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Cholera, Typhoid and The Politics of Urban Control

Let sleeping dogs lie, they say.

By Vivid Gwede

This attitude has been taken on both sides of the political aisle between Zanu-PF and MDC Alliance, following the outbreak of cholera, which has claimed about 28 lives mainly in Harare.

Some maturity, or political correctness, has meant the avoidance of blame-game between the MDC Alliance, which controls the city council, and Zanu-PF, which runs the meddlesome local government ministry and central government, as everyone focuses on dealing with the cholera epidemic.

But history cannot be wished away.

Looking at the messy situation in the largest city, Harare, in terms of burst sewer and water pipes, this was a disaster simply waiting to happen.

In fact, at the onset of every hot season, it is either typhoid or cholera to break out, both medieval hygiene-related diseases.

A political struggle between the two political gladiators over power and resource control, since about 2000, in Harare, in particular, and cities countrywide, in general, has brought service delivery on its knees.

To be specific, Zanu-PF has done its damned best, through successive local government ministers, to sabotage the opposition controlled-councils’ efforts and deprive them of both decision-making power and resources.

It is a long story, whose short summary, however, is that when elephants fight the grass bears the burden.

Now ordinary residents know hell hath no fury like a ruling party snubbed.

From the removal of executive mayors, appointment of unelected commissions, and recurrently divesting councils of control of roads and water fees, to meddling in the appointment of town clerks, Zanu-PF has been in an all-out war of sabotage.

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Add to this, the failure by central government, over almost four decades, to provide adequate money to capital infrastructure investment for the renovation and expansion of sewer and water reticulation systems to cater for the growing urban population.

In fact, through the cynic contraptions of state parastatals, meant to dilute the power of councils such as the ZINARA and ZINWA, central government has not only failed to financially support local government, but repeatedly milked it.

All this, narrow-mindedly in the name of seeking to sabotage the opposition and eventually retain control of urban areas in some future elections.

It has been a scotched-earth policy in which morals and humanitarian considerations have been thrown into the abyss.

But with the blaming of vending, a direct result of failure to create jobs, one hopes this will not be another chance to blame the victim.

As municipal police and national police have been unleashed to drive out vendors from the streets by force, it appears they have become scapegoats for the cholera outbreak, including those who sell second-hand clothes.

Hopefully, this will not be an excuse for another Murambatsvina to be launched by a government, which also knows too well of its questionable legitimacy and fears the presence of vendors can be a springboard for citizen unrest.

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It is as true that, with the imminent approach of the rain season, the proliferation of vending can exacerbate the cholera outbreak, as it is that the informalisation of the economy is a result of bad national governance.

In a double victimhood, those who have been rendered jobless by the governance crisis will also find that their means of survival is about to be criminalised by the failing authorities.

The other pertinent issue is how the central government has also failed to fund the health system, with each year’s health allocation falling short of the 15% quota of the country’s budget as stipulated in the Abuja Declaration of 2000.

Thus, with the repeated outbreak of these medieval diseases, the norm is that the government has been found ill-prepared financially and always needing to extend a begging bowl Oliver Twist-style.

Yet, what the government has been efficient at is the hiring of expensive planes for the elites’ funerals.

When the poor die of curable diseases in the ghettoes suddenly the government begs the same impoverished population through crowdfunding schemes.

Yes, it is not right to blame each other of witchcraft at village funerals, but as anti-colonial revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral, memorably said, it time “to look into each other’s eyes.”

Vivid Gwede is a political analyst based in Harare.

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