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Text by Freya PETERSEN

Latest update : 2008-12-06

South Africa has announced it would send a team to Zimbabwe to assess the extent of a cholera epidemic that has killed over 575 people, as Condoleezza Rice and Archbishop Desmond Tutu called on President Mugabe to step down.

Watch our Top Story: 'Cholera, a knife in Zimbabwe's wound'


A day after Zimbabwe declared a national emergency and appealed for international help to battle the cholera outbreak that has killed hundreds of people, President Robert Mugabe has been harshly criticised for his way of handling the crisis.


Hopes of rescuing Zimbabwe from the epidemic are complicated by the political deadlock in the country.


On Thursday, South Africa's Nobel peace prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu called on Mugabe to step down or be removed by force.


According to AFP, Tutu told Dutch television: "I think now that the world must say, 'You have been responsible with your cohorts for gross violations, and you are going to face indictment in The Hague unless you step down."


On Friday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice added further weight behind calls for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to step down, calling power-sharing talks with the opposition a "sham process."


Frustration with the stalling talks has been mounting. According to Tutu, the African Union or the Southern African Development Community (SADC) would have the military capacity to remove Mugabe, 84.


Eduardo Cue, senior correspondent for US News & World Report told FRANCE 24 that attempts by African and world leaders to negotiate with Mugabe had proved “a total failure,” and military action of the kind mooted by Archbishop Tutu was now the best option for resolving the situation.


While “distributing aid is very nice,” he said, “you have got to get rid of Mugabe. At this point in the 21st century, you just cannot let a country and its people die in this way.”


Zimbabwe has been in political limbo since elections in March, when Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition won control of parliament from Mugabe's party. Tsvangirai claimed victory in a presidential poll, but then pulled out of a run-off poll in June after dozens of his supporters were killed in attacks blamed on Mugabe supporters.


Thousands of Zimbabweans have fled the country


Driven by fear of catching the disease and lack of health care in their own country, every day thousands of Zimbabweans are crossing the border into South Africa and other surrounding countries as the epidemic steadily worsens, with more than 575 deaths and 12,700 cases recorded since August. On Friday, South Africa said it would send a team to assess the situation in neighbouring Zimbabwe.


Zimbabwe's state-run Herald daily quoted Zimbabwe's Health Minister declaring the outbreak a national emergency and appealing for international aid, saying that the country's health services were not working.


"Our central hospitals are literally not functioning. Our staff is demotivated and we need your support to ensure that they start coming to work and our health system is revived," David Parirenyatwa said, the paper reported.


As several countries pledged aid for the stricken country – the EU has offered 200,000 euros to help the Red Cross and other aid agencies, and the US $600,000 – a South African government spokesman said Friday that a team of senior officials would visit the country next week to assess the food crisis and what further aid was needed.


Human Rights Watch, a leading human rights group, meanwhile, warned Thursday that the cholera crisis could spread into South Africa if conditions did not improve for asylum seekers camped on the border.

Zimbabwe – an appeal from a ‘dying’ country

Economic meltdown in Zimbabwe, isolated by Western countries under President Robert Mugabe's increasingly authoritarian rule, has been blamed for the poor state of the health system.


The cholera epidemic has been fuelled by the collapse of the water system, which has forced residents to drink from contaminated wells and streams. Hospitals lack medicine and equipment, doctors and nurses go unpaid.


The World Health Organisation estimates that 4.5 percent of people who have contracted cholera in Zimbabwe have died. The normal fatality rate, HRW said, is below one percent, when infection is properly managed with oral rehydration salts and medicines.


Eduardo Cue told FRANCE 24 that conditions in Zimbabwe had steadily worsened since he visited the country in 2006.


He said despite the dire economic conditions then, “in looking back, 2006 wasn’t so bad in Zimbabwe. Inflation was only 10,000 percent at that time. It’s now 231 million percent a year. That would almost be funny except that thousands and thousands of people are dying.”

Date created : 2008-12-05