Life in a Time of Cholera in Zimbabwe, Again

Children playing near contaminated pool of water (Photo: The Guardian)

By Takura Zhangazha*

It is tragic that once again our country (Zimbabwe)  has to experience a Cholera epidemic in its capital, Harare.  Especially one that claims innocent lives.  And writing about it is never intended as a self righteous or attention seeking exercise.  Not for any political party or public health functionary.

It is essentially about our own (African ) humanity and the sanctity of human life.

And by so doing demonstrating a deep sorrow and empathy for those families and friends that have lost loved ones in the recent outbreak in a poor urban residential suburb of Glen View in Harare, Zimbabwe.

The government of Zimbabwe, through the Minister of Health, Obadiah Moyo recently announced a state of disaster ( and its multiple implications) as a result of the outbreak. That means the government is obliged at law to, among other things,  not only do all it can to prevent the spread of the preventable disease but also offer the maximum possible support to those afflicted or affected by it.

The temptation for many is to politicise this tragic Cholera outbreak.  Especially in the aftermath of elections that were eventually recognized as legitimate (warts and all).  In this, the intention being to discredit one political party over the other as the root cause of the fact that, in the words of many a political activist, a ‘medieval disease’ can be found occurring in Zimbabwe’s  (and the Worlds) assumed ‘modern times’.

In the midst of such an health crisis, what matters the most and urgently so is that all hands are on deck to prevent the further loss of lives.  So when the government announced that it is working with the country’s largest private beverage (and alcohol) suppliers, Delta Corporation  to provide clean water for those affected, one can only appreciate the corporate effort.  If only to save lives.

I personally wish I could leave this here by applauding all those that are seeking to resolve the crisis and those that will eventually offer comfort and direct support to the families of those directly affected by the outbreak.

Not because of assumptions of individual self righteousness.  But more because there are many questions that should be asked of those in local and central government authority as to why Cholera outbreaks keep recurring in our cities.  The last major such outbreak was in 2008 in which at least 4000 Zimbabweans died.

Many an academic of urban/local government will know that the main cause was the mismanagement of local authorities and central government interference in the same.  Ideologues , historians and anthropologists who would be more specific  will recall the colonial legacies of preferential urban planning that prioritised what we now refer to as the ‘western’ suburbs (quite literally) over the (black) ghettos. They would  more significantly understand these designs and why more poor people die of this treatable affliction.

What is however more worrying is the fact of  the lack of an urgent structural analysis of the same in order to circumvent the political, social and economic  effects of such preventable diseases.  Either by the relevant authorities (local and national) but also and most significantly the lack of a collective Zimbabwean national outcry at the cutting short of human lives beyond partisan political lines. And where in the final analysis, it is all about our collective right access to clean and safe water. As guaranteed by the state.

In having a conversation with a fellow Harare resident it struck me that he talked about the option of ensuring that the pre-paid water meter was a solution to such an unpalatable crisis. (No mention of cost and affordability)

His point was fair enough until that point when I asked him where he lived in Harare.  And how he intended to solve his water and potential Cholera  problem.   It turns out he lives in the newer ‘western’ suburbs and purchases water regularly from a private supplier.  And he has a deep borehole. But he is still worried about the Cholera outbreak in so far as it does not cross the unwritten ‘South of”  Samora Machel Avenue ‘border’ in Harare.

For him, though by default, Cholera should be a disease of the poor.  As opposed to being one about access to a basic human right,  i.e water.  (If you want that right to water, accept pre-paid water meters as far as he is concerned).

I personally disagree with such an approach because it exacerbates societal inequality to what we should all have access to.  But then again, who will listen?  Money does not construct progressive social (socialist) democratic consciousness.  Nor should it be allowed to.  We need to solve Harare (and other cities) access to clean and safe, drinkable water challenges through a people centered approach that does not prioritise profit over access.  Even at local government level and with an intention to change the central government’s approach to the national state of affairs vis-a-vis access to water.

Finally,  may the souls of all those who lost their lives in past and recent Harare as well as other cities’ much publicised ‘Cholera outbreaks’ rest in peace.  We will never forget.  Inclusive of the fact that we still seek retrospective justice.
*The title of this blog is taken from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ epic novel (Love in the Time of Cholera’ 

*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)

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