Of rats, fleas, and peoples: towards a history of bubonic plague in southern Africa, 1890-1950
PublisherUniversity of Botswana, Research and Development Unit / http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/africanjournals/browse.cfm?colid=12
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This paper examines the responses of colonial governments to outbreaks of bubonic plague in the interior, particularly that of the Bechuanaland Protectorate (Botswana) administration. Bubonic plague first reached Southern Africa through the seaports of Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, and Durban in 1900 at the height of the Anglo-Boer war of 1899- 1902. The dread disease found Southern Africa's ports, harbours and railway stations bursting at the seams with wartime commerce, and with an influx of refugees from the interior and large numbers of migrant labourers. From the ports, the plague spread to towns close to railway stations and finally into the interior where it caused havoc for the political economy of rural Southern Africa. Bubonic plague normally spreads as a disease among rodent populations living in the vicinity of human habitation. Fleas from dead rats if unable to find another rodent host begin to infest people instead. Bubonic plague became endemic in Southern Africa, and natural reservoirs of the malady still exist in the region.