Since August, Zimbabwe has suffered from a cholera outbreak that to date has killed 3,000 people and infected nearly 60,000 more. In the Western world, cholera outbreaks are rare thanks to the implementation of proper sanitation standards, including water purification and sewage treatment. In fact, the last outbreak in the United States occurred over 100 years ago. Despite the past dangers of the disease, today, cholera is generally considered easily preventable and non-threatening.
So how is it that a disease wiped out in the Western world is now wiping out Zimbabweans by the thousands?
Once considered the breadbasket of Africa, Zimbabwe has declined precipitously to a state of economic collapse and civil unrest under the disastrous and dictatorial rule of Robert Mugabe. Through the implementation of a land seizure and redistribution plan initiated in 2000, the government has forcibly confiscated white-owned farmland without compensation and handed the loot over to black citizens. The resultant collapse of agriculture has permeated the rest of the economy, destroying jobs, causing food shortages, and sparking civil unrest. In the face of such devastation, the government has been making things even worse through hyperinflation of the currency, printing 100-trillion-dollar notes to finance government spending while setting price ceilings on those goods still available. Amidst economic ruin, widespread violence and mass starvation, it is unsurprising that the country’s waste disposal system has also collapsed, leading to widespread contamination of the water supply with cholera bacteria.
This deliberate and wide-scale violation of property rights under the Mugabe regime has made life completely unviable in Zimbabwe. To wit, in the span of less than two decades, the average lifespan has dropped from 60 years to 37 for men and 34 for women—the lowest life expectancy in the world. This is the inevitable logical outcome of such pervasive rights violations. As Ayn Rand aptly noted,
“Man has to work and produce in order to support his life. He has to support his life by his own effort and by the guidance of his own mind. If he cannot dispose of the product of his effort, he cannot dispose of his effort; if he cannot dispose of his effort, he cannot dispose of his life. Without property rights, no other rights can be practiced.”
By disposing of property rights, Robert Mugabe has created a situation in which it is impossible for Zimbabweans to produce everything from food to the basic sanitation chemicals and equipment that could have easily prevented the cholera outbreak. Until Zimbabwe’s dictatorial regime is overthrown and property rights are restored, this outbreak will be merely one more link in the long chain of events that follows the total abrogation of individual rights.