Supporters of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe hold placards protesting against Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown, during the burial of Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF political commissar Elliot Manyika, in Harare, December 11, 2008. Mugabe said on Thursday his government had stopped a cholera outbreak that has killed nearly 800 people and prompted Western leaders to call on him to step down. Reuters
“The cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe is a serious biological, chemical war force, a genocidal onslaught, on the people of Zimbabwe by the British…so that they can invade the country…”
– information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu
HARARE (AFP) — President Robert Mugabe’s government Friday accused former colonial power Britain of causing a “genocidal” cholera epidemic, as the UN secretary general urged him to “look for the future.”
The latest accusations over the cholera crisis came as the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the death toll had risen to 792, and aid groups warned the epidemic could last for months.
“Cholera is a calculated, racist attack on Zimbabwe by the unrepentant former colonial power, which has enlisted support from its American and Western allies so that they can invade the country,” information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told a press conference.
“The cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe is a serious biological, chemical war force, a genocidal onslaught, on the people of Zimbabwe by the British,” he said. “It’s a genocide of our people.”
One day earlier, Mugabe had proclaimed in a nationally broadcast speech that “there is no cholera” — comments his spokesman George Charamba said Friday were meant as “sarcasm.”
His remarks drew an international outcry and were quickly denounced by aid agencies as well as Britain, France and the United States, which have loudly called for Mugabe to step down.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon told reporters that he had met with the 84-year-old leader two weeks ago at a summit in Qatar, where he urged Mugabe to leave his legacy “in a positive way.”
“Mugabe really should look for the future of his country and his own people, who have been suffering too much, too long from this political turmoil now coupled with very serious humanitarian tragedies,” Ban said in Geneva.
But Ban said the meeting did not go well, calling the dialogue “very difficult.”
EU leaders at a summit in Brussels also urged Zimbawbe’s political rivals to resolve the political standoff following disputed elections this year, and demanded the immediate release of missing human rights activists.
Mugabe’s comments on cholera stoked ire at his government, with one South African Anglican bishop likening him to Adolf Hitler and calling for him to face war crimes charges at the Hague.
“Mugabe must be viewed as the 21st century Hitler because of the deaths and suffering of Zimbabweans under his rule,” Bishop Joe Seoka said in The Times newspaper.
Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said that “either Mr Mugabe is mischievous or genuinely out of touch with reality.”
“Instead of conveying a message of condolences, Mr Mugabe was busy politicking,” spokesman Nelson Chamisa told AFP.
The cholera epidemic is only the latest grim symptom of Zimbabwe’s collapse.
The economy has crumbled under the world’s highest inflation rate, last estimated in July at 231 million percent but now believed to be much higher.
A new 500 million dollar note, worth 10 US dollars (7.50 euros), was introduced Friday by the central bank, which struggles to print money fast enough to keep pace with prices that rise several times a day.
Due to currency shortages, cash can only be withdrawn once a week from banks, and then people are allowed to take only 500 million dollars, which is not enough to see them through the day.
Hospitals have no drugs, no equipment and no staff left to treat the cholera epidemic, which has spread as sewage and water lines have broken down, contaminating the drinking supply.
A political stalemate between Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has deepened the crisis and left government in limbo.
The two signed a power-sharing deal three months ago but have so far failed to agree on how to form a unity government.