- AIDS Threatens Education System
Panafrican News Agency (Dakar)
February 4, 2001
Posted to the web February 4, 2001
Malawi's education system has been severely hit by the HIV/AIDS
pandemic, said to be claiming at least 600 teachers a year.
At the latest meeting on strategies to check the impact of
HIV/AIDS, Education Minister George Ntafu said the authorities
must step up measures against the scourge.
"If our education system is infected by HIV/AIDS to a point of being
overrun by it, nothing good can be expected of Malawi now or in
future," Ntafu warned.
The Minister also said that the HIV/AIDS pandemic was just one of
many problems facing the country's education system.
Lamenting that morale in the teaching profession was low from
poor salaries and lack of incentives, Ntafu called for new
strategies to save the situation.
The Minister noted that Malawi's chances at overcoming the
HIV/AIDS were, however, still bright given that about 90 percent of
its population was still AIDS-free.
About 14 percent of Malawi's population of 10 million people,
mostly within the 15-49 age bracket, is said to be infected by HIV,
the virus that causes AIDS.
BBC To Launch FM Station In Malawi
Panafrican News Agency (Dakar)
February 4, 2001
Posted to the web February 4, 2001
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) will 22 March launch
an FM radio transmission in Malawi, Information Minister Clement
Stambuli said in Blantyre Sunday.
He said President Bakili Muluzi consented to BBC's request
"because he is a firm believer in freedom of the media."
Alaudin Osman, a former presidential press aide now running his
own FM station in Blantyre, said he was involved in discussions
last December that led to the agreement.
He said part of the deal is that the BBC would help train journalists
and technicians at the State-run Malawi Broadcasting Corporation.
Osman, whose "Capital Radio" currently relays BBC news
programmes, however, claimed that some politicians in Malawi
were not pleased with the prospects of having the BBC on FM in
"I remember when Capital Radio was just starting there were
attempts by some politicians to block some BBC programmes," he
The BBC is to broadcast on 98.7 FM from Blantyre and 98 FM in
Senior officials of the London-based Broadcasting outfit are
expected in Blantyre for the launch of the relay stations.
NGO Distributes 7 Million Condoms In Malawi
Panafrican News Agency (Dakar)
February 4, 2001
Posted to the web February 4, 2001
Banja La Mtsogolo, Malawi's leading reproductive health NGO,
says it distributed at least seven million condoms in the country in
BLM's programme Director Walker Jiyani, said that during the
same period, some 290,862 couples were counselled on how to
prevent unprotected pregnancies, while over 11,142 clients
acquired family planning services at its 25 health clinics across the
Jiyani said "the number of sexually transmitted diseases recorded
in all our 25 clinics reduced from 88,620 in 1999 to 59,224 last
Quoting BLM's statistics, he said access to family planning
services has increased from seven percent in 1987 to the current
Jiyani, however, said "misconceptions and some cultural beliefs
have resulted in resistance by some of our prospective clients to
accept family planning methods."
He disclosed that BLM would this year launch a five-year sexual
and reproductive health project to increase its outreach
The plan will target traditional leaders to help clear misconceptions
on family planning services at the grassroots level.
According to statistics from the Health and Population Ministry,
over 90 percent of Malawians are aware of family planning
methods and how the methods could reduce susceptibility to
But the Ministry said the number of people using the methods was
Malawi Government To Evict Sacked
Panafrican News Agency (Dakar)
February 2, 2001
Posted to the web February 3, 2001
The state-run Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC) has issued an
eviction order on former minister Peter Chupa from his
entertainment night club whose building he rents from the
Chupa runs a popular nightspot called Shelter Club in Blantyre.
In a letter dated 25 January, MHC general manager Victor Likaku
said the corporation was evicting Chupa because it was selling off
all clubs and shops in order to concentrate on its core business of
running residential houses.
But Chupa countered this claim, saying that he knew the eviction
notice was as a result of his involvement in the National
Democratic Alliance (NDA) pressure group which was formed by
another dismissed minister, Brown Mpinganjira.
"This is all politics. The (former Malawi Congress Party) MCP
government tried to evict me when I was holding (the now- ruling
United Democratic Front) meetings in 1993. It's unfortunate the
UDF is doing the same," he said.
Chupa said he forestalled the MCP eviction order by a court
injunction where a High Court judge ordered that MHC should not
evict anybody on political grounds. He said he would go back to
court to fight the new eviction order.
But MHC has since given him up to 1 March 2001 to vacate the
Since the political fall-out between Mpinganjira, Chupa and the
ruling party, a number of known Mpinganjira supporters have been
fired from their state jobs.
The Malawi Television administrative officer, Nowa Chimpeni and
marketing manager Levi Migogo were fired also for allegedly
attending Mpinganjira's corruption trial while all parastatal board
members believed to be Mpinganjira loyalists have been replaced
at the station.
Reports also said all person posted to Foreign Service when
Mpinganjira was minister of foreign affairs and are believed to be
his loyalists are to be recalled soon.
At least 300 people working for the Malawi Telecommunications
Limited, Malawi's sole fixed line operator, are lined up for dismissal
in a move MTL chief executive Emmanuel Mahuka said is a
Chiefs Want Better Care From Government
Panafrican News Agency (Dakar)
February 2, 2001
Posted to the web February 3, 2001
Southern Malawi district Nsanje have accused the government of
giving better care to crocodiles than to people of the area.
Chief Mlolo of Nsanje, speaking on behalf of fellow chiefs, told a
team of environmentalists and politicians that traditional leaders
were surprised that despite persistent reports of crocodile deaths,
government was doing nothing about the reptiles.
"This inaction is giving me restless nights," he added.
The chief said lack of food in the area, exacerbated by flooding, is
no longer a primary problem. The main concern was the daily
deaths of his people from crocodile attacks, he said.
He said, for instance, he knows at least 250 people who have
either been killed or severely been maimed by the man-eating
beasts recently in his area which is dissected by the Shire,
Malawi's biggest river.
He said there were many people who have lost whole limbs from
crocodile attacks and yet - despite reporting to government -
nothing is being done.
Natural resources and environmental affairs minister Harry
Thomson, who also comes from the area, said government could
not order hunters to kill the crocodiles because it is bound by the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
"We know that crocodiles are a menace here. They are attacking
people. But since we are members of CITES, our hands are tied,"
Thomson, however, said the rate at which the people are dying
should coerce government to review its stand on CITES and
deploy professional hunters on what he termed "a control
"I am not certain that CITES, in its wisdom, would give preference
to crocodiles over human lives," he added.
CITES, which classifies crocodiles as endangered species, says
culling of crocodiles should not exceed 200 per year.
Thomson said there was a crocodile population boom in the Shire
Valley since the CITES ruling and that culling only 200 crocodiles
in a year would not solve the problem.
Meanwhile, while crocodiles are a menace in the Shire Valley, up
in the Nkhota Kota Valley in central Malawi, crocodile farming is
increasingly becoming a fast-growing economic activity.
Reg Carvalho, an enterprising entrepreneur, has invested millions
of kwacha into a crocodile farm that currently rears at least 2,500
He said he currently employs 15 people in the business that
exports hides and tail meat to Europe and the United States.
"I intend to inject between 12 million and 15 million kwacha (about
between 150,000 and 180,000 US dollars) into a new crocodile
ranch," he said.
Thomson said government was looking for investors to turn the
Shire Valley crocodiles into marketable creatures.
Researchers Find Rare Insect Species In Malawi
Panafrican News Agency (Dakar)
February 3, 2001
Posted to the web February 3, 2001
A group of insect researchers has found out that Malawi has a
wide range of rare insect species, some of which are not known in
the science world.
The researchers, led by Raymond Murphy, said the country has
more species, especially the beetle type, than those kept in the
"We are finding more species of some insects that are not
displayed in museums and have not been identified by scientists,"
he said, citing the emperor moth as one of such insects.
Some of the species, Murphy said, need to be sent to Belgium so
that scientists could identify them. He said so far he has collected
at least 26 species of cicada but their number could go up to 50.
"We don't know much about cicadas in Malawi, their life- span or
reproduction cycle so we want to do more research on them," he
The research team has also collected bee and wasp species,
some of which need further expert identification.
According to Murphy, the species of the insects would be
displayed in a national collection to be set up in Malawi's former
colonial capital, Zomba, 68 km north-east of the commercial
He said some of the insects already collected are on display in a
museum of the northern city of Mzuzu and at Nyika National Park,
also in the north of the country.
A guidebook for quick reference about the insects is under
Apart from being part of Malawi's natural heritage, Murphy said the
insects would have an economic factor, as tourists will be there to
Murphy, a former lecturer, said he would do more research on
insects with assistance from Bulawayo Museum in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe grabs control
of Zim*s judiciary
OWN CORRESPONDENT, Harare | Sunday
ONE of the last footholds of democracy in Zimbabwe is about to
be swept aside with the imminent appointment of a strongly
pro-government judge and former leading member of President
Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU (PF) party as the head of
The state-controlled daily Herald newspaper, quoting "authoritative
sources", said high court judge Godfrey Chidyausiku would be
appointed as acting-chief justice following what is seen as the
forced retirement of internationally respected chief justice
Observers say Gubbay's dismissal dramatically increases the
76-year-old Mugabe's 20-year grip on power.
Under Gubbay's leadership, the fiercely independent Zimbabwe
supreme court has come to be regarded as the one of fairest and
most compassionate in the Commonwealth.
However, senior legal sources say, it also became Mugabe's
most serious obstacle as the court ruled against his lawless
campaign to drive whites off their farms and against presidential
edicts that override the judiciary and parliament.
On Friday Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who says it was
"a mistake" to have appointed white judges, announced that
Gubbay would be "retiring" in June after a four-month holiday.
Chidyausiku, currently the head of the country's high court, was a
pro-Mugabe MP in the Rhodesian parliament in the seventies, and
became Mugabe's attorney-general shortly after independence in
Chidyausiku drew major public antagonism in 1999 when Mugabe
appointed him chairman of a ruling party-controlled commission to
draft a new national constitution. The draft constitution, which
effectively enhanced Mugabe's powers, was rejected in a national
referendum in February last year.
Zimbabwe Press Freedom March Banned
By Angus Shaw
Associated Press Writer
Saturday, Feb. 3, 2001; 8:17 a.m. EST
HARARE, Zimbabwe ** Hundreds of armed riot police sealed off a street
in downtown Harare on Saturday and forced journalists to cancel a protest
march against state harassment.
In recent weeks government officials have described the independent press
as a threat to national security, and the printing press of the independent
Daily News was seriously damaged by military-type explosives on Jan. 28.
About 200 journalists had gathered at the national press club in Harare for
the march when police sealed off the road outside. The police said they
were under orders to stop the gathering by force, according to the
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, organizers of the march.
"The gave us five minutes to disperse or they would unleash tear gas," union
head Basildon Peta said. "We are outnumbered four to one. It is obvious
what will happen here."
Peta called off the march.
A police commander who refused to give his name said the planned march
to a nearby downtown square was a security risk and could fan unrest
"because the situation is very volatile" in the country.
After the explosion at the Daily News, contract printers were hired to
continue the publication of the paper. The presses should be repaired in
Before the blast, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo described the paper
as an opposition mouthpiece and a security threat.
The government on Friday said police and troops were on full alert to quell
anticipated anti-government protests.
Police chased a small group of opposition protesters out of central Harare
Eight protesters were arrested for allegedly inciting violence, police
spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said.
He said riot police also seized axes, knives, bows and arrows and clubs
from suspects Friday.
Witne 9 9 290said riot police and tro7 89 ;dre deployed Thursday in the
populous township of Chitungwiza, an opposition stronghold 15 miles south
The state-controlled Herald newspaper, in a rare criticism of security
forces, reported Saturday that soldiers and police raided a nightclub
Thursday near Chitungwiza, forcing patrons to lie on the floor, accusing
them of being opposition agitators and beating them.
Peta said the police action aborting Saturday's march proved authorities
were not committed to democracy.
"It shows they are not serious about a tolerant, pluralistic state and will go to
any lengths to suppress the media and freedom of expression," he said.
Before dispersing, the journalists displayed banners that declared: "You
can't bomb democracy," and "Why bomb the messenger?"
Last week, Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo, who is responsible for the
police, said intelligence reports showed opposition militants were planning a
campaign of "violent insurrection" and demonstrations to topple the
government, charges the main opposition Movement for Democratic
In the biggest challenge to President Robert Mugabe's hold o 6 power since
he led the nati77 po independence in 1980, the MDC won 57 of 120 elected
seats in June parliamentary elections. In the last parliament, Mugabe
controlled all but three seats.
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