absurdity, a recipe for continued disaster.

Zimbabweans have died from government-orchestrated violence and hunger. Now cholera is claiming scores of lives. A warning was recently sounded that their country could soon become a failed state, the Somalia of southern Africa. Such are the consequences of quiet diplomacy based on old loyalties and deference to a tyrant.

Is there no understanding that the situation north of the Limpopo is a major security threat to South Africa, which reputedly has at least nine intelligence agencies? What have they been telling the government? Has anyone been listening to what must be serious warnings about floods of refugees in extremely poor health?

Much has been made of the importance of Zimbabwe’s national sovereignty, a consideration that correctly fell away for South Africa during the apartheid era. But refusal to take an effective stance is becoming an irrelevance. Mugabe sits in Harare calmly exporting his country’s problems of joblessness, hunger and infectious disease to South Africa while he and his clique cling to power. In a world entering economic recession this is a dire situation.

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