- Several deaths in Malawi
A strike by medical staff in Malawi is reported
to have resulted in the deaths of at least 14
A BBC correspondent in Blantyre said six babies
were amongst the casualties at the main
Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Senior health official Richard Pendame has
denied that the deaths are a direct effect of
the strike, which started on Friday.
He said he knew of only one death that was
connected to the strike.
About 200 people are said to be in a critical
Negotiations to resolve demands for an
increase in salaries and allowances have so far
failed to end the strike.
Hungry Resort to Desperate Tactics
UN Integrated Regional Information Network
October 5, 2001
Posted to the web October 5, 2001
The international NGO World Vision said this week that it was carrying out a food and nutrition assessment in Malawi to determine how best to combat the hunger that is ravaging most of the country. Many desperate people are reportedly eating maize husks and wild roots.
The assessment was initiated following recent pleas for assistance in the face of a looming famine in the southern African nation. Almost half of the 27 administrative districts in the country reported serious food shortfalls, in the wake of the worst floods to hit Malawi in recent years, according to World Vision. In the floods, which wreaked havoc earlier this year, 15 people were killed and over 320,000 were left homeless. In addition, crops were destroyed just when the staple food, maize, was ripening.
Since then, there have been persistent reports of people starving, particularly in rural areas. World Vision said it had assisted several communities in areas near projects in southern Malawi with relief food. WFP has also used World Vision project staff to help distribute food. Those affected by the food shortfalls, in both rural areas and cities such as Blantyre, Mzuzu and Lilongwe (the Capital), have now resorted to eating maize husks, normally reserved for animals. A recent report in the 'Malawi News', a popular weekend newspaper, revealed that some villagers are now eating bitter roots and tubers from indigenous shrubs.
The government has stated it needs to import 150,000 mts of maize from South Africa to meet the shortfalls. However, technical hitches, including a railway workers strike, have hindered food importation. In addition, maize prices have skyrocketed recently by as much as 170 percent. A 50 kg bag of maize is now a prohibitive US $12. The results of World Vision's 10-day assessment in various parts of the country are expected to be available in a week's time.
Pest Outbreak Threatens Timber Industry
UN Integrated Regional Information Network
October 5, 2001
Posted to the web October 5, 2001
Malawi's lucrative timber industry has been threatened by a pest outbreak that has attacked trees across the country's northern forest reserve, AP reported on Friday quoting foresters. "The fast multiplying pest, called Aphids of Cypress, is wreaking economic havoc for Malawi's second largest industry, said forester Amadeus Nyondo.
Scientists were attempting to control the outbreak which, if left uncontrolled, threatened to destroy the entire forest, the report said. This could cost the country millions of dollars in export losses, according to Nyondo.
Large portions of the troubled forest were destroyed last year when disgruntled laid-off workers set fire to it. The jobs of some 1,200 workers in the northern forest reserve could be at risk if the current crisis was not checked, the report said.
Region Moves to Protect Girls From Prostitution Syndicates
African Eye News Service (Nelspruit)
October 8, 2001
Posted to the web October 8, 2001
International sex syndicates are luring pre-pubescent girls into a life of slavery and abuse from impoverished African countries such as Mozambique and Malawi, the international police organisation Interpol has warned.
The girls, some as young as eight or nine-years old, are lured from their homes with promises of work in homes and restaurants in neighbouring South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The girls are instead forced to work in brothels serving older men, who believe that younger prostitutes are safe from HIV/Aids.
The scams are so widespread that Interpol and Southern African Development Community (SADC) immigration authorities met this week to develop strategies to tackle the trade.
The bodies have agreed to work with non-government organisations such as the Exploitation of Children Prostitution and Sex Tourism (ECPAT) board to co-ordinate efforts against the syndicates.
ECPAT spokeswoman Bernadetta van Vuuren said: "We will collaborate with Interpol and immigration authorities to form focal points around the SADC region to rescue and protect girls from the syndicates."
The core initiative of ECPAT is to lobby other non-governmental organisations in the SADC to intervene where abuse is detected.
Analysts blame widespread poverty in the developing world, especially sub-Saharan Africa where young girls become easy pray for pedophiles. - African Eye News Service
Church Leaders Frown On Women Who Wear Trousers
African Eye News Service (Nelspruit)
October 8, 2001
Posted to the web October 8, 2001
Things are hotting up in Malawian churches where more women are wearing trousers and fashionable garb to church services and upsetting traditional church leaders.
Malawi amended its decency and dress act in 1994 but seven years on many church ministers still cling to the belief that it is ungodly for women to wear trousers and they forbid female worshippers from wearing masculine clothing.
But many female Christians are defying the church elders and insist that the way they dress has nothing to do with their relationship with God.
"Nobody can be denied access to the Kingdom of God because of the way they dress," says faithful follower Brenda Ngoma. "I am a Christian and my conscience tells me that I can wear trousers because it has nothing to do with my relationship with God."
The increasing number of liberated dressers is making many ministers hot under the collar.
Leading the crusade for 'decent dress' are ministers from the Seventh day Adventist, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, who quote Old Testament biblical texts that dictate women's dress codes.
"We need to teach our faithful to understand the scriptures fully," said Pastor Hawkins Soko of the Seventh Day Adventist church. "Christians should dress and act differently from corrupt society. We live in the world but we are not of the world."
He said God did not want Christians to wear clothes like miniskirts and trousers that could "cause others to stumble."
"This ungodly practice is getting worse in my church," he complains, and blames converts from other faiths of "importing" these practices.
While the Roman Catholic Church of Central Africa (CCAP) doesn't impose an official dress code, they hold regular meetings to encourage their flock to dress decently.
"Although the world is changing very fast, Christians should still live by Bible teachings," said CCAP priest Jeremiah Chienda.
Surprisingly, the Pentecostal churches, which allow women worshippers to wear whatever they like as long as they look decent, remains one of the smallest denominations in the country. - African Eye News Service
Zimbabwe in hock, makes way
for little Libya
Harare | Tuesday
ZIMBABWE is to pay a heavy price for loans from Libya with
farms, hotels and oil installations pledged to Colonel Muammar
Gaddafi's regime as payment for his help, the Zimbabwe
The Libyans, who recently provided a $90-million line of credit to
supply fuel to Zimbabwe, have cast their eyes on stakes in two
financial institutions and a major hotel group as well as oil
facilities and land as payment, the newspaper said, citing
President Mugabe was recently in Tripoli to conclude the fuel
Sources said the Libyans were eyeing a stake in two commercial
banks in which the government has a shareholding. The
newspaper said although it was not immediately clear what the
Libyans proposed to do with their stake, there are suggestions
that the banks would form part of a broad-based Libyan
investment drive in Zimbabwe which will require local capital as
well as external sourcing.
The Libyans also want to run safari operations in Zimbabwe,
specifically designed for rich Arab tourists who want to travel to
the country to shoot game.
The sources said under the deal, the Libyans would be
apportioned 8 000 hectares of industrial and farming land. The
sources said Libyan entrepreneurs would produce fruit and food
crops on the land, solely for the Libyan market. The North African
country would also use part of the land to set up industries to
produce goods for their market.
The industries, the sources said, would use as much local raw
materials as possible to manufacture goods.
The newspaper quoted the sources as saying the Libyans were
interested in land in Mazowe Valley and Nyanga. They had also
indicated an interest in setting up a fruit canning plant or going
into partnership with an established local fruit and vegetable
"What this does is to set up a little Libya in Zimbabwe because
these guys want to come in a big way," the newspaper quoted a
source close to the arrangements as saying.
"They want the land to be fenced off so that Zimbabwe will not
have access to the plants and there is this unfortunate possibility
that they will bring in their own work- force," the source said.
"Fuel is an important resource for use but I am not sure whether
this will be for the good of the country in the long run," the source
The Libyans were in the country last month to inspect facilities in
the fuel industry and areas of possible investment in tourism.
In terms of the fuel agreement, Tamoil, a Libyan-owned company,
will supply a total of $360-million worth of fuel to the National Oil
Company of Zimbabwe (Noczim).
Nicholas Kitikiti, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Mines
and Energy, was quoted as saying that the fuel deal would meet
70% of Zimbabwe's normal requirements. He said negotiations
were also under way between Noczim and a Monaco-based
Libyan company, Oil-Invest, to form a joint-venture oil company
which would be involved in fuel imports and the retail trade in
The Libyan Arab Foreign Bank would finance the deals with the
two Libyan companies and Noczim. Zimbabwe would be paying in
Zimbabwe dollars. - Misanet
Ex-Judge Accuses Zimbabwe Government
By Michael Hartnack
Associated Press Writer
Saturday, Oct. 6, 2001; 10:49 a.m. EDT
HARARE, Zimbabwe ** A former High Court judge belatedly released a
ruling Saturday accusing Zimbabwe's government of subverting the rule of
law, sponsoring terror and undermining judicial independence.
Judge Michael Gillespie, 49, who quit the bench in August, said in the
written judgment that he could no longer in good conscience "administer the
law only against opponents of the government."
Gillespie, a white Zimbabwean who reportedly left the racially tense country
for England after stepping down, was assigned to review the case before he
quit. His ruling was published in newspapers Saturday.
In it, Gillespie deplored what he called an unduly lenient sentence that a
lower court imposed on a ruling-party supporter convicted of trying to extort
$3,000 from a white former employer.
In a wide-ranging attack that went beyond the case he reviewed, Gillespie
also said that Joseph Chinotimba, the leader of a group of ruling-party
militants, was allowed to continue organizing attacks on white-owned
businesses and farms while on bail in a case in which he was charged with
the attempted murder of an opposition supporter.
Chinotimba's treatment "makes a mockery of the law" and "leaves it
impossible for me to conclude ... (he) and his actions do not enjoy the full
backing of the executive," Gillespie wrote, accusing the government of
President Robert Mugabe of encouraging a wave of attacks on
white-owned businesses and farms this year.
He also accused the ruling party of manipulating the courts to block
opposition challenges to last year's parliamentary elections, threatening
white judges, and of packing the Supreme Court with Mugabe supporters.
Information Minister Jonathan Moyo called Gillespie's remarks "a disgusting
abuse of the bench" and "political and racist statements that have nothing to
do with the case."
"We will not be shaken in our commitment to build a just and equitable
society as per the goals of our liberation struggle," Moyo said.
Mugabe's government has pledged to seize most of the farmland owned by
Zimbabwe's 4,000 white farmers * nearly one-third of the country's fertile
land * for redistribution to landless blacks.
Ruling-party militants have forcibly occupied 1,700 farms since the
government announced the redistribution plan in March following the defeat
of a referendum that would have further strengthened Mugabe, who has
ruled for 21 years.
The defendant in the case Gillespie ruled on, who had received a
government-negotiated compensation package, led a mob to his employer's
offices during a surge of unrest against white employers in Zimbabwe's
cities this year.
Gillespie said the man should have been sentenced to prison instead of 420
hours of community service. However, the law prevented the judge from
overturning the verdict, allowing him only to express his disapproval.
Opposition leaders have accused the government of stirring up the urban
unrest * and the farm occupations * in order to gain support for the ruling
party and frighten its opponents. Gillespie said the behavior of the offender
in the case was "a symptom of the breakdown to mob rule."
"A judge who finds himself in the position where he is called upon to
administer the law only against opponents of the government and not against
government supporters faces the challenge to his conscience," he wrote.
This is from outside the SADC region, but amusing...
The tracking device is attached to Saturn's back
By Mohammed Allie in Cape Town
Police in Burundi have arrested a bird
suspected of spying.
The South African stork, which had a satellite
tracking device attached to its body, was
found by villagers after injuring a wing.
The alleged spy is a white stork named Saturn
which was a member of a flock of five that
formed part of a University of Cape Town
research programme to monitor the migration
patterns of the birds.
The other four birds, which were also fitted
with the same devices, died in February after
heavy rains in Mozambique.
Saturn apparently crash landed in a village in
Muyinga Province in north-eastern Burundi
after injuring a wing.
Upon closer inspection local villagers were
intrigued by the suspicious looking electronic
device strapped to the bird's body.
Understandably, there was great consternation
and the bird was immediately handed over to
the local police for investigation.
The Burundian police then enlisted the
assistance of English-speaking Mary Murphy
who lives in the area.
Fortunately, the satellite device had the email
address of Professor Les Underhill of the
University of Cape Town written on it.
Ms Murphy then emailed Professor Underhill
saying the sick bird, together with its
suspicious device, had been taken into
She added that Saturn's right wing was healing
and that he was being cared for by the police.
There was no mention whether the bird was
being held under 24-hour armed guard in the
Professor Underhill said he understood the
police's concerns, especially in today's
environment of terror attacks.
"The device looks pretty space age with an
aerial and a little solar cell to charge the
battery," he said.
But he remains hopeful that both the bird and
the satellite device will eventually be returned
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