This paper aims to understand the value of collaboration in a ‘state of emergency’ situation, featuring the case of the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector in Zimbabwe over the period 2008–2012. During this period, a group of stakeholders engaged in a structured collaboration, called the WASH cluster. This initiative was taken to respond to severe and frequent cholera outbreaks. Over these 5 years, the collaborating partners engaged in a voluntary partnership, which attracted attention due to the ascribed improvements of some key health indicators. Drawing from the body of literature on collaboration, the research confirms the applicability of findings on both the process and key features of successful collaboration and was able to position the evolution of the Zimbabwean case in the continuum of collaboration arrangements proposed in the literature. Likewise, the specific sequencing and causality of steps in the creation and development of the Zimbabwean WASH cluster were found to match those of the collaborative pathway. Finally, the findings confirm the general applicability of principles of collaboration, although the evaluation of its outcomes poses challenges. In addition, the research found that inasmuch as prominent leaders enhance collaboration, leadership by permanent government bodies promotes sustainability of the collaborative approach.