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date: 19 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic of 2008/09 is almost unrivalled, in scale and lethality, in the modern history of the disease. The disease infected nearly 100,000 people, claiming over 4000 lives over a ten-month period. This chapter examines the political and economic origins of the outbreak and analyses some of the meanings, memories, and narratives that the outbreak has left in civic life. It makes three key arguments. First, it contends that the origins, scale, and impact of the cholera outbreak were overdetermined by a multilevel failure of Zimbabwe’s public health system, itself a consequence of the country’s post-2000 political conflicts and economic crisis. Second, by recounting stories of the relentless suffering and dispossession that accompanied the cholera outbreak the chapter reveals how the disease mapped onto and exacerbated the contours of abandonment, abjection, and exclusion within Zimbabwean society. Third, the chapter ultimately argues that cholera emerged from prolonged and multiscalar political-economic processes for which no short-term or easy solutions are available. While the outbreak aroused public anger and outrage at the government for its causal role in the epidemic and the inadequacy of its relief efforts, this anger did not translate into any effective political mobilization or permanent change. Thus, the politics of cholera, in its making and aftermath, show the grim and profound consequences of state transformation for public health and for notions of belonging in the body politic.

Keywords: cholera, crisis, state transformation, public health, health system, political economy, water, infrastructure, malnutrition, hyperinflation

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