News  Students ring in on Zimbabwean cholera epidemic

A booming voice at the Roddick Gates Tuesday announced that 80,000 lobsters had been ordered to celebrate President Robert Mugabe’s 85th birthday, while his people die of cholera.

The voice came from one of 50 students organized by Students Taking a Stand for Medicine and Peace, (STAMP) a grassroots organization of McGill medical students that arose spontaneously in the last two weeks.

STAMP member and McGill medical student Myrill Solaski explained that the organization staged the protest in direct response to the recent cholera epidemic

“Our focus is on medicine. It’s an awareness campaign to fight cholera, which is spreading through Zimbabwe and even across neighbouring borders.”

Over 3,000 Zimbabweans have died from cholera in an outbreak that began six months ago, and infection rates are now approaching 70,000. Treatment costs roughly ten cents per person per day, and consists of oral rehydration therapy – a simple water and salt (or sugar) combination.

In addition to raising awareness about the crisis and funds for Medecins Sans Frontieres’s immediate medical relief response, STAMP is also petitioning Stephen Harper to join the humanitarian response to the crisis.

STAMP’s petition describes the cholera crisis as a Man-Made disaster, fallout from the Zimbabwean government’s failure to serve its most basic state functions for its citizens, according to a report released by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). In their petition, STAMP claims “endless political neglect” is fuelling the crisis.

The list of collapsed systems in Zimbabwe is long: basic sanitation, clean water, and health services; the monetary and economic systems; the system of food supply; a free media; and not least of all, an accountable system of democratic governance.

Foreigners and Zimbabweans alike hope that a new government coalition will provoke response to the health crisis. Yesterday, Morgan Tsvangirai allied his political opponent, long-time President Mugabe, becoming Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, in a controversial and highly anticipated power-sharing arrangement. They have yet to settle the hotly contested ministerial divisions within the arrangement.

Zuwa Matondo, a Zimbabwean and U3 McGill Political Science and International Development Studies student present at the rally, warned against simplifying the problem in his country by blaming only Mugabe.

“The causal links are wrong or are incomplete. It is so frustrating as a young African to see what people here are told about Africa. It’s not as simple as pointing a finger at Mugabe.”

Matondo exclaimed, “What does little Mugabe have to do with thirteen million people [who live in Zimbabwe]?” He insisted that Zimbabwe’s economic and health problems can not be unequivocally linked to just one man.

President Mugabe has been in power since the nation declared independence from Britain in 1980. He has repeatedly been accused of corruption, thuggery, and violence.

Mugabe has vowed not to leave power until the land was reclaimed from the white, European settlers and returned to the black majority. Drastic land reforms pursued, which forced white farmers off the land they cultivated.

“There is no denying mismanagement,” Matondo explained, “But you cannot draw a simple causal line.” The spurious logic Matondo warned against says that if Mugabe vanished so too would the epidemic. Instead, Matondo pointed to geography climate, colonialism, and dictatorship, as factors in addition to the rule of Mugabe that have combined to create the cholera epidemic and poverty in Zimbabwe.

STAMP co-founder Hannah Thomas admitted, “We are ignorant of the larger political issues. There are a lot of factors responsible for the suffering of Zimbabweans.”