Page last updated at 16:23 GMT, Monday, 8 December 2008

South Africa fears cholera spread

As Zimbabweans flee a cholera crisis that has killed at least 600 people, the BBC's Jonah Fisher visits a South African border town where officials fear an outbreak of the disease is imminent.

A Zimbabwean family wait a camp in Musina, South Africa (16/09/2008)

There are not many refugee camps where money litters the floor, but you do not have to look far at the showground in the border town of Musina.

Fragments of worthless 50,000 and 100,000 Zimbabwe dollar notes are everywhere, constant reminders of the hyper-inflation which has accompanied the country's collapse.

Strictly speaking, this is not a refugee camp.

The South African government has stopped tents being put up, and is determined to keep the barbed wire fence across its land as merely a processing point.

But most of the Zimbabweans in the camp say they have been here at least two weeks, sleeping in the open while they wait for their asylum claims to be processed.

Sakilo Laliso is the South African in charge of the showground.

With parts of the site stinking of urine, he is extremely concerned about the spread of cholera.

We had three months without tap water, my stepfather was sick, and only survived after being put on nine drips
Zimbabwean refugee

"They sleep here, they bathe here, they do everything here," he tells me.

"The risk of spreading cholera is very high."

So far there have been eight deaths from cholera in Musina, much less than the official figure of about 600 in the whole of Zimbabwe.

"I think it's going to get worse," Kgetsa Nare, from the South African Red Cross, said.

"We've got between 500 and 1,000 people crossing every day, and most of them are sick, many with cholera."

'No water'

All of the Zimbabweans, whether crushed together queuing for their documents or trying to find a small patch of shade in the midday sun, had stories of a country brought to its knees.

A man uses a water point in a camp in Musina, South Africa (25/11/2008)
Unsanitary conditions have led to fears of further cholera outbreaks
"I stayed in Harare for the last three weeks," one man told me.

"They were handing out safe water every day, you couldn't get it from the tap.

"We had three months without tap water, my stepfather was sick, and only survived after being put on nine drips."

"There's no food and there is no water," Mary, from Kwekwe, said from behind the barbed wire fence.

"There is cholera and there is no tablets, and some of the hospitals are closed."

Perhaps surprisingly, the man the West sees as the root of Zimbabwe's many problems was not the subject of much conversation.

Most people just shrugged their shoulders and said they did not want to talk politics when Robert Mugabe's name was brought up.

"If he leaves I will become happy," Macdonald Tinashe, a 19-year-old, told me, "because it is not a government that can rule the people.

"I want him to leave and make the people free."

Everyone, no matter how desperate, wants to look their best
Aid volunteer

A pick-up truck pulled up with a South African pastor in the front and four Zimbabweans behind.

The back of the vehicle was filled, half with sliced loaves of bread, and the rest with bags of clothes. They had been collected by the local churches.

"We'll be handing out five slices each," one of the Zimbabweans said. "We volunteered to help the pastor give it out."

I had a rummage in one of the clothes bags and pulled out a garishly coloured tie.

What will these people do with a tie, I asked them.

"Everyone, no matter how desperate, wants to look their best," was the reply.

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