The French foreign ministry criticised Zimbabwe for denying visas to French medical staff. "Contrary to what Mr Mugabe says, the cholera epidemic is not under control. France strongly regrets this decision and calls on Zimbabwe's authorities to allow aid to reach the population," a ministry spokesman said. The team of six included three specialists from the French foreign ministry's crisis centre, two epidemiologists and a water treatment expert.
Mugabe's claims, which flew in the face of assessments from international health officials, came in an hour-long televised speech at the funeral of a party official who had died in a car accident. "I am happy we are being assisted by others and we have arrested cholera," Mugabe said in his address. He attacked what he described as western plans to invade Zimbabwe and topple his government. "Now that there is no cholera there is no case for war," Mugabe said. He described Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, and George Bush, the US president, as "crooks" who were "guilty of deliberate lies in order to commit acts of aggression". The Zimbabwean leader made his claims about stopping cholera even as South African officials declared the border with Zimbabwe a disaster area and warned that extraordinary measures were needed to control the rising number of cholera cases. "The whole of the Vhembe district has been declared a disaster area," said Mogale Nchabeleng, a spokesman for South Africa's Limpopo provincial government. The government took the decision after an emergency meeting earlier this week. The district includes Musina, a bustling town at the border crossing between South Africa and the cholera-hit town of Beitbridge in Zimbabwe. Musina is the entry point for thousands of illegal immigrants fleeing the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. "These people come in infected and have to be treated. That has been a strain on the capacity of our health infrastructure to respond," Nchabeleng said.
South Africa said it had no plans to quarantine Zimbabweans crossing over to Musina or other border towns. Aid agencies have warned of Zimbabwe's cholera crisis spreading to neighbouring countries, and the region's shared waterway, the Limpopo river, has tested positive for cholera. The outbreak, coupled with an economic meltdown, has prompted calls for international humanitarian assistance, as well as calls from western and some African leaders for Mugabe to resign. The World Health Organisation reported yesterday that the cholera crisis in Zimbabwe had worsened. The UN today raised the death toll from the easily preventable disease to 783. The UN said more than 16,000 cholera cases had been reported in Zimbabwe, where the collapse of Zimbabwe's economy and health care system has left victims to fend for themselves and driven many to try to escape to South Africa.
by Mark Twan
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