Cholera: Govt or council to blame?

PEOPLE have been asking how it is even feasible that one can still die of a so-called medieval disease like cholera in the 21st Century in a supposedly modern city like Harare. The same Harare that is trying to vainly rebrand and position itself into a world-class city status by the year 2030. Harare has lofty ambitions to be spoken about in the same bracket as Vienna, Montreal, Sydney, London, Beijing, New York and other world class cities in a mere 12 years from now. Evidently, some slogans and mantras should be taken with a pinch of salt because they are just feel-good PC jingles which are not backed up by any serious intent. It’s obviously just another meaningless campaign to give the PR department something to do.

guest column: MIRIAM T MAJOME

Cholera is rightly called a medieval disease because it was prevalent in Europe and the Americas in the 19th Century. The advent of the industrial revolution led to the unprecedented population explosion in urban settlements. There was massive uncontrolled rural to urban migration, which resulted in more people living in towns and cities, something that had not been planned or designed to cope with the sudden influx of people. Like never before massive human populations began living together in very close proximity and sharing very limited rudimentary sanitary facilities.
Running water had not yet been invented or sewerage systems properly designed for urban settlements or proper sanitation and hygienic systems established. The overcrowded and cramped human settlements encouraged unhygienic conditions which provided fertile breeding ground for germs and germ carriers like rats and flies. The working class continued to flood towns and cities regardless of the lurking dangers to look for work and economic opportunities. Scant regard was paid to health, living conditions or sanitation so soon enough diseases like cholera, typhoid and other plagues developed and spread rapidly, killing rich and poor people indiscriminately. Germs could not and still cannot be confined to less affluent areas because flies and rats are equal opportunity vectors. Vermin does not care about social status and other such frivolous human vanities.

This is the only reason there is always such a high-level fuss when deadly infectious diseases strike within close human settlements. It is the only time you see kings and queens, high-ranking ministers, mayors and other very important people running around and working round the clock because they do not want to catch poor peoples’ bugs and die. Rich people never all of a sudden start caring for poor people without a selfish motive. The well-to-do are educated and know better than anyone else that flies and rats do not respect the invisible borders that separate the northern suburbs where they live and the southern suburbs where the rest of the population lives and is where poor peoples’ diseases like cholera and typhoid start. They know too well that when underground water is contaminated with fecal matter in Glen View it is only a matter of time before that poor water blends with their rich water in Umwinsidale. It was reported that the broken sewer pipes which had troubled Glen View residents for weeks on end were repaired within hours of the cholera scourge hitting the headlines. It took only an invisible microscopic germ called vibrio cholerae to get the attention of the important people in government and snap them into immediate action because they did not want their children catching a poor man’s disease. Even mounds of months of uncollected garbage around the city are disappearing like magic. As somebody correctly tweeted, cholera, indeed, is the best ever health services manager.

Politicians have been tripping over each other, dressed to the kilt in raincoats to visit cholera patients and grab photoshoots in order to score points of who the most compassionate and responsive is of them. One of the first public acts the newly appointed Minister of Health Obadiah Moyo did was to tour Glen View and Budiriro suburbs, which have been officially pinpointed as the areas of origin of the cholera bug. He minced no words when he laid the blame squarely on the City of Harare. He blamed Harare Municipality for having allowed the disease to develop by not attending to the broken sewer pipes and the raw sewage flowing freely in the streets. The newly-appointed Harare mayor councillor Herbert Gomba quickly returned the blame back to the sender. He blamed the central government, accusing it of refusing to provide the council with adequate finances to run the city’s affairs. Meanwhile, as the big fish fight among themselves as usual and shirk responsibility, the residents continue to die like fleas — victims of inept politicians who do not do their jobs as they should. But who has not been doing their job between the council and the minister? The cholera epidemic needs to be considered in its legal context and see what protection and remedies the law provides. Is there any legal recourse available when the authorities entrusted with ensuring public health are so remiss in their responsibilities and fail the public so irredeemably?

According to Part II Section 3 of the Public Health Act, Chapter 15;09, the Ministry of Health is the responsible authority for public health in the entire country. The Ministry of Health is charged with preventing and guarding against the introduction of disease from outside the country and the promotion of public health and the prevention, limitation or suppression of infectious and contagious diseases within Zimbabwe. It is the Ministry of Health that is squarely in charge of all public health matters. It is, therefore, correct to say that the Ministry of Health did not do its job and is to blame for the more than 4 000 people who died of cholera in 2008 and the 25 people who have died so far this year.

The Ministry may delegate its responsibility through the various structures of government and local government, but the buck stops with it so the minister has no leg to stand on to blame the councils. The Harare City’s failings are ultimately the Ministry of Health’s failings. It is not as if the council’s health department has its own health policy, which is independent and separate from the central government’s, if at all the government has any public health policy.

The ministry’s stated responsibilities in the Act are to advise and assist local authorities in regard to matters affecting public health and promote and conduct research and investigations in connection with the prevention or treatment of human diseases. The ministry also has to publish reports and statistics or other information relative to the public health and to administer the provisions of the Public Health Act.

Notwithstanding the provisions of the Act, the power tussles and political manoeuvring between the Zanu PF-controlled central government and the MDC Alliance-controlled urban councils are well known. For years, MDC-T councils have fought for power and control of their local budgets and operations with then Zanu PF Local Government ministers Ignatius Chombo and later with Saviour Kasukuwere. The fights were never for the benefit of the residents as the culmination of their long years of fighting since the year 2000 now clearly show. The result of their fights is the parlous state of the public health system which is completely neglected, underfunded and a total shambles. The roots are judged best by their fruits. All the years of Chombo and Kasukuwere fighting MDC-T councils have culminated in this present problem, which first manifested in 2008 and now in 2018. While the fighting for control of urban councils was happening, the Ministry of Health was fiddling and snoozing in blissful indifference. It has only been wakened from its slumber now by a microscopic bacterium which has the potential to wipe out half of Harare’s population within weeks.

 Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer and teacher. She writes in her personal capacity and can be contacted on enquiries@legalpractitioners.org

10 Comments

  1. Both are to blame Blame with more blameworth going to Government rather than Council as the problems afflicting the country start and finish at the door step of the government in power.

  2. well I think we are failing to understand that cholera is just a symptom of poor governance the Ministry of Health might have been sleeping but where are the city engineers they ought to be improving the sewer system for it cope with increased flow, where is the adequate water for the people….Zimbabwe used to have standards were construction of house could not precede servicing of stands…but look at all the new suburbs vanhu varikuvaka pasina mvura and sewer system….My question then, is this the responsibility of Min of Health? and answer is NO…Min of Health is responding to the failures of Min of Local Government and the councils

  3. Its easier to blame local councils but what is the national government doing to improve health delivery systems. Everything is broken down because the national government is broke and all it can do is point fingers. Its very difficult for local governments to operate efficiently in the midst of chaos.

  4. Your Name (required): Special Black

    We dont blame sanctions because they are our source of power. We play around with peoples lives because of power. We claim to fear God but we dont, we kill. Now to ZEDERA crafters, if you fear God repent now, denounce and remove them. This problem started in 2000 not 1980. Those who say 1980 are those we defeated. Blame sanctions that caused closure of companies. Farai henyu nokuti hamusati mafirwa nehama.

  5. I grew up in Rhodesia, cholera never killed so many people from 1920 to 1979 than it has the last week.

  6. VHURAI MESO, CHOLERA AFTER 2008 ELECTIONS, CHOLERA AFTER 2018 ELECTIONS, ALL AFTER MDC TSVANGIRAI AND CHAMISA DISPUTED THE ELECTION RESULTS.SABOTAGE SABOTAGE, WHY NOT ANY OTHER YEAR????????

  7. Bvunzai Chamisa ne MDC-A. Its their creation to try and discredit ED.

  8. Ko since 1980 maLocal Govt Ministers aimboiteiko zvomongobongomora ruzha rwema COUNSILORS atadza, maWaterpipe aSmith avakuputika manje, The likes of CHOMBO busy looting and Govt was just watching

    Kana maCounsilor atadza Govt inopeta muswe hanti!

  9. I HAVE ALWAYS SAID AND WILL CONTINUE TO SAY ONLY THE POOR MAN FEEL IT!!!

  10. Your Name (required):Special Black

    Takangai maziva kuti basa raminister of local gvt nderei, remacouncillors ne nema meyor nderei mozotanga kutaura. ZvaSmith its for those who steal dream, they will go back to colonial days where they failed to own houses, go to school, buy cars and set a foot in first street. If you did not see what happened from 1980 to date then you are not a Zimbabwean. When we fought for the liberation of this country. Did you not hear ku Con court vana vachidambura chirungu kwete chedu chekukiyakiya, vana Mpofu, Uriri

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