08:00 South Africa declares border area disaster zone – 10:20 Mugabe says the cholera crisis has stopped
ROBERT Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president, declared that his country's cholera crisis was over yesterday, two hours and 20 minutes after South Africa declared an area along its shared border a disaster area as the disease spreads.
Cholera has caught hold rapidly in Zimbabwe because of the country's crumbling healthcare system and lack of clean water. The UN said 16,403 cases had been reported, with the death toll standing at 783.
At a state funeral yesterday for an official of the ruling Zanu-PF party, Mr Mugabe insisted the outbreak of the waterborne disease had been "arrested" with the help of the World Health Organisation and other aid agencies.
The president lashed out at critics who have been calling for his removal from power as concern mounted about Zimbabwe's deepening humanitarian crisis.
"So now that there is no cholera, there is no cause for war any more. We need doctors, not soldiers," he said during an hour-long address broadcast live on state television.
Mr Mugabe has ruled his country since its independence from Britain in 1980 and has refused to leave office following disputed elections in March. A power-sharing deal worked out in September with the opposition has been deadlocked over the division of cabinet posts.
Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, George Bush, the US president, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, have all called recently for the 84-year-old leader to step down.
South African authorities yesterday morning declared a region along the cholera-hit border with Zimbabwe a disaster area, as the disease spreads to other countries.
"The whole of the Vhembe district has been declared a disaster," said Mogale Nchabeleng, a spokesman for the government of Limpopo province in South Africa. The decision was made after an emergency meeting this week.
Hundreds of Zimbabweans cross the border at Beitbridge every day to search for jobs in South Africa, buy supplies and, increasingly, seek medical treatment. About 664 people have been treated for the waterborne disease, and at least eight people have died in South Africa.
Phandu Skelemani, the foreign minister of Botswana, which has been critical of Mr Mugabe, said his country's border with Zimbabwe should remain open, but he supported other measures to isolate Mr Mugabe and his party.
"If you switch off petrol, I think that Zanu-PF will have to go. If that step is agreed and you simultaneously airlift critical supplies like food and essential supplies to prevent Zimbabweans from starving to death, I think it will have the desired effect," Mr Skelemani said.
Asked about Mr Mugabe's remarks, Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva, said: "The figures speak for themselves.
"We hope that the joint efforts of the UN and government will contribute to halting the epidemic," she added.
The World Health Organisation said earlier this week that up to 60,000 people could catch cholera if the epidemic got out of control.
Zimbabwe's opposition MDC party said yesterday that the cholera outbreak showed Mr Mugabe's government could no longer rule the country, and it accused Zanu-PF 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," the MDC said in a statement.
"We remain on the side of the downtrodden, while Zanu-PF is firmly etched in the dark corner of an avaricious, parasitic elite."
Minister calls on Zimbabwe's neighbours to act
MARK Malloch-Brown, the UK Africa minister, yesterday rejected Robert Mugabe's claim that the cholera crisis was over. "I don't know what world he is living in," Mr Malloch-Brown said in South Africa, where he visited a Johannesburg church housing 1,600 Zimbabweans who had fled the economic meltdown.
"There is a raging humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, as well as an economic crisis, and still there is no representative government able to lead the country out of this disaster," he said.
Mr Malloch-Brown called on South Africa to put more pressure on Mr Mugabe to end the political and humanitarian crisis. South Africa has withheld $30 million in aid for Zimbabwe, but otherwise has been reluctant to use its huge economic and political muscle against its neighbour.
"South Africa could do a lot more and it needs to do it now," said Mr Malloch-Brown, who also met the South African health minister, Barbara Hogan, who is trying to contain the spread of cholera from across the border.
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