While Americans give thanks this holiday season, they warily contemplate what the partial collapse of financial institutions means for them. But for Zimbabweans, simply being alive is reason to give thanks. A cholera epidemic is sweeping across Zimbabwe, with over 9,000 cases and 360 deaths, according to the United Nations. Local sources tell me these figures underplay the seriousness of the problem.
The British charity Oxfam has called for a State of Emergency to be declared in Zimbabwe, a plea that has predictably been rejected by the despotic leadership of Robert Mugabe, which laughably blamed Western sanctions as the cause for the outbreak.
At the town of Messina in the northeast tip of South Africa, seven miles from the Zimbabwean border, hundreds of the sick refugees are stretching the health facilities to the breaking point.Cholera was an ever-present threat in cities like London until 140 years ago. At that time, the first real epidemiological studies were undertaken by London doctor John Snow, which identified poor sanitation — and a single down-river Thames-side water pump in particular — as the cause of the spread of the deadly disease.
Today cholera can easily be controlled by maintaining simple sanitary standards — but there is no running water in much of Zimbabwe today, and sanitation systems have collapsed.
The disease can be treated simply, too — but Harare Central Hospital closed three weeks ago, and Parirenyatwa Hospital was barely functioning at last reports. The hospitals have no supplies and the only things in excess are overflowing morgues. This leaves a few private clinics for treatment but if you have no hard currency to pay for treatment you die.
While the steady stream of four million Zimbabwean refugees who have fled to South Africa over the past two years did not move South African authorities to act, the new leader of the African National Congress (and president in waiting), Jacob Zuma, is now claiming that we cannot “wait and see . . . we must act and act now.” The first act of the ANC-led Government was to withhold $28 million of aid to Zimbabwe until a representative government is formed in Harare.
Negotiations for a Zimbabwean power-sharing agreement — between Mugabe and opposition leader and Prime Minister-elect Morgan Tsvangirai — are ongoing in South Africa. But the talks started three months ago and few expect a swift outcome — after all, Mugabe has called his neighbor’s bluff so often over the past decade that he must think he can always and forever do what he likes, ignoring their increasingly vocal calls to honor election results and share power with Tsvangirai.
Continuing to do its part to sanction those trading with the Mugabe regime, the U.S. government yesterday blacklisted and froze the assets of four people it claims have provided logistical and financial support to the rogue regime: John Bredenkamp, a Zimbabwean businessman; Muller Conrad “Billy” Rautenbach, a Zimbabwean businessman; Mahmood Awang Kechik, a Malaysian doctor; and Nalinee Joy Taveesin, a Thai businesswoman.
The BBC report that Botswana’s foreign minister now argues that “mediation to solve Zimbabwe’s political crisis has failed [and] borders with Zimbabwe should be closed to push Mr Mugabe from power.” But closing the borders, which South Africa might also contemplate, will only ensure an even faster death for Zimbabweans. The United Nations and African Union, led by South Africa’s Jacob Zuma and Botswana’s leader, Seretse Ian Kharma, must put an end to the death. It is time they intervened militarily.
– Roger Bate is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is heading to the region and will be sending updates to NRO.