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  • Christine Chumbler
    Report Blames Muluzi For Fall In Education Standards Panafrican News Agency (Dakar) April 17, 2001 Posted to the web April 18, 2001 Raphael Tenthani Blantyre,
    Message 1 of 1046 , Apr 19, 2001
      Report Blames Muluzi For Fall In Education

      Panafrican News Agency (Dakar)
      April 17, 2001
      Posted to the web April 18, 2001

      Raphael Tenthani
      Blantyre, Malawi

      With school certificate examination pass rates dropping
      miserably and an average of 600 teachers succumbing to AIDS
      every year, Malawi's education system heads for disaster.

      A report of an inquiry into the persistently poor performance of
      candidates sitting for Malawi School Certificate of Education
      (MSCE) examinations has, in fact, exposed deep-seated
      government policy disasters that contribute to mass failures.

      A commission of inquiry, headed by veteran educationist Lewis
      Malunga, has laid the blame at the door of President Bakili
      Muluzi. His election campaign promise, it says, has proved
      disastrous to the education system in Malawi.

      The president's ambition was to make primary education free
      for all Malawian children. But while enrolment shot up and
      schools got overcrowded, the teaching staff did not increase

      Presently, the country's secondary schools need at least
      12,000 teachers but there are only 4,968.

      Of these, worse still, only 1,628 are qualified to teach in
      secondary schools while the rest could do well in primary
      schools. They have been required to teach in secondary
      schools because of an acute shortage of teachers.

      In its 100-page report, Malunga's commission points out that
      free primary education has made enrolment to shoot up
      exponentially thereby inundating the already under-staffed and
      under-motivated education system.

      Government had anticipated the dramatic increase in primary
      school enrolment. It quickly opened additional secondary
      schools but these were schools in name.

      They had no teachers, no learning materials and no buildings.
      Misguidedly, Muluzi's government selected primary school
      teachers for a three-week crush-training course before posting
      them to secondary schools.

      "This was a recipe for disaster", Malunga's inquiry report notes.

      "Commissioners would like to believe that the steady drop in
      pass rates since 1995 to the present is associated with large
      increases in the number of under-prepared candidates."

      Meanwhile, candidates for the Malawi School Certificate of
      Education shot up from 7,000 in the early 1990s to 45,416 in
      1999. According to the report, the increase did not match both
      teacher capability and quantity.

      "The increased number of candidates and examination centres
      over-stretched the human resources available to the extent that
      security, reliability and validity of the examination has been
      compromised," the report observes.

      It charges that democracy has contributed to falling education
      standards in Malawi. Truancy is on the increase and students
      have thrown discipline to the winds under the guise of freedom
      of expression.

      President Muluzi and his ruling United Democratic Front had the
      introduction of universal free primary education as their rallying
      call in the run-up to the 1994 general elections.

      The inquiry report recommends a review of that policy. It urges
      the government to consider the introduction of a cost-sharing

      If the suggestion is accepted, the report says, "parents will have
      to contribute more than what they are currently paying in the
      form of school fees to ensure adequate supply of teaching and
      learning materials and improved infrastructure," Malunga said.

      Muluzi appointed the commission of inquiry in the wake of
      consistently falling school certificate examination results. In
      1999 the MSCE pass rate was just under 30 percent while the
      2000 results recorded the lowest in history with a 13 percent
      pass rate.

      This year's results have also recorded a dismal pass rate at
      19.7 percent.

      Educationists say it will take years for Malawi education system
      to recover because it takes a long time to train a well-qualified


      Blantyre Taps Dry Up

      Panafrican News Agency (Dakar)
      April 17, 2001
      Posted to the web April 18, 2001

      Raphael Tenthani
      Blantyre, Malawi

      For the second day running, residents of most parts of Malawi's
      commercial capital, Blantyre, endured a crippling water
      shortage Tuesday.

      From Monday, long queues at water sources, such as
      bore-holes, have remained a familiar sight in most suburbs,
      after the Blantyre Water Board's failure to provide supply.

      The Board's Public Relations Officer Flonne Musasa blamed
      the problem on the low pumping pressure due to ongoing public
      works by the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM),
      at the Walker's Ferry Dam.

      The dam supplies water to Blantyre and its environs.

      PANA correspondent reports that a joint team of ESCOM and
      the Water Board workers was trying to evacuate silt from the
      dam, which was believed to be causing blockages to supply.

      Musasa said the problem had affected the water level at the
      dam making pumping virtually impossible.

      "We just couldn't pump water," she said.

      Many Blantyre residents, who missed the public announcement
      on the State-run Malawi Broadcasting Corporation warning
      about the impending dry Easter Monday, were caught

      Hotels were hardest hit as angry guests fumed at hotel owners.

      Despite assurances that supply was to have been restored
      Monday, most townships were still dry by mid-day Tuesday.

      Meanwhile, some property owners who have alternative water
      sources are exploiting the situation.


      Bank Says Growth Rate Misses Target

      Panafrican News Agency (Dakar)
      April 17, 2001
      Posted to the web April 18, 2001

      Blantyre, Malawi

      Malawi's economy registered a 2.6 percent growth rate in 2000,
      far below the target of 5.1 percent, one of the country's leading
      commercial banks has reported.

      The National Bank of Malawi says in its latest newsletter that
      the results were depressing but not surprising. Negative growth
      rates were recorded in the manufacturing, transport and
      construction sectors which, like agriculture, distribution and
      utilities sectors, recorded modest growth rates.

      Presenting the 2000/2001 government budget in Parliament,
      Finance minister Mathews Chikaonda had predicted a 5.1
      growth rate and a lowered inflation rate to around 10 percent.

      Economists now blame the missed target on government's
      failure to respect its own economic policies.

      For instance, Chikaonda had introduced what he termed as an
      economic growth 'road map' in the form of a 10-point economic
      growth plan, aimed at regulating the economy and curbing
      over-expenditure in government.

      But economic analysts say unbudgeted expenditure, like
      creation of extra positions in government to appease politicians
      and formation of extra service wings, such as the National
      Intelligence Bureau, has defeated Chikaonda's plan.

      Economists Association of Malawi adds that the plan has been
      defeated by extra staffing levels at diplomatic missions.

      "Without heeding the rationalisation concept by the Finance
      ministry, government is even increasing the number of
      incompetent staff in embassies - people who are not capable of
      luring investors and who do not even know why they are sent to
      embassies," the associations says.

      Regarding the 3 percent growth rate envisioned for 2001, the
      National Bank of Malawi says it may be a tall order considering
      that excess rains have affected the production of the staple
      food crop, maize, and tobacco which is Malawi's chief foreign
      exchange earner.

      Meanwhile, the bank has cautioned government that hosting
      the 2001 summit of the Southern African Development
      Community would have adverse repurcussion on the economy.

      Malawi's foreign affairs minister Lilian Patel recently told
      journalists that government will spend 300 million kwacha to
      host the 14-nation summit in August.

      According to the National Bank of Malawi that would mean
      extra-borrowing with an undesirable impact on growth, interest
      and inflation rates.


      Malawi Snatches 40 Minibuses Owned By

      Panafrican News Agency (Dakar)
      April 18, 2001
      Posted to the web April 18, 2001

      Blantyre, Malawi
      The Malawi Road Traffic Commission has seized at least 40
      minibuses owned by refugees for alleged violations of traffic
      rules and regulations.

      However, representatives of the affected refugees are crying
      foul, saying this was blatant discrimination.

      Metvsela Gakumba, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of
      Congo, accused Malawian authorities of violating their own
      commitment to international refugee protocols.

      "We did not come into the country via the back door. We
      registered as refugees. The country and the UNHCR
      recognises our status as refugees," he told journalists.

      Gakuma said all the refugee minibus operators were given the
      green light to operate businesses by the department of
      Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Rehabilitation.

      According to him, the department's head Lucius Chikuni, had
      told them since government cannot meet all their needs they
      should supplement their finances by engaging in small-scale

      But Central Region Minibus Operators chairman Obua
      Sauzande insisted that refugees should not be allowed to
      operate businesses in Malawi.

      "These businesses are for Malawians. We can't be allowed to
      engage in such a business in their countries," he said.

      But Jomo Mkandawire, the Road Traffic Commissioner, said the
      minibuses were seized not necessarily because they belonged
      to refugees but because they did not comply with traffic

      He said Malawi has of late witnessed a dramatic increase in
      traffic accidents so his department needs to be extra-vigilant.

      Meanwhile, the head of the UNHCR mission in Malawi, Michael
      Owor, on Wednesday visited the 32 Congolese refugees who
      were detained in the northern border district of Chitipa for lack
      of documents.

      He said he would be meeting Commissioner Chikuni to
      negotiate their release so that they could be screened.

      Police spokesman Oliver Soko said the Congolese were
      detained over the Easter weekend because they did not have
      valid documents.

      But. Owor wondered how a refugee fleeing away from a volatile
      situation, can find time to think of papers.

      Some 6,000 refugees mainly from the Democratic Republic of
      Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Angola, Sudan and Somalia are
      currently being housed at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in the central
      district of Dowa.


      Police Say Three Commit Suicide Daily

      Panafrican News Agency (Dakar)
      April 18, 2001
      Posted to the web April 18, 2001

      Blantyre, Malawi

      At least three Malawians commit suicide daily, police
      spokesman Oliver Soko said Wednesday in Blantyre.

      Soko said that the police have been recording suicide deaths
      on almost a daily basis in all the four policing regions of the

      "Most of them kill themselves by taking a deadly pesticide called
      termic used to kill pests in coffee plantations, while some hang
      themselves from roof rafters or trees or drown themselves in
      rivers," he told PANA.

      Police statistics show that most of the victims are the terminally
      ill who think the best and fastest way out is just to take their own

      Several Malawians are also taking their own lives in order to
      hide permanently from the long arm of the law. When the law is
      closing in on notorious criminals, especially those being sought
      on capital offences, these fugitives fatally shoot themselves,
      Soko said.

      He also explained that many debtors commit suicide after
      discovering they can no longer fool loan sharks. To run away
      from shame after the angry loan sharks strip their houses of
      possession, these debtors resort to the rope.

      A good number of young girls in Malawi also kill themselves
      after falling pregnant while at school. Afraid to face angry
      parents, who have spent thousands of kwacha on their studies,
      the hapless girls end their lives at a spur of the moment.

      Marriage squabbles also drive people to the edge with most
      spouses taking their own lives to escape public shame brought
      to bear by philandering mates.

      In the wake of these gory statistics, Soko said police have
      devised mitigating strategies to arrest the trend.

      "In our community police programmes we are including
      counsellors, who advise communities that suicide is not the way
      out," he said.

      Soko said these counsellors include professional psychiatrists,
      who focus on instilling into would-be suicide victims that killing
      oneself is sinful.

      With 90 percent of Malawians are affiliated to one religion or
      another, police hope the message will sink in.

      Most churches in Malawi in fact do not offer funeral rites to
      persons who have died at their own hands, whereas the
      security services do not perform formal funeral rites for suicide

      Renowned University of Malawi social scientist Nandini Patel
      said Malawians are of late resorting to suicide because they
      feel insecure of turbulent economic times which is dwindling the
      community fabric.

      "Where before people would depend on the community when
      they are in a fix, they are increasingly finding themselves alone
      to face a cruel world," she observed.

      She claimed that the government is not adequately offering
      social security to its citizens so - bereft of all options - people
      just opt for the easy way out.

      She, therefore, called for a research to find short and long-term
      solutions to the rate Malawians are committing suicide.
    • Christine Chumbler
      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
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006

        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

        Andrew Lungu


        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

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        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.

        Opposition protests

        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

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