Poverty Responsible for Alarming School Dropouts African Church Information Service September 9, 2002 Posted to the web September 9, 2002 By Hobbs Gama WithMessage 1 of 1046 , Sep 10, 2002View SourcePoverty Responsible for Alarming School Dropouts
African Church Information Service
September 9, 2002
Posted to the web September 9, 2002
By Hobbs Gama
With pupils limping to school on empty stomachs and dressed in
tatters, Malawi may not realise her ambition to increase the number of
citizens who are able to read and write. Experts have always pointed
at poverty as the main reason for escalating rate of school drop outs.
Many of the children are absorbed in the child labour market to help
their poor families earn additional incomes finance basic
The situation is a desperate reality of poverty. There are many pupils
going to school on empty stomachs and dressed in tatters.
Considering such widespread helplessness, the future may not be
bright for Malawi's literacy programmes.
The admnistration of President Bakili Muluzi launched the donor
funded free primary school education programme but hunger and
poverty are frustrating the war against illiteracy.
The southern African country which is one of the hardest hunger hit in
the region alongside Zambia, Mozambique and Swaziland, has up to
70 percent of its population suffering acute hunger due to poor
the past few years.
Malawi, which is importing maize from neighbouring countries, has a
600,000 metric tonnes food shortfall at a time when aid agencies
estimate that 65 percent of the 12 million population live below the
poverty line. Life expectancy has since dropped to 43 years.
Out of a total 1.2 million pupils who registered for grade one at the
onset of the free primary education, only 300,000 have made it to
grade eight, the last class at primary (elementary) school while the
have dropped out.
This was the sad revelation made recently by the Ministry of Education
to UNICEF executive director, Carol Bellamy who visited Malawi.
The director for basic education in the Ministry of Education, Joseph
Matola told the global child welfare body that government attributed
alarming dropout rate to, to among other things, lack of classrooms,
desks, poor quality of teachers, the HIV/AIDS scourge and the onset
of the hunger crisis.
"Most of the children come to school without food, they have no
and most of them have ended up selling commodities on the streets
and some may even have commercial sex workers," complained
He said this at Ndirande township, in the highly-populated country's
commercial city of Blantyre. Ndirande Hill Primary School has only 20
classrooms while a 100 classes take place in the open. The school
has 2,600 orphans.
Bellamy, while assuring her organisation's support in such areas as
providing of learning materials, maintenance of school structures and
teacher training, said UNICEF is already undertaking supplementary
and therapeutic feeding for the most under nourished children. The
initiatives seeks to keep children in school.
"It would be a shame for Malawi to fall back in terms of the work
already done where more children were going to school. We think if
you lose a generation from school you won't have the kind of future
leaders you need in the country," said Bellamy.
Experts have always pointed at poverty as the main reason for
escalating rate of drop outs. Many of the children are forced into
labour to help their poor families earn supplementary incomes for
Orphans, children from women-headed homes and destitutes fall easy
pray to child labour. The government of Malawi has since embarked
moves to enact favourable legislation to eliminate the exploitation of
children in homes, tea and tobacco estates and all other work places.
Tobacco growing countries are up in arms to fight the lobby which they
deem threatens the future of their tobacco dependent economies. As
for Malawi, 75 percent of foreign exchange earnings come from
tobacco exports. Lately, there have been mounting collaboration to
check the evil which retards children's development.
There are, of course, additional efforts. Four tobacco exporting
companies in the country - African Leaf, Limbe Leaf, Dimon and
Stancom Tobacco - have teamed up to eliminate child labour in the
tobacco growing districts through a programme called Tobacco
Exporters Children Service TECS introduced last July.
Funded by the Geneva-based organisation, the Elimination of Child
Labour in Tobacco ECLT, the project will run for four years covering
60 villages in two target districts of Kasungu and Dowa, central
Malawi. A survey by the four organisations revealed the problem of
child exploitation was serious in the districts.
TECS project manager Limbani Kakhome says they intend to combat
child labour through four interventions - the provision of quality
education, food security, safe water and health to children.
The four components are to be implemented by four non-governmental
organisations. Creative Centre for Community Mobilisation (Crecom)
will be responsible for education, Livingstonia and Nkhoma Synods of
the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) church will carry out
the safe water component while Total Care will take care of food
"Once children have adequate food, travel short distances to school,
have access to safe water source and hospital, child labour will be
combated," enthused Kakhome adding that a recent survey carried by
organisations involved showed that child labour was mainly caused
directly or indirectly by by the four components covered in the
Child labour is rampant because most children drop out of school due
to shortage of food, because they are assigned to draw water from
distant sources or because of inadequate health facilities.
Western countries, especially the Nordic region, have been lobbying
their governments to ban Malawi's tobacco exports to Western
markets unless the problem of child labour was tackled.
This stand was supported by the International Labour Organisation ILO
to impose sanctions on products of countries that exploit child labour
to produce them.
There is more action. The World Health Organisation WHO is also
pushing for a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control FCTC
which seeks to ban tobacco growing and advertising.
Tobacco growing countries are up in arms to fight the lobby which they
deem threatens the future of their tobacco dependent economies. As
for Malawi, 75 percent of foreign exchange earnings come from
Lately, there have been mounting collaboration to check the evil which
retards children's development. Observers say although it is a tough
undertaking, Africa and the developing world is reminded, despite
widespread poverty to consider the future of the defenceless children.
Food Crisis Could Worsen
UN Integrated Regional Information
September 9, 2002
Posted to the web September 9, 2002
Malawi's food shortages could worsen as it is likely that the winter
harvest will fall short of expectations, humanitarian agencies have
In its latest report, the United States' Office of Foreign Disaster
Assistance (OFDA) warned that "since agricultural inputs were
distributed late in the planting season, the winter harvest will not
the expected 140,000 mt".
The World Food Programme (WFP) says about 3.2 million people will
require food aid to survive until March next year.
A shortfall in the winter harvest of smallholder or subsistence
would mean more people in need, WFP's spokeswoman,
Chigomezgo Mtegha, told IRIN.
"What would have been harvested would have carried many
households until April next year. A poor harvest, or [for some] no
harvest at all means households will have no food," Mtegha said.
The WFP had yet to see definitive figures on what the winter harvest
shortfall would be.
"[The government] was giving out a major starter pack to about three
million people, under the targeted inputs programme [TIP]. This
included a packet of seeds, of maize and legumes, and fertiliser given
to needy smallholder farmers.
"What is very evident is that the [cereal production] target has not
met, this has serious implications on how people are going to cope
over the coming months," Mtegha noted.
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Representative in Malawi
Louise Setshwaelo, said the main reason the winter crop was likely to
fall short was the lack of residual moisture in the soil.
"In the first place there was very little rainfall [during the rainy
which ended in April] and the moisture that was available was not as
much as you would have had during a normal cropping season. I was
in the field last week and some of the crops were actually wilting.
There are farmers who are irrigating using watering cans, buckets and
treadle pumps, and their crops are doing very well because they are
being irrigated," Setshwaelo said.
The winter TIP was an emergency intervention in the face of the
"Normally the inputs are not distributed for winter cropping, it's
because of the current crisis that government decided to have a winter
TIP which was supported by the EU, DFID [UK Department For
International Development] and FAO," she noted.
FAO distributed to 50,000 households.
"Our distribution started in July and we estimate that 60 percent of
beneficiaries did plant crops. Of the remaining 40 percent, we know
that some of the farmers have actually retained the seed to use it
during the main cropping season which is October, November,
December. So it has not been a waste," Setshwaelo said.
Beware the 'people's storm' says
Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai
warned on Monday of a
gathering "people's storm" that would battle what he
called President Robert
In a speech to about 1 000 cheering supporters in a
Harare hotel, Tsvangirai
called for an alliance of pro-democracy forces to
launch a campaign of
non-violent activism against Mugabe's government.
"This alliance will constitute the people's storm in
this final confrontation
with the autocracy," Tsvangirai said.
"What confronts us in Zimbabwe is a dictator who
presides over a
civil-military junta," he said.
"We must all synchronise and coordinate an activism
in the final showdown
against this dictator."
Tsvangirai called Mugabe's victory in the March
presidential election a "coup
d'etat," and urged the international community to
increase their pressure on
the president for a re-run of the poll under
The speech came at a public discussion organized by
the Public Opinion
Institute, a think-tank that conducts independent
surveys in Zimbabwe.
Tsvangirai, who leads the three-year-old Movement
for Democratic Change
(MDC), did not say what kind of activism he
envisioned, and urged his
supporters against "adventurism" that could provoke
a violent response from
Instead, he called for "non-violent modes of
political combat," saying
"casualties among Zimbabwean citizens must be
avoided or minimised."
"We have acted as a restraining force on people,"
Tsvangirai said, referring
to his party's policy of non-violence.
"But now we have reached a stage where it may no
longer be possible to
keep the lid on," he said. "The people cannot take
it any longer."
"Your bullets cannot stop the tide of change," he
"The path to our freedom is still littered with
skeletons and the blood of our
people. Let us soldier on in courage," Tsvangirai
The MDC has never accepted Mugabe's victory in the
March poll, saying
widespread vote fraud and state-sponsored violence
had compromised the
After the elections, most western nations imposed
sanctions on Mugabe
and his inner circle, while the Commonwealth
suspended Zimbabwe from its
At home, Mugabe is presiding over the nation's
worst-ever economic crisis,
with inflation soaring to a record high of 123.5%
and an estimated 80% of
the population living in poverty.
He has staked his political fortunes on a
controversial scheme to resettle
white-owned farms with blacks, a program plagued by
violence and one in
which his critics claim has mainly benefited
Mugabe's inner circle.
The resettlement scheme also threatens to worsen an
food shortage, which has left at least six million
people -- about half the
population -- threatened by famine, according to UN
estimates. - Sapa-AFP
Shoot-out at Zimbabwe
A white farmer and a group of government
supporters exchanged gunfire on Tuesday
morning at a farm in the Karoi area of northern
Ian Cochrane was trapped on his farm with his
mother, sister and two children by about 100
people armed with sticks, stones and several
guns who were apparently trying to seize the
But tensions eased after
police arrived, reports the
French agency, AFP.
Last week, President
Robert Mugabe warned
white farmers to
co-operate with his land
reform programme, leave the country or face
Farmers in parts of northern Zimbabwe were
again warned to leave their farms by Sunday,t," an
prompting about 100 to flee to the capital,
A crowd of government supporters broke
through the security fence at the farm and
converged on Ian Cochrane's farmhouse early
on Tuesday morning.
The farmer's mother
was trapped in
another house on the
farm. Fearing for her
life, Mr Cochrane went
to her aid, firing a
warning shot as he
He said a violent
"These guys started
firing shots at me and
I fired shots back
because I was outside
with this huge mob of
people, possibly over
100, all around me.
"This is absolutely a
terrible situation and
we can't carry on like
"When the police got
there, the three armed
men had disappeared,"
said Jenni Williams of
farmers' lobby group,
Justice for Agriculture
Two of the men were armed with
semi-automatic shotguns, while a third had a
rifle, she said.
The government supporters later left the farm
with the Cochrane family still there, Reuters
news agency reports.
Under a law passed earlier this year, some
2,900 white farmers had to leave their land by
Some complied but
others are fighting the
eviction orders in the
They argue that they
are not legally obliged
to leave their farms
until their court
appeals have been
But some 300 have
been arrested for their defiance, according to
[And on a lighter note, a musical review]
A musical greeting from Malawi
Wambali Mkandawire: Zani Muwone
By Drew Forrest
Malawian singer-songwriter-guitarist Wambali's album, assembled in
Johannesburg with a range of expert South African instrumentalists, has
some nice surprises.
Raising it above standard world music offerings are two collaborations
with Tony Cox, a well-organised brass section (by Rhino Horns) and a
tour de force in an Afro-Celtic vein involving Julian and Melissa
Wiggins on the tin whistle and the Irish fiddle. Step forward, the
mysterious Wigginses. They can play, and I think we should hear more of
This is an album for guitar-fanciers. Apart from Wambali's moody,
classically influenced arpeggios and Cox's understated acoustic lead,
the album showcases the veteran Malawian electric guitar-picker George
Phiri. Malawi is a nation of guitarists whose style has been coloured by
South African idioms imported by migrant workers. Phiri, known for his
part in the regional ensemble Mahube, ranges widely and inventively,
from blues and rock to mbaqanga.
On the downside, Wambali's baritone voice, lacking both variety and
intensity, palls over 12 tracks.
In addition, Zani Muwone makes extensive use of the soprano saxophone,
an instrument that drowns everything it touches in treacle and instantly
evokes schmaltzmeister Kenny G. Like the Romanian pan pipes and the
autoharp, there is no place for this instrument in the civilised world.
ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal byMessage 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006View Source
ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract
by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17
The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by government to look for another contractor instead of China Hunan Construction to construct of the long awaited Karonga/Chitipa road.
China Hunan from Mainland China won the bid which was approved by the ADB but government later wanted to award the contract to a Portuguese firm, Mota Engil, the second lowest bidder, claiming China Hunan's bid was unrealistically low and that the company had very little experience in Africa.
Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe confirmed on Sunday the ADB rejected the proposal at a meeting held between the bank and Malawi government in Tunisia last week.
The Malawi government wanted the Tunisia meeting to authorise it to get another contractor for the road, said Gondwe.
"They did not allow us to look for another contractor because of their regulations. But we are about to get another alternative for Karonga/Chitipa and I would be surprised if it does not start before end June," said Gondwe.
The minister explained that the bank insisted that regardless of the unrealistic cost estimates, China Hunan should be allowed to go ahead with the construction.
But Gondwe could not give further details about the alternatives, arguing there are still a few loose ends to tighten up before disclosing it.
The problem with China Hunan, according to Gondwe, is that it would require more money to meet the total cost of the project.
This paper reported last week that government met Taiwanese representatives where they offered to fund the road if the ADB continued to reject its favoured contractor, Mota Engil.
Gondwe could neither confirm nor deny the reports on the Taiwanese offer, saying government was looking at a number of ways to handle the issue.
According to Gondwe, the China Hunan's bid was 24 percent lower than the consulting engineers' estimates of K7.9 billion and 34 percent below the second lowest bidder.
President Bingu wa Mutharika laid a foundation stone for the construction of the road this year ahead of a crucial byelection in Chitipa in December last year.
The President's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Chitipa Wenya constituency by-election that fell vacant following the collapse and subsequent death of Speaker of Parliament Rodwell Munyenyembe who belonged to the UDF.
Last week, police and the District Commissioner (DC) for Chitipa stopped a rally that was aimed at soliciting people's views about development projects in the district.
The meeting, which was reportedly organised by Concerned Citizens of Chitipa, was among other things also supposed to tackle the controversial Karonga/Chitipa road.
The project failed to start off in 2000 when a contract for an initial loan of US$17 million and US$15 million from the Taiwanese government was signed, with some quarters claiming the Bakili Muluzi administration diverted the money to another road.
Chihana operated on
by Edwin Nyirongo, 22 May 2006 - 06:32:31
Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana, who is in South Africa receiving treatment, had a brain operation on Friday at Garden City Clinic, family and party officials confirmed on Sunday.
Aford national chairman Chipimpha Mughogho said he was told by the family members that Chihana had a successful operation on Friday and was put in an intensive care unit.
Mughogho said Chihana, who initially complained of headache, was found with a brain tumour which South African doctors removed.
Mzimba West MP Loveness Gondwe said Aford boss condition was stable.
"Hon. Chihana had a major operation and after that he was put in the intensive care unit but his condition is stable. I do not know where he was operated on but it had something to do with the skull," she said.
Deputy Information Minister John Bande referred the matter to the Health Minister Hetherwick Ntaba who was reported to be in Geneva, Switzerland.
Aford publicity secretary Norman Nyirenda said when Chihana's situation got worse, the family alerted the Office of the President and Cabinet who took him to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.
"The doctors at Mwaiwathu advised that he should be sent to South Africa and they even identified the doctor for him," he said.
He said the costs are being met by the Malawi government, contradicting his earlier statement that his boss covered the cost.
Mughogho is now in charge of the party.
Gondwe will be a busy person when Parliament starts meeting on June 6 as she is the only Aford MP remaining.
Pillane proposes presidential age limit
by Emmanuel Muwamba , 22 May 2006 - 06:34:13
A member of the DPP National Governing Council Abdul Pillane on Saturday urged members of political parties and the civil society to put an upper age limit in the Constitution for presidential candidates.
Pillane was addressing members of political parties and civil society in Liwonde during a two-day follow up workshop to the National Conference on the Review of Constitution held in March in Lilongwe.
"My view is that (an upper) age limit should be at 75. We have to give a chance to younger people to lead because in circumstance, when you age you become forgetful especially when sickly," said Pillane. "Overall, chances should be given to young people."
But UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala, whose party members agitated for the age limit during presentations, played the issue down.
"I feel there is no logic to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates. If someone is 90 or 80 I don't know how that can influence the electorate not to vote for someone who is younger, I don't see any logic behind that," said Makwangwala.
MCP participants at the workshop also vehemently objected to the proposal.
MCP vice president Nicholas Dausi in an interview said: "There is no constitution in Africa which stipulates an upper age limit. So it would be strange in Malawi to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates."
MDP President Kamlepo Kalua also opposed the need to have an upper age limit.
"If we have personalities in mind that we want to discriminate against then it is unfortunate. The constitution we want to build is a guiding document for future generations and it should not bar certain individuals on the basis of grudges," he said.
The Malawi Law Constitution Issues Paper of March 2006 says several submissions that were received put an upper presidential age limit in the Constitution.
"It is argued that it is common sense that mental knowledge faculties tend to fail with age. As regards what the actual age limit should be the submissions are far from being agreed. The range is from 60 years to 80 years," read submissions in the Issues Paper.
On whether MPs should double as ministers, Kalua said this should be the case.
Makwangwala also said it is not right for MPs to serve as ministers because the Legislature, another arm of government, is reduced while the Executive branch is beefed up from another arm of government.
"There is no separation of powers when MPs double as ministers," said Makwangwala.
But Pillane said there is no problem for MPs to work as ministers as well, saying MPs are elected by the President.
"One can serve both posts. There have been no problems before for people to double," said Pillane.
The Centre for Multiparty Democracy funded the workshop through the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.
The objective was to come up with a collective position on the Issues Paper which will be presented to the Special Law Commission that will be constituted soon.
Mussa hails new driving licence
by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:58:52
Transport and Public Works Minister Henry Mussa last week said the design of the Malawi-Sadc driving licence would guard against forgery and ensure that only skilled and legitimate drivers of particular vehicles are licensed.
Mussa was speaking at the official launch of the licences in Lilongwe where he announced that traffic police would from July enforce speed limits and sober driving using Breathalysers which his ministry is in the process of procuring.
The minister said financial constraints are the reason for the delay in procuring the equipment but assured that by July they would be available.
"With the new equipment, the days of those who believe in the thrill of drink and driving are numbered," warned Mussa.
Mussa added that with the new licence, government is optimistic that the country's roads would be safe.
Acting Director of Road Traffic James Chirwa said the features that distinguish the new from the old licences are the Malawi national flag and a ghost image of the driver's photograph, among others.
Those with old licences, according to Chirwa, are expected to get the new ones after the expiry of the former.
UDF demands investigation on Kasambara
by Rabecca Theu, 22 May 2006 - 06:30:46
The United Democratic Front (UDF) has asked government to investigate Ralph Kasambara on allegations of abuse of office while he was attorney general.
UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu told the press Sunday that the party is neither amused or saddened by the removal of the former AG but asked government to institute investigations on Kasambara.
"Beyond the removal of the Attorney General, we now urge President Mutharika to institute investigation against Mr Kasambara into allegations that have made rounds in the public domain during the recent past. These include: Mrs Helen Singh and SS Rent-a-Car; SGS and ITS saga; ...........the use of Malawi Police Service in the arrest of three Chronicle journalists and the handling of Mrs Rubina Kawonga," said Mpasu.
Mpasu also accused Kasambara of awarding government contracts to Lawson and Company where he was a senior partner.
"We urge government to thoroughly investigate the former AG. We also ask government to cautiously select the new AG ," said Mpasu, who was accompanied by the party's Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala, leader of the party in Parliament George Mtafu, chief whip Leonard Mangulama and a member of the executive Hophmally Makande.
But Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said UDF should give offer its advice to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB).
"They should advise bodies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau to conduct the investigations and why are they saying this now? Is it because Kasambara has been fired? This is not a personal issue. If they have other pressing issues they should just say so. These arguments should have come up earlier on when the said cases were happening," she said.
Kasambara asked UDF to proceed with the mission of urging government to investigate him.
"They can do their job. Everyone has a right to lobby for anything they want in the country. UDF has a right to do that, let them go ahead," he said.
Kasambara was relieved of his duties as AG by the President last week. Government has not given reasons behind the removal.
Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land
The Times of Zambia (Ndola)
May 18, 2006
Posted to the web May 19, 2006
MALAWIANS who have encroached on both the 'no-man's' and part of the Zambian land at the Mwami border in Eastern Province have plucked out some beacons that were used in the demarcation of the border.
The Malawians are now using the beacons as stools in their newly-established villages on Zambian land.
Eastern Province Minister, Boniface Nkhata, said in Chipata yesterday that if the situation was not controlled urgently, Zambia would lose huge tracts of land to Malawians migrating into Zambian in large numbers.
A check at the Zambia-Malawi border showed a number of beacons had been vandalised and new structures constructed on the 'no man's' land and a large portion of Zambian land.
Mr Nkhata said the trend extended to many parts of the province bordering the two countries.
"A large portion of Zambian land has been taken up by the Malawians starting from the Chama boundary up to the Mwami border.
"The weighbridge at the Mwami border was initially in Zambia from the time both countries gained independence from Britain, but now the bridge is on Malawian soil," Mr Nkhata said.
The minister, who is former Chama District Commissioner, said there was similar encroachment in Lundazi and Chama districts where Zambia shares a boundary with Malawi.
He said a Malawian farmer identified as Mr Mfune had cultivated 71.5 hectares on Zambian land and employed about 265 Malawian workers.
"Khombe Farm in Chama district in Kanyerere's area, along the Muyombe road which leads to Northern Province where this Malawian farmer has cultivated a vast land is on the Zambian territory," he said.
Workers on the farm admitted that they were farming on Zambian soil but could not go back to Malawi because the land in that country was inadequate for cultivation.
Mr Nkhata appealed to the ministry of Lands to urgently release money for the demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border to avoid further land disputes between the two countries.
Meanwhile, the Immigration Department in Livingstone has arrested a couple and another man, all Zimbabweans, for working in Zambia without permits.
They were arrested at Gwembe village yesterday where they worked for Into Africa, a tour operating company that provides bush dinners and breakfast.
According to the Immigration Department in Livingstone, the trio entered Zambia through the Victoria Falls border as visitors but decided to work for the company illegally.
Last week, immigration officers arrested 10 Zimbabwean traders and six Ethiopians for entering and staying in Zambia illegally.
The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.
The Ethiopians were arrested at Konje Guest House when they ran out of money to proceed to Botswana.
Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests
22 May 2006 11:51
Zimbabwe's biggest labour federation on Saturday threatened to call massive demonstrations against the government over poor salaries and worsening living conditions for workers in the country.
The threats are ratcheting up pressure against President Robert Mugabe's government after similar threats by the biggest opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), about two months ago.
Speaking at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) conference on Saturday, the labour body's president, Lovemore Matombo, said the powerful union wants the government to award workers salaries that match the country's ever-rising inflation.
"I can assure you we will stage massive demonstrations to force them [employers] to award workers minimum salaries that tally with the poverty datum line," said Matombo.
Matombo did not say when exactly the ZCTU would order workers to strike.
Meanwhile, the MDC on Sunday said it will push ahead with plans for anti-government protests, saying victory in a key by-election at the weekend was a "sign the electorate supported its policies", including democratic mass resistance.
A spokesperson of the main faction of the splintered MDC, Nelson Chamisa, said victory over Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and a rival MDC faction in a Saturday by-election in Harare's Budiriro constituency is a sign Zimbabweans still have confidence in party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his policies.
Tsvangirai, the founding leader of the MDC, heads the main rump of the opposition party whose candidate, Emmanuel Chisvuure, polled 7 949 votes to win the Budiriro House of Assembly seat.
Gabriel Chaibva of the other faction of the MDC, led by prominent academic Arthur Mutambara, garnered 504 votes while Zanu-PF's Jeremiah Bvirindi polled 3 961 votes.
"This election showed that the electorate still has confidence in the MDC [Tsvangirai-led] leadership and its policies," Chamisa told independent news service ZimOnline.
He added: "We will now move to consolidate our position * we still believe in mass protests. Until we have attained our goals we see no reason why we should abandon [plans for protests]."
Tsvangirai has threatened to call mass protests this winter against Mugabe and his government. He says the mass protests, whose date he is still to name, are meant to force Mugabe to relinquish power to a government of national unity to be tasked to write a new and democratic Constitution that would ensure free and fair elections held under international supervision.
Mugabe and his government, who had hoped for victory in Budiriro to show they were recapturing urban support from a splintered MDC, have not taken idly the opposition's threats to call mass protests, with the veteran president warning Tsvangirai he would be "dicing with death" if he ever attempted to instigate a Ukraine-style popular revolt in Zimbabwe.
In a fresh crackdown against dissension, the police last week arrested several church and civic leaders for organising public prayers and marches to mark last year's controversial home-demolition exercise by the government.
The police also banned the marches and prayers, fearing they could easily turn into mass protests against Mugabe and his government.
However, the marches went ahead in the second-largest city of Bulawayo after organisers had obtained a court order barring the police from stopping the march.
Political analysts say although Zimbabweans have largely been cowed by Mugabe's tactics of routinely deploying riot police and the military to crush street protests, worsening hunger and poverty are fanning public anger that Tsvangirai -- with proper planning and organisation -- could easily manipulate.
Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe six-year old economic crisis that has seen inflation breaching the 1 000% barrier. Last year, the World Bank said Zimbabwe's economic crisis was unprecedented for a country not at war.
The MDC and major Western governments blame Mugabe for wrecking the country's economy, which was one of the strongest in Africa at independence from Britain 26 years ago.
Mugabe denies the charge blaming the crisis on sabotage by Britain and her allies after he seized white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks six years ago.
The Harare authorities recently hiked salaries for civil servants, with the lowest-paid soldier now earning about Z$27-million while the lowest-paid school teacher now takes home about Z$33-million.
But the salaries are still way below the poverty datum line, which the government's Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says now stands at a staggering Z$42-million a month for an average family of six.
The Zimbabwe government often accuses the ZCTU, a strong ally of the MDC, of pushing a political agenda to remove Mugabe from power.
Meanwhile, Matombo and Lucia Matibenga retained their posts as president and first vice-president respectively during the ZCTU congress that ended on Saturday. -- ZimOnline