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The IoS Christmas Appeal: Mugabe tightens grip as cholera epidemic grows

With Zimbabwe ravaged by a disease it is ill-equipped to tackle, its President is ignoring last year's deal with the opposition and putting together a new government

Ignoring a worsening cholera epidemic, economic collapse and a power-sharing agreement signed in September, President Robert Mugabe is starting to form a new government in Zimbabwe without the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), according to state media.

Mr Mugabe has cleared the way for a new cabinet by firing a dozen ministers and their deputies, all from his Zanu-PF party, who lost their seats in the parliamentary election last March, according to the state-owned Herald newspaper. It quoted the presidential spokesman, George Charamba, yesterday as saying: "President Mugabe has already started preparing an administration." But Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, who is supposed to become Prime Minister under the deal signed on 15 September, refuses to take office until more talks are held on the allocation of cabinet posts. The opposition party wants the Home Ministry, which controls the police, but has been offered only minor posts.

The US says it will no longer support a unity government headed by Mr Mugabe, while Britain has called for him to step down. And as the wrangling continues with Mr Tsvangirai, who has spent most of the past few weeks in Botswana, Zimbabwe has descended into further misery.

All of the country's 10 provinces are now affected by an accelerating cholera outbreak, with nearly 1,000 new cases reported on 31 December alone, bringing the total to more than 32,000. Last week the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported 1,608 deaths from cholera, but many suspect the toll is far higher. The disintegration of Zimbabwe's health service is such that it is feared large numbers of people are dying beyond the reach of treatment, and the rainy season could spread the epidemic further, according to a senior international Red Cross official.

Quoting WHO estimates that the number of cholera cases and deaths could double to 60,000 and 3,000 respectively over the next three months, Françoise Le Goff of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said: "The worst could be heavy rains, causing not only this cholera to spread, but floods. It means that the water level will cover the fields, that the crops are destroyed, that people cannot travel or we cannot have access to the area."

One aid worker described the situation at a remote clinic in an area that has had 283 cholera cases and 16 deaths. "All 22 new cases are from one village, which has no toilets," she said. "The borehole is not working, so people are using unprotected water sources. There is no road between the village and the health centre, and a river is flooded by the rain, preventing cholera victims being moved to the clinic." Save the Children helped to transport three critical cases, but the rest were being treated on the spot, posing a threat to the rest of the village. Only one health worker out of four was on duty, because they had not been paid and could find no food.

The Independent on Sunday Christmas Appeal has raised £44,738 to date for the work of Save the Children in Zimbabwe, and we thank all our readers for their generosity. We will publish the final total when it becomes available later this month.

The appeal is now closed, but donations to Save the Children can still be made by clicking here