HARARE, December 11 – Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe said Thursday a cholera epidemic has ended, even as the United Nations said more people have died and South Africa declared a disaster on its border because of the disease.,
"I am happy to say our doctors have been assisted by others, and WHO (the World Health Organization) and they have now arrested cholera," he said in a nationally broadcast speech.
He also denounced calls by Prime Minister Gordon Brown of former colonial power Britain, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US President George W. Bush for him to step down, accusing them of plotting to invade his country.
"Because of cholera, Mr Brown, Mr Sarkozy and Mr Bush want military intervention. Now that there is no cholera, there is no need for war," he said.
"The cholera cause doesn’t exist any more," he added.
Shortly after Mugabe spoke, the UN’s humanitarian arm OCHA said the death toll had risen overnight to 783 with more than 16,000 cases reported.
UN agencies have warned that the disease could afflict up to 60,000 people in the coming weeks.
With hundreds of people fleeing Zimbabwe to seek treatment for the deadly but curable disease, South Africa on Thursday declared a disaster area along its border.
So far 10 people have died of cholera in South Africa, and the number of Zimbabweans coming in search of medical care is straining the resources in Limpopo province, a government official said.
"The provincial government took a decision that the whole of the Vhembe district should be declared a disaster area," northern Limpopo provincial government spokesman Mogale Nchabeleng told AFP.
The Vhembe district includes Musina, a bustling town at the 24-hour border crossing between South Africa and the cholera-hit town of Beitbridge in Zimbabwe.
The disaster status frees up funding and helps focus relief efforts, Nchabeleng said.
"It helps to cut on government bureaucracy and speed up the pace of the response," he said. "The sooner you come in, the better. It’s under control but we would not want to leave to chance.
"These people come in infected and have to be treated. That has been a strain on the capacity of our health infrastructure to respond."
Nearly 700 cholera cases have been treated in South Africa, according to local health officials, but the disease is only one of the troubles pushing Zimbabweans to flee Mugabe’s rule.
Nearly half of Zimbabwe’s people need emergency food aid to survive crushing shortages across the country, according to the United Nations.
The once-vibrant economy is in tatters with 80 percent of the population in poverty and struggling to survive under the world’s highest inflation rate, last estimated at 231 million percent in July.
Amid growing calls for Mugabe to resign, South Africa’s ruling African National Congress said it believed the 84-year-old could be persuaded to retire.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe brushed off suggestions that Mugabe could only be forced to resign through a military invasion, saying: "I don’t think invading Zimbabwe or sanctions would work."
"What will we do to make Mugabe retire? We will persuade him," Mantashe said, according to SAPA news agency.
The cholera epidemic has highlighted the collapse of even basic services in Zimbabwe, where running water is spotty and broken sewage pipes lie leaking in the streets.
Aid agencies warn that Zimbabwe’s cholera crisis is spreading to neighbouring countries, and the region’s shared waterway, the Limpopo River, has tested positive for the disease.