The modern city of Harare has descended into hell as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse have descended into Zimbabwe.

The traditional four horsemen are war, anarchy, famine and disease.

War? Not a war so much as Mugabe using his henchmen to destroy his enemies. Harare has seen riots of soldiers in the capital, terror by the military, police and “green bomber” militias in rural areas, and destruction of civilian housing two years ago to punish those who didn’t vote correctly in “operation take out the trash”. Then there were the pro MDC voters beaten and threatened in “operation place your x”, and now there is the open kidnapping of opposition leaders.

The latest rumors are that the 78 miners killed at a diamond mine were killed not by an accident but when landlords and the military attacked the illegal miners.

Anarchy? Well, how else can you describe a country where money is worthless, the schools don’t open, the hospitals lack medicine and people to help the sick, and where basic services such as water and sewage have stopped?

Famine? The rains are late again. This shouldn’t bother a country if irrigation, modern hybrid seeds, tractors or handplows, and fertilizer were available. However, even though the small farmers who benefitted from land reform have been productive, the failure of the government to support them with roads (to export grain and import seed) fertilizer and irrigation means that these farms produce less than the previous larger farms. To make things worse, much of the confiscated land goes not to the workers of the land, but to government cronies of Mugabe and is not being utilized at all.

The collapse of the economy means that many of those with education have fled to other countries in order to support their families, leaving behind the young, the old, the pregnant, the less educated, and the sick.

The obscene inflation rate means salaries are worthless; instead, there is a thriving black market in exchanging foreign currency and many live off of subsidies by overseas relatives, by bartering personal items, or get groceries by taking the bus to grocery stores in nearby countries.

But when you combine no money to pay doctors and nurses, no money to repair sewer systems or buy chemicals for water processing, and poorly nourished people, it is just a matter of time until disease hits.

The UN has a time line on the problem:

2004 – Interruptions in reticulated water supplies, burst sewage pipes and contaminated reservoirs are blamed for an outbreak that kills 40 people and infects 900 others.

2005 – About 14 recorded deaths and a further 203 infected during the low-risk months from May to June. Shortages of medicines hamper treatment.

2006 – Civic organisations in the capital, Harare, warn of a “cholera time-bomb” after an outbreak in March kills 27 people; refuse collection is poor and burst sewage pipes remain unrepaired. Government dismisses the concerns of civil society.

2007 – February – Erratic reticulated water supplies are blamed for an outbreak in Harare that kills three people and infects another 19.

2007 – August – Reports that the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) has dumped raw sewage into Lake Chivero, Harare’s main water supply source. Public clinics report they are treating about 900 cases of diarrhoea daily. Burst sewage pipes remain unrepaired.

2007 – September – Severe water shortages in Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo, with about 400 people treated for cholera and dysentery. About 40 cases reported in Harare. Residents dig shallow wells as erratic water supplies continue. Hygiene and sanitation become increasingly compromised.

In other words, the problem has been known for years.

We are not talking about a country who is starting from scratch trying to establish sanitation, nor are we talking about refugee camps, where the huge influx of people stress the limited supplies. We are talking about a country that had a healthy infrastructure, but has allowed it to disintegrate.

Ah, but the government lacked money, and it’s due to the sanctions, right?

Except that there was money for Mugabe to hold a lavish birthday party for himself every year, and for his wife Grace to spend on goodies like Ferragamo shoes.

At the same time, his cronies are hiding millions of dollars in foreign banks. (the Pope’s recent condemnation of banks and greed was misreported and ridiculed; Pope Benedict was referring to politicians and businessmen in many countries who make money from bribes and kickbacks, and  the banks that assist politicians in this type of plunder and hide money from criminals in order to make a dollar).

The bad thing is that it is not Mugabe and Mbeki who will suffer from the collapse of Zimbabwe, but ordinary Zimbabweans—and if the cholera spreads, as feared, ordinary citizens of South Africa, Botswana and Zambia.

I am religious enough to hope there is a place in the Inferno for those who are behind the collapse of Zimbabwe, starting with Mugabe; and a lot of the blame has to go to South Africa’s former president Mbeki, who as president protected Mugabe from reprisals, and later, under the guise of “negotiations” and “peaceful settlement” has been allowing Mugabe to get away with murder.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines. Her website is Makaipa Blog.

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