South African officials have declared the border with Zimbabwe a disaster area because of the surge of Zimbabweans fleeing a cholera epidemic in search of treatment, a provincial government spokesman said yesterday.
The outbreak has killed nearly 800 people in Zimbabwe and spread across the busy border. The collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy and healthcare system has left cholera victims to fend for themselves and driven many to try to escape to South Africa.
“The whole of the Vhembe district has been declared a disaster,” said Mogale Nchabeleng, a spokesman for the Limpopo provincial government. The provincial government took the decision after an emergency meeting earlier this week.
“Extraordinary measures are needed to deal with the situation,” Nchabeleng said.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said yesterday that doctors had tamed the epidemic.
In a nationally broadcast speech, Mugabe denounced calls by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and US President George W. Bush for him to resign, saying the epidemic was no longer a reason for him to leave office.
“I am happy to say our doctors have been assisted by others and WHO … so now that there is no cholera,” he said.
“Because of cholera, Mr Brown wants a military intervention,” he said. “Bush wants military intervention because of cholera.”
“There is no cause for war any more,” Mugabe said. “The cholera cause doesn’t exist any more.”
His announcement came just one day after the WHO said 775 people had died of cholera in Zimbabwe, with more than 16,000 cases reported.