- Activists Condemn Police, Army Action
Daily Times (Blantyre)
February 12, 2002
Posted to the web February 12, 2002
Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), whose director was asualted by the Army, has accused police and the army of harrassing innocent people during their recent joint operation in Lilongwe to seize illegal arms and property saying their actions contravened guidelines in the Police Reform Program.
Director for the CHRR Ollen Mwaubulunju who was beaten by police after he tried to reason with the police said their actions violated the rights of innocent people
"We totally condemn the police and army brutality. The police were supposed to issue a warrant to allow them to search the premises," he said.
Narrating his experience Mwaubulunju said he was informed by concerned citizens that police were harrassing people at a bar in Namilombwa in Area 47.
"I went there to check and found people lying on the ground some hiding under the chairs. I tried to reason with the police I introduced myself that I am from a Human Rights organisation but they ignored my identification saying human rights what," he said.
Mwaubulunju said the police grabbed and forced him to the ground while beating him at the back," he said.
He said the police pointed a gun in his mouth while saying threatening words.
"I was injured I went to Lilongwe Police station where they gave me a police report. I was treated at Lilongwe Central Hospital where a medical doctor who treated me said I had sustained soft tissue injuries," he said.
Mwaubulunju said he had received reports that a lot of innocent people alongside suspects were beaten during the operations.
He said according to human rights requirement and the Police Reform Programme the police have mechanisms and procedures on how to handle suspects.
"The police are supposed to use force as a last resort in this case the people were simply having fun before they were ambushed and harrassed by the police," he said.
Guidelines in the Police Reform Programme under victim support and handling of suspect established to change police attitudes towards the community and viceversa demands the police to treat the public during such operations with dignity.
However the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code allows the police to search any house without any warrant when they have no options.
A spokesperson at the Police Public Relations office in Lilongwe George Chikowi said will comment after they have compiled a report on the operation.
A police officer who refused to be named said sometime the police become violent because of the way the public respond.
"People sometimes do not give information voluntary and the police use force instead," he said.
He said a lot of police officers are still naive to adhere to the requirements of Police Reform Programme.
The police and the army who conducted the operation for three days are reported to have arrested over 100 suspects numerious stolen property.
K100 Maize Levy Funds Diverted
Daily Times (Blantyre)
February 12, 2002
Posted to the web February 12, 2002
GOVERNMENT has diverted over K100 million from the maize levy on fuel meant to buy relief maize to a money-for-work programme under the Malawi Social Action Fund (Masaf), Treasury Secretary Patrick Chilambe confirmed yesterday.
Late last month government directed Petroleum Importers Limited (PIL)*a consortium of the country's oil companies, which was collecting the maize levy on the government's behalf*to hand over the money immediately.
PIL was holding the the money it collected since the levy came into effect last August because Treasury had not instructed it what account the money was to be paid into.
However, in a letter sourced by Daily Times dated January 22, 2002 and addressed to PIL General Manager Richard Kamphale, Treasury Secretary Patrick Chilambe said government has directed immediate remmittance of the funds through a cheque payable to the Government of Malawi.
The letter also urged the PIL boss to remit similar monthly collections for an unspecified period.
PIL has been collecting K2 on each litre of petrol sold, K1 on diesel and paraffin, respectively, which was projected to raise over K375 million to buy relief maize in the face of a looming famine.
Chilambe said yesterday the government has decided to use the funds for its newly launched cash-for-work programme under Masaf, replacing an earlier food-for-work scheme.
"The money will be given to those engaged in development work in Masaf projects," he said.
Chilambe, who moved to Treasury late last year, could not tell which account the funds will be remitted into, only saying the accounting system should not bother anyone because it will be in government hands.
Consumer Association of Malawi (Cama) Executive Director John Kapito said in an earlier interview PIL should not release the money to government until it gives a clear explanation on what the money will be used for.
Kapito said tax-payers will be anxious to know what their money, which they pay through buying fuel, has bought.
The maize levy has been hidden under the Price Stabilsation Fund (PSF) in the fuel price build up.
Blantyre Bus Company Launches New Regional Service
African Eye News Service (Nelspruit)
February 12, 2002
Posted to the web February 12, 2002
Malawi's largest coach company Shire Bus Lines intends introducing new tourism routes into neighbouring Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries from March this year.
The new service will include express coaches between the central Mozambican city of Beira, Mozambique's capital Maputo, Zambia's capital Lusaka, Tanzania's capital Dar es Salaam and a range of other cities.
Shire Bus Lines chief executive Humphrey Mvula said the new luxury service followed the purchase of 45 new coaches from South Africa.
"Backpackers, adventure tourists and other budget conscience travellers currently have to fly around the region, or rely on a hodge-podge or local bus companies to get around. We intend offering a single reliable service, with good quality seats, throughout the region," said Mvula.
Shire Bus Lines currently only operates one international route, from Blantyre in Malawi to the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.
"The fantastic response of this line has convinced us to expand to other countries," said Mvula.
Shire Bus Lines is managed and run by a government-owned parastatal, the Agricultural Development & Marketing Corporation. - African Eye News Service
Inquiry Into Human Rights
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
February 11, 2002
Posted to the web February 11, 2002
The Malawi government has defended it's human rights record ahead of a public inquiry into political and religous discrimination, violence, and related intolerance.
The inquiry, launching on Tuesday, 12 February, is part of a National Peace Building and Conflict Prevention Programme of the Malawian Human Rights Commission (HRC). The Malawian government meanwhile has said it hopes that the exercise will consolidate the country's relatively new democracy, a spokesman told IRIN on Monday.
The Malawian information ministry's Anthony Livusa told IRIN that despite recent criticism of the government the country had a democracy that was the envy of some of its neighbours. Last month, Denmark dramatically cut its aid to Malawi and voiced concern over human rights abuses and corruption.
Said Livusa: "If there's a democracy in the world where human rights are respected its Malawi. We have a democracy where people exercise their human rights, sometimes even beyond the limits. You can't doubt Malawi's human rights record."
As to whether the inquiry was timed to negate the impact of the Danish withdrawal of aid, Livusa said: "This has nothing to do with the Danes pulling out. Malawi is committed to consolidating its democracy, a democracy which is the envy of its neighbours, and ensuring dialogue and reconciliation across political and social sectors."
The HRC's inquiry is being funded by the Norwegian government's aid agency NORAD, through the Norwegian Embassy.
Norway's ambassador to Lilongwe, Asbjorn Eidhammer, however, refused to be drawn on Malawi's human rights record or the reasons for the establishment of the inquiry. He said that Malawi had made a lot of progress since democratisation, "but of course there are challenges and problems as in all African countries".
However, independent observers in Malawi, such as Blantyre journalist Anderson Fumulani, paint a picture of widespread political intolerance and intimidation. Fumulani said militants, allegedly sponsored by the ruling United Democratic Party, often intimidated or assaulted people critical of the government.
Said Fumulani: "We have a group of young men who call themselves Young Democrats who beat up anybody who criticise the government." The violence and intimidation occured mostly in urban areas.
Fumulani pointed to the repeated arrest, allegedly on fabricated charges, of a former government minister Brown Mpinganjira who is now critical of government. "Each time the charges have been thrown out of court," Fumulani said.
The HRC said in a press release that the inquiry is to investigate the incidence, causes and impact of political and religious discrimination, violence and related intolerance in Malawi and make appropriate findings and recommendations.
It aims to "contribute to law reform and the strengthening of institutional mechanisms in order to deal effectively with the causes and consequences of political and religious discrimination, violence and related intolerance".
The editor of Zambia's only privately owned
newspaper has been briefly detained by police
and charged with defaming President Levy
The arrest of Fred
M'membe, editor of The
Post, followed the
publication last week of
a story which quoted
an opposition lawmaker
as saying Mr
Mwanawasa was a
The police have also
issued a summons for Dipak Patel, the
opposition lawmaker quoted in the Post article.
The description of the president became
commonplace among opposition leaders during
the run up to December's elections, which they
say were rigged.
The president is prone to verbal slip-ups and
suffered from poor health following a road
accident 10 years ago.
Due in court
The Post reported that Mr M'membe told the
arresting officer that the charge was a "sheer
waste of his time".
"Such a stupid charge can only be originated
by senseless people with nothing, or very little,
to do," he was quoted as saying.
A deputy news editor at the Post, Amos
Malupenga, told the AFP news agency that Mr
M'membe was detained for some hours until
lawyers set bail for him.
"He should be appearing in court soon," he was
quoted as saying.
Another court case is pending against Mr
M'membe for a similar offence after he was
arrested last year for calling former Zambian
president Frederick Chiluba a thief.
EU observers await
The European Commission is seeking to clarify
whether the Zimbabwean Government has
refused to accredit its chief election observer.
On Monday, Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Stan
Mudenge appeared to rule out the possibility of
Sweden's UN ambassador, Pierre Schori, who is
now in Harare, being given accreditation
because he comes from one of six European
countries not invited to observe the March
Mr Mudenge told state
television on Monday
that there was no
invitation to the EU;
just to nine European
countries invited to
observe the presidential
election in an individual
A spokeswoman in
Brussels said the commission hoped to learn on
Wednesday whether this was official policy.
Another EU official said
the EU member states
would then decide
whether or not to
If implemented, the
sanctions would include
a travel ban on Mr
Mugabe, his family and
close associates, a
freeze on any assets
they might hold in EU
member states, and a
suspension of long-tem
The EU members have also said they will
impose those sanctions if they believe that the
voting has not been free and fair, or if media
coverage of it is restricted.
A team of 30 European election observers are
due in Zimbabwe on Tuesday.
Mr Schori has said he intends to start training
them this week, while they await
The EU intends to
deploy 150 observers
for the vote.
Mugabe has allowed EU
officials to monitor the
poll, but objected to
representatives from six
EU states, which have
strongly criticised the
seizure of white-owned
farmland by his supporters.
Human rights groups have warned of a "climate
of fear and terror" in the run-up to the
elections, when President Robert Mugabe is
expected to face his toughest challenge in 22
years of power.
Earlier on Monday two
petrol bombs were
hurled into the offices
of Zimbabwe's main
newspaper, The Daily
News, in the second
city of Bulawayo.
Two petrol bombs were
also thrown at the
offices of a nearby
private printing house,
Daily Print, which has
campaign material for the opposition Movement
for Democratic Change.
A Daily News journalist said that nobody was
injured and very little equipment damaged in
The attack followed threats from ruling party
Greener pastures for
Angola and Mozambique are encouraging white
farmers from Zimbabwe to emigrate and settle
in an attempt to revive their shattered
Hundreds of white
Zimbabweans have left
for greener pastures in
such as South Africa
Others are heading for
Britain, the United
States of America,
Canada and Australia.
But Angola and
Mozambique, both of
which have massive
are keen to welcome new arrivals.
About 95% of white-owned land in Zimbabwe
has been earmarked by President Robert
Mugabe for seizure and redistribution to black
Up to 15O mainly dairy and tobacco farmers
from Zimbabwe have expressed interest in
relocating to Mozambique.
Sores Nhaca, the governor of Manica province,
said about 6O were expected to arrive this
"We want concrete
them," he said, adding
the farmers had sought
rich farmland in Barue
district, some 9Okm
east of the
town of Mutare.
It has been estimated
that Mr Mugabe's
redistribution plan is
forcing large-scale farmers to abandon crops
worth an estimated $600m.
Amid increasing shortages of the country's
staple food, maize, it has also been estimated
that about 1.2 million black farm labourers and
their families will lose their jobs and homes in
the redistribution programme.
But in Mozambique, Mr Nhaca said that
ordinary people were eagerly awaiting the
arrival of the farmers in the former Portuguese
colony, potentially one of Africa's most
The country is struggling to rebuild itself after
a brutal 16-year civil war which began when
Mozambique won independence from Portugal
In Angola, another former Portugese colony,
Zimbabwean farmers are reportedly planning to
settle in the fertile province of Huambo.
According to a report in the official Jornal de
Angola, 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres) have
been made available for them.
The farmers, whose number was not specified,
were allotted land in Chipipa, about 20 km (12
miles) from Huambo town.
State Governor Paulo Kassoma told the
Associated Press news agency he wanted the
farmers to grow maize for export on abandoned
They would help develop the state and create
jobs, he said.
Maize production in Angola reached its peak in
the 1970s at 790,000 tonnes per year, 40% of
which was exported.
Production dropped dramatically because of
Angola's civil war, which has raged almost
nonstop since independence in 1975.
But authorities clearly hope that the
Zimbabwean farmers will boost output.
Back in Zimbabwe, Commercial Farmers' Union
spokeswoman Jenni Williams declined to
comment on the increasing exodus of white
"We don't keep records of people leaving the
country, but only those staying," she said.
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