Malawi: `Capacity Shortfall Could Derail ARV Rollout UN Integrated Regional Information Networks October 14, 2004 Posted to the web October 14, 2004 LilongweMessage 1 of 1046 , Oct 15, 2004View SourceMalawi: `Capacity Shortfall' Could Derail ARV Rollout
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
October 14, 2004
Posted to the web October 14, 2004
As the recipient of a significant amount of donor funding for HIV/AIDS,
money is no longer seen as a constraint to Malawi's treatment programme,
officials told PlusNews.
But the country is now faced with a "serious capacity shortfall" that
could derail its rollout plan.
Malawi has received funding pledges exceeding US $400 million over the
next five years and is planning to provide antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to
40,000 HIV-positive people by December 2005, the National AIDS
Commission (NAC) director of programming, Roy Huaya, told PlusNews.
About 9,000 people were currently receiving anti-AIDS medication
through the public and private sector, as well as treatment initiatives
run by aid agencies like Medecines Sans Frontieres.
"Our greatest concern is that we are moving at a slower pace than
anticipated ... we are only just beginning to accumulate some speed,"
The biggest problem, according to UNAIDS country coordinator Dr Erasmus
Morah, was the lack of human capacity in the health sector. Severe staff
shortages as a result of a brain drain had caused many health facilities
to close down, as there was "nobody to run them", he noted.
Although there had been sufficient people on the ground to launch the
programme, Hauya expressed concern that there would not be enough
adequately trained doctors and nurses to sustain it.
The government has responded to the exodus of skilled health personnel
by drawing up a US $273 million dollar emergency relief plan to address
Malawi will be using a Global Fund grant of US $196 million over the
next five years to finance the ARV rollout.
Although welcoming the financial support from the donors, activists
from the National Association For People Living With HIV/AIDS in Malawi
(NAPHAM) warned against "donor dependency".
"We have to look forward. What will happen after the five years? The
government can't just give free ARVs - they must also support and train
us to become self-sufficient," Jacob Kambemba, a NAPHAM field
supervisor, told PlusNews.
Another challenge was to ensure that there would be a regular supply of
ARVs, "to feed hospitals in a continuous cycle", said Hauya. He admitted
that there had been "logistical nightmares" over the ordering and supply
Malawi does not have the capacity to manufacture ARVs locally, to
eliminate possible drug shortages. "This is something we would like to
consider, in collaboration with other countries in the region - we can't
go it alone," he said.
But, as Hauya pointed out, the Southern African region had "not done
terribly well" in coordinating drug procurement efforts, as countries
were working individually.
Photographer And Journalist Attacked
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Windhoek)
October 15, 2004
Posted to the web October 15, 2004
On 7 October 2004, photographer Emmanuel Muwamba and journalist
Pilirani Semu-Banda, of "The Nation" newspaper, escaped with tattered
clothes after police attacked them as they covered industrial unrest at
a tea estate in southern Malawi.
Muwamba told MISA's Malawi chapter, also known as the National Media
Institute of Southern Africa (NAMISA), that he went to the site to
photograph demonstrating former employees of Chitakale Tea Estates, who
were fired in June following the estate's privatisation.
Muwamba said that five policemen assaulted him when he took photographs
of the workers who resorted to burning tea bushes after their talks with
management fell through.
"They hit my mouth with their batons and one of them hit me in the ribs
with a butt of a gun," Muwamba recalled. The photographer said the
police stripped off his shirt and tore his vest while insulting him.
In a separate interview, Semu-Banda said she attempted to rescue her
colleague but the police locked her up in her company car and showered
insults at her. "I have been harassed by the police before but this time
I froze. The police were so brutal I could not reason with them," she
The protesting workers came to Muwamba's and Semu-Banda's aid and
prevented police from seizing the journalists' digital camera.
Police publicist Willie Mwaluka would not comment on the incident,
saying he was still gathering facts as to what had happened.
NAMISA has condemned the police brutality, describing it as
Tsvangirai: Our time has come
15 October 2004 11:49
advertisementZimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Friday
said his acquittal on charges of plotting to kill President Robert
Mugabe could serve as a basis for national reconciliation.
"On a positive note this judgement may have set a good basis for
national reconciliation and a national solution for the crisis in the
country," he said at a press conference in Harare.
Tsvangirai was found innocent on treason charges on Friday that his
party maintained all along were a bid by the government to frame him.
The ruling came as a surprise, because of the widespread expectation
that President Robert Mugabe would be able to impose his will on a court
system that has been criticised as political and corrupt.
Tsvangirai also said his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party
would contest legislative elections in March.
"The elections I think are going to be an opportunity and a challenge
for the MDC," Tsvangirai said.
The MDC has threatened to boycott the March elections unless the
government put in place conditions for a "free and fair" poll.
"Some of the people who have decided to write off the MDC have to think
again," he said. "This party is an alternative. It's an idea whose time
has come, it cannot be wished away."
Judge Paddington Garwe, ruling in the Harare High Court, pronounced the
MDC leader innocent in a long-awaited judgement in the downtown,
"The state has not been able to prove high treason beyond reasonable
doubt," Garwe said.
The charges stemmed from state accusations that Tsvangirai plotted to
kill Mugabe with the help of a Canada-based political consultant.
The charges were based on a grainy, four-and-a-half-hour video recorded
by hidden cameras during a meeting between Tsvangirai and political
consultant Ari Ben Menashe in Montreal on December 4 2001.
During his yearlong trial that ended on February 26, Tsvangirai's
defence attorneys said the tape had been doctored to implicate him in a
plot to murder Mugabe and stage a military coup to seize power.
Tsvangirai denied involvement in any such plot but conceded he
mentioned the "elimination" of Mugabe during discussions with Ben
Menashe -- in reference only to Mugabe's possible defeat in the 2002
presidential polls and the possible formation of a new government.
Before the verdict on Friday, the opposition party described the
treason case against its leader as "democracy on trial" under Mugabe's
Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi, in charge of the police, said
police reinforcements were being deployed outside the courthouse to
prevent any unrest surrounding the verdict.
He said security and court officials also were restricting access to
the court by anticipated crowds.
Testimony in the nation's longest trial -- also one of its most bizarre
-- covered a broad sweep of intrigue, from the secretly recorded meeting
to tampering with evidence and even an alleged plan by former United
States president Bill Clinton, to be bankrolled by the Jewish community
in the US, to persuade Mugabe to leave office.
Ben Menashe claimed he had been tasked by the Clinton administration to
negotiate a deal for Mugabe's retirement.
State prosecutors themselves withdrew allegations earlier in the trial
that Tsvangirai spoke with Ben Menashe of the "murder" and
"assassination" of Mugabe after the words could not be found on the
secretly recorded tape.
Defence attorney George Bizos of South Africa, a human rights lawyer
and long-time legal adviser to former South African president Nelson
Mandela, had submitted evidence that Ben Menashe was already working for
the Zimbabwe government's security agency on an operation to discredit
the burgeoning opposition in Zimbabwe when Tsvangirai visited him in
He said Tsvangirai had only sought the consultant's help to raise funds
and canvass for support for the Zimbabwe opposition in the US and
The tape of their meeting was out of focus and barely audible.
Tsvangirai, freed on bail, had to surrender his passport after being
charged two weeks before he ran against Mugabe in March 2002
presidential polls. He narrowly lost the election, which independent
observers said was rigged.
His political activities were sharply curtailed by his lengthy
appearances in the dock.
Ben Menashe (52), who claims to have been a former Israeli intelligence
agent and a security adviser to the Israeli prime minister, was
acquitted by a US federal jury in 1990 of charges that he illegally
arranged a $36-million deal to sell US-made military cargo planes to
Iran in exchange for the release of four American hostages in the Middle
Israel denied he was connected to intelligence work but said he served
for a brief period as a junior clerk in its civil service.
Tsvangirai's defence team said Ben Menashe's frequently lied under oath
while giving his evidence in order to cover up his efforts for the
Zimbabwe Central Intelligence Organisation to entrap the opposition
Evidence in the trial showed Ben Menashe received $650 000 from the
Zimbabwe intelligence service.
Chief state prosecutor Bharat Patel, asking for a conviction at the
conclusion of the trial in February, said there was still enough
evidence to proving Tsvangirai plotted Mugabe's assassination. --
Hopes of malaria vaccine by 2010
The vaccine protected children against malaria
An effective vaccine against malaria has been developed and could be
licensed by 2010, scientists say.
Many other candidate vaccines are in development, but experts say trial
results of this one, published in the Lancet, are the most promising
The vaccine was used to protect 2,022 children in Mozambique and cut
the risk of developing severe malaria by 58%.
The team, led by a Spanish expert from the University of Barcelona, is
working with drug company GlaxoSmithKline.
The research is very high quality and the findings are very
Allan Shapira of Roll Back Malaria
Lead researcher Professor Pedro Alonso said: "These are clearly the
best results we have ever seen with a candidate malaria vaccine.
"We are quite certain not only that the vaccine is safe...but that we
have seen a clear efficacy."
The team tested the trial vaccine, called RTS,S/AS02A, on children aged
between one and four years old in Mozambique, where malaria is
Globally, over one million people, many of them children under the age
of five, die from malaria each year.
Ninety percent of all malaria cases are in sub-Saharan Africa.
Preventing infection is especially important because resistance to
anti-malarial drugs is a growing problem.
The healthy children in the study were randomly allocated to receive
three injections of the malaria vaccine or a vaccine against a common
childhood disease, such as Hib, which acted as a control.
At six months, the malaria vaccine had reduced a child's risk of
developing one episode of malaria by 30%.
We believe a malaria vaccine, even of moderate efficacy, could make a
Lead researcher Professor Pedro Alonso
The risk of developing severe malaria was reduced by 58%.
The team followed up 400 of the children for longer and found the
vaccine extended the time to first infection by 45%.
Professor Alonso said it would have been unrealistic to have expected
the vaccine to prevent 100% of infections and that the results were
"It's difficult to imagine that we will have in the near future a magic
bullet that by itself can sort out the problem of malaria," he said.
"Just like any other malaria control tool that we have, like
insecticide treated nets... none of them is 100% effective.
"Control will rely on using a combination of malaria control tools
"We believe a malaria vaccine, even of moderate efficacy, could make a
Among the under two year olds in the study, the vaccine was 77%
effective against severe malaria.
The scientists said these young children would be the ultimate target
group to vaccinate.
Further trials will be needed to prove the vaccine is safe before a
licence can be granted, but the researchers are hopeful this will happen
It was well-tolerated by the children in the study, with few serious
Allan Shapira, of Roll Back Malaria, said: "The research is very high
quality and the findings are very encouraging."
He said there would always be concerns about the possible cost and
availability of vaccines and treatments for malaria.
How it works
The vaccine is directed against the form of the malaria parasite that
is injected by mosquitoes. This form is known as the sporozoite.
After immunization, antibodies and white blood cells are produced which
can prevent the sporozoite from surviving or from further development in
The research was funded by GSK Biologicals and a global project,
created through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to
overcome barriers to malaria vaccine development - the PATH Malaria
Mozambique's Minister of Health, Dr Francisco Songane, who approved the
trial, said: "Malaria is the number one killer of African children.
"We did this not only for the people of Mozambique, but for the people
all over Africa whose health and development suffer greatly from this
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