The Political Life of an Epidemic

Cholera, Crisis and Citizenship in Zimbabwe

Simukai Chigudu



Zimbabwe's catastrophic cholera outbreak of 2008–9 saw an unprecedented number of people affected, with 100,000 cases and nearly 5,000 deaths. Cholera, however, was much more than a public health crisis: it represented the nadir of the country's deepening political and economic crisis of 2008. This study focuses on the political life of the cholera epidemic, tracing the historical origins of the outbreak, examining the social pattern of its unfolding and impact, analysing the institutional and communal responses to the disease, and marking the effects of its aftermath. Simukai Chigudu reveals how this epidemic of a preventable disease had profound implications for political institutions and citizenship in Zimbabwe.


[Chigudu] has captured perfectly the political trajectory of a tragedy that formed not only political discourse but political subjectivities - reflected in the rich testimonies he has gathered. It is a book rich in its detail, ultimately bleak, and helps us understand the political condition of Zimbabwe. - Stephen Chan


Simukai Chigudu is Associate Professor of African Politics and Fellow of St Antony's College. He is principally interested in the social politics of inequality in Africa, which he examines using disease, public health, violence, and social suffering as organising frameworks for both historical and contemporary case studies.