Typhoid: Stop politicking over dead bodies

THE banning of food vending by the Harare City Council in a bid to contain a typhoid outbreak that has claimed at least two lives is yet another classic case of shutting the stable door when the horse has well and truly bolted.

Editor’s Memo,Faith Zaba
fzaba@zimind.co.zw

Council this week issued a 48-hour ultimatum to food vendors operating in the city centre to “cease operations”.

This has unsurprisingly been met with strong resistance from the vendors as it is their only livelihood.

Any ban on street vending is akin to cutting off the oxygen supply lines of poor families. It is not the answer.

Every year Zimbabwe suffers outbreaks of water-borne diseases like cholera and typhoid. Almost 49 years after the Alma-Ata Declaration of 1978, which emerged as a major milestone of the 20th Century in the field of public health, and identified primary healthcare as the key to the attainment of the goal of health for all, Zimbabwe is still struggling to contain primitive diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

Just as in 2008 when a cholera outbreak claimed at least 4 000 lives, the authorities have been caught napping this time round.

The typhoid outbreak occurs at a time when the city council is enmeshed in a showdown with Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere over the appointment of the city’s town clerk that resulted in the suspension of Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni, at the expense of service delivery.

As has become the norm, the two parties are blaming each other for the outbreak. Kasukuwere has blamed the MDC-T-run council for focusing on self-enrichment and corruption abandoning its mandate of service delivery for the city’s residents while Manyenyeni has blamed Kasukuwere for constantly interfering in the running of council affairs.

Unfortunately, the finger-pointing will not bring back the lives lost due to the typhoid outbreak as a result of the disgraceful negligence by both the city council and government. The laying of blame will not bring about measures to effectively curb the spread of these primitive diseases.

There is no saint between government and the local authorities. They are all to blame and they should stop politicking over dead bodies. The residential flats in Harare’s oldest high-density suburb, Mbare, continue to be a breeding ground of disease with sewer reticulation and garbage collection almost non-existent, a situation that has persisted for decades.

The government has failed to address the problems in Mbare and other poor suburbs around the country, which include overcrowding brought about by its failure to provide affordable housing and redevelop houses in the county’s old locations built during the colonial era.

Mbare’s 58 one-roomed dilapidated, filthy and congested hostels, built in the 1940s to house black migrant male workers, are now occupied by married couples and whole families. What happened to government’s plans announced by then local government minister Ignatius Chombo to demolish the flats and construct decent dwellings?

The typhoid outbreak is just a reflection of the broader policy failure by government. It is an indication of the decay of the economy and infrastructure under President Robert Mugabe’s rule over the past 36 years.

The squalor and filth in Mbare provides a microcosmic view of the state of affairs in the country, which was once regarded the breadbasket of southern African and whose capital city, Harare, was referred to as the Sunshine City in the 1980s and 1990s. Then, it was an orderly city of well-maintained roads, bright street lights and clean running water. Harare was once regarded as one of the most developed post-colonial cities in Africa. One of reasons was because of its cleanliness, beauty and all-round orderliness.

But now because of government and the local authority’s failures, litter is strewn all over the city. Burst water pipes, potholed streets and raw sewage flowing in the streets add to the general impression of dilapidation and decay that pervades most cities and towns in Zimbabwe.

While the government is to blame for the debilitating economic malaise, which has condemned the majority of Zimbabweans to poverty and turned most of its people into vendors, local authorities must also shoulder the blame.

They are failing to keep the streets clean, provide clean water and a working sewer reticulation system and proper drainage systems. They are also embroiled in corruption.

Unless and until government and the city councils put aside their squabbles and attempts at scoring cheap political points, the current tragedy will only recur with probably even more devastating consequences.