A spokesman for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said Friday through state media that the embattled head of state was employing sarcasm in replying to his Western opponents on Thursday when he said "there is no cholera" in the Southern African country.
The statement by presidential spokesman George Charamba published in the state-controlled Herald newspaper was an unusual indication that Mr. Mugabe and his entourage were in the least heedful of international opinion. The president's comments sparked outrage as the epidemic death toll approached 800 amid signs it was spreading and worsening.
Charamba said Mr. Mugabe had intended to highlight the “absurdity” of what he charges are Western plans to invade Zimbabwe to re-establish colonial rule.
Mr. Mugabe said the cholera epidemic has been brought under control – an assessment health experts contradicted Friday, warning that it could rage for months.
Neighboring countries including South Africa and Zambia are on alert.
\Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change formation headed by Morgan Tsvangirai told VOA that Mr. Mugabe was in "denial mode."
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon weighed in on the firestorm generated by Mr. Mugabe’s comment, telling journalists his experts say the epidemic is continuing.
Even as Charamba seemed to be walking back Mr. Mugabe's comments, another official upped the ante in the war of words with Britain. Information minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu accused the United Kingdom of planting cholera in Zimbabwe to justify U.N. intervention.
Ndlovu said Prime Minister Gordon Brown, not Zimbabwe, should be brought before the U.N. Security Council, denouncing what he called “gunboat” Western media which he accused of passing off photos of victims from other African countries as Zimbabweans.
Ndlovu told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he had evidence to back up his claim but that he was not willing to share it with foreign media.
Political analyst Glen Mpani of Cape Town, South Africa, said the minister’s comments show Harare is losing control as the disease clearly reflects the failure of leadership.