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  • Christine Chumbler
    The Status of Women: the Struggle Against Hostile Customs The East African (Nairobi) March 11, 2002 Posted to the web March 11, 2002 Drawing upon her
    Message 1 of 1046 , Mar 11 10:00 AM
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      The Status of Women: the Struggle Against Hostile Customs

      The East African (Nairobi)
      March 11, 2002
      Posted to the web March 11, 2002
      Drawing upon her experience of juggling her marketing career with family obligations, GLORIA NSOMBA, head of marketing at Malawi Telecoms, explores the challenges that force potential women leaders to either change careers, drop out completely or limit opportunities for other women. Malawi, a landlocked country bordering Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, has a population of approximately 10 million people, 52 per cent of whom are women.
      The enrolment ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary education is still less than two-thirds. This has an impact on the numbers of girls proceeding to university.

      In Malawi, it was not the norm for girls to study engineering at university level. This was a male-dominated field that women were perceived not to be intelligent enough to tackle. The educational system was not conducive to countering this attitude. A woman's place remained the home - the kitchen to be precise.
      The most interesting thing was that if one was in such a field, one had to wear overalls. Until recently, it was a rule in Malawi that women should not wear trousers!
      Such being the case, after liberalisation of the dress code, we started seeing some girls venturing into this sector and interestingly enough, even though they have to work twice as hard, there are signs that they are competing well. Why twice as hard? This is because of the psychological problem that we have been brought up with.
      Women face a lot of challenges in the business world, where they are often prone to stereotyping, because there are fewer women than men in management positions.
      At any level, women face demands such as long hours, conflicting social demands, responsibilities brought about by the HIV/Aids pandemic, stigmatisation, child-raising and other cultural issues. These problems force potential women leaders to change careers, drop out completely, or limit opportunities for other women.
      The challenges facing women in the telecommunications sector include social pressures, family obligations, continuous professional development, and impediments to entering the sector.
      The education system places less emphasis on science subjects for girls at secondary school level. The infrastructure, workshops and laboratories in technical colleges and even at university colleges are designed for men - even washrooms often do not cater for women. There is also an absence of role models, there being few women in the field; since 1995; less than 200 girls have successfully graduated in the technical fields. Stereotyping, even among women, ends up pulling them down.
      In engineering, one sometimes has to work in remote areas in order to gain the relevant experience, particularly at the entry and middle levels. To make a choice between starting a family and one's career at this point in time can be difficult.
      There are currently only three women in key senior management positions in Malawi's two mobile and one fixed-line telephone providers. The rest are mainly support staff, with only 25 in the key technical cadres.
      Progress is difficult as key decisions are made by male superiors. They often have to endure "name calling" - women are always late, frequently absent from work, etc.
      In mid-career, women have to take decisions on starting a family versus building a career. They often have to take time out to raise children and build their families, thereby impacting on their careers. Women also find it difficult to work long hours and in remote locations.
      Spouses in our culture are unwilling or unable to provide enough support to a wife's career development. This happens even when the woman's position is more lucrative than the husband's.
      Women are expected to care for the sick, often at a high cost to their own career development, in particular with the HIV/ Aids pandemic. Culture requires that women spend more time than men in fulfilling cultural and traditional obligations like weddings, funerals, etc.
      Cultural practices are more supportive of male colleagues than women. We need more women as traditional leaders to assist us in this battle.
      In Malawi, in areas where we had village heads as women, there has been tremendous growth in girl enrolment in schools and women's business entrepreneurship.
      Some women advance stereotypes to their personal advantage, but do it with such wit and skill that they able to benefit from it.
      The cost of this strategy is that it furthers harmful stereotypes and continues to limit opportunities for other women to communicate their genuine personal potential.
      Women will need to accept their own identity and be role models for other womenfolk. The fact that there are a few women at executive management level ought to give us the incentive to venture into non-traditional careers.
      There is a need to empower women and eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education. Adequate skilled training then gives women an opportunity to prove their capabilities. In terms of team spirit, women are good at consulting others and can use this to their benefit.
      Telecommunications is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world. Young girls should be encouraged to take up the challenge. Continuing technological advances will provide opportunities for work and enhance the ability to start small businesses.
      Cultural changes are also required. These include early marriages and have an impact on HIV/ Aids. Women chiefs could play a leading role in this.
      Women leaders have a role to promote extracurricular activities for girls which will groom them to become future leaders. In doing so, they need to work with other bodies in encouraging girl dropouts to continue with their studies.
      There are opportunities for women to seize power more boldly and to move swiftly but with determination to achieve their goals.
      Government support, of course, will play a crucial role in ensuring that some of these opportunities are capitalised.


      *****

      Zimbabwe's Election Enters Third Day

      By Ravi Nessman
      Associated Press Writer digital
      Monday, March 11, 2002; 10:10 AM

      HARARE, Zimbabwe ** Zimbabwe's chaotic presidential elections resumed for an unscheduled third day
      Monday, with polling stations opening five hours late and the opposition accusing the government of frustrating
      their supporters. Opposition officials said three senior leaders had been arrested.

      President Robert Mugabe is facing the toughest challenge ever to his 22-year grip on power from Morgan
      Tsvangirai, a former trade union leader and head of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

      After being chased away from polling stations by police Sunday night, thousands of voters returned Monday
      morning because the country's second highest court ordered the government to extend voting countrywide for a
      third day. But the polling stations did not open until noon, after many voters had given up and gone home or to
      work.

      Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said on state television Monday morning that the government would extend
      voting only in Harare and a nearby township, both opposition strongholds. He said many polling stations in the
      rest of the country had already been dismantled.

      Tsvangirai accused Mugabe and his ruling party of attempting to steal the election by driving opposition observers
      from 43 percent of rural polling stations and some counting centers, and by discouraging people in urban areas
      from voting.

      "If those thousands of people are not allowed to vote, this is a stillborn election," he said Monday. "The MDC will
      not be part of an illegitimate process to try to disenfranchise people."

      In Brussels, European Union foreign ministers said they received reports Monday of voting irregularities in
      Zimbabwe. Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the elections "are not fair."

      Last month the EU was angered by Zimbabwe's refusal to let its observers freely monitor the elections. The EU
      imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions, but its diplomatic missions remain in Zimbabwe.

      The opposition party's secretary-general and third-ranking official, Welshman Ncube, was arrested Monday in
      the southwestern town of Plumtree, while his deputy, Gift Chimanikire, was detained in Harare, said David
      Coltart, an opposition legislator. Police gave no reason for the arrests, but Ncube has been charged with treason
      in a previous case.

      The opposition's shadow minister for foreign affairs, Tendai Biti, also was arrested in the Harare township of
      Kuwadzana and his whereabouts were not immediately known, opposition officials said.

      "We will not succumb to this kind of intimidation," Tsvangirai said, adding that he will not appeal to the country's
      Supreme Court because it consistently rules against the opposition. He appealed to the people to show restraint
      and avoid confrontation with security forces.

      Two U.S. diplomats were also detained for several hours and released by Zimbabwean police Monday in the
      turbulent town of Chinhoyi, 75 miles north of Harare, said Robert Whitehead, deputy chief of mission at the U.S.
      Embassy. He said they were accredited as election observers and Zimbabwean authorities had not explained why
      they were detained.

      Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

      Despite pre-election violence and intimidation that opposition officials blame on Mugabe loyalists, voters headed
      out in record numbers to cast their ballots during the weekend vote * especially in urban areas like Harare.

      In the capital's poor Mbare neighborhood, Duncan Gideon, an unemployed 25-year old who waited all day
      Sunday to vote, returned to the polling station after his sister called him and said it had reopened.

      "Others have gone to work, others are hungry, sunburned," Gideon said, explaining why many had given up on
      voting. About 250 people were in line with him.

      The presiding officer of the station, who did not give his name, said the opening was delayed because officials had
      just received the order to reopen.

      In Zimbabwe's second city of Bulawayo, observers said most people appeared to have cast their ballot and there
      appeared to be no need for an extra day of voting. The ballot boxes were kept at polling stations overnight and
      were being moved to counting centers Monday.

      Also Monday, the government announced turnout figures that showed massive voting in Mugabe strongholds with
      far fewer voters casting ballots in opposition areas.

      Mashonaland Central, which normally votes strongly for the ruling party, had a 68 percent turnout. Harare had a
      47 percent turnout so far, and the city of Bulawayo a 46 percent turnout, the government said.

      Despite the long lines in Harare, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo was quoted in the independent Daily News
      on Monday as saying that reports of high turnout for Harare were "really pictures painted by people with creative
      imaginations."

      Overall, 2.7 million of the nation's 5.6 million registered voters, or 48 percent, went to the polls by Sunday, the
      government said.

      The Zimbabwe Educational Trust, an independent research group, said last week that the voters' rolls were in
      such disarray that any turnout higher than 2.6 million could be rigged.

      Also Monday, the state-run Herald newspaper said white people, opposition officials and an American were
      deployed to some polling stations in a suspicious manner that led authorities to believe there was a plot to disrupt
      the elections to give the international community a chance to declare them unfair.

      The Herald also accused the U.S. and British governments of "setting up the stage for a major military offensive."

      U.S. Embassy spokesman Bruce Warton called the claim "ridiculous."

      *****

      Mugabe tests voters'
      patience

      By Joseph Winter
      BBC News Online

      The sight of the enormous queues of people
      waiting to vote over the weekend illustrates
      the two major features of Zimbabwe's
      elections: the determination of Harare
      residents to get rid of President Robert Mugabe
      and his equally strong determination to stay in
      power.

      Some of those people stood and jostled to
      keep their place for up to 10 hours on
      Saturday, again on Sunday, were chased away
      by riot police on Sunday night and then turned
      up again to vote on Monday.


      The queues and the
      chaos were the result
      of the government's
      tactic of making it
      difficult for urban
      voters - the bedrock
      of Morgan Tsvangirai's
      support - to cast their
      ballots.

      Not content with
      requiring registering
      voters to provide proof
      of residency, such as
      utility bills in their
      names, which the
      young and unemployed
      are unlikely to have,
      the authorities
      drastically reduced the number of polling
      stations in the country's towns and cities.

      In the June 2000 parliamentary elections, the
      Bulawayo South constituency had 40 polling
      stations.

      Over the week-end, the same number of
      voters had to squeeze into just 15 schools and
      community centres, whose location was only
      made public on the first day of voting.

      Tough choice

      Following the confusion, a High Court judge
      granted an opposition request to extend voting
      but the government refused to implement the
      order beyond the capital and even there,
      voting only got under way at 1130 local time
      (0930 GMT).

      By which time, some long suffering voters had
      finally given up hope of casting their
      all-important ballot.

      Or they had decided
      that they could not
      afford to take a whole
      day off work in order
      to vote.

      And while the court
      ordered an extension
      across the country,
      polling stations have
      remained firmly closed
      outside the capital and
      the nearby dormitory
      town of Chitungwiza.

      Reginald Matchaba-Hove of the Zimbabwe
      Election Support Network told BBC News Online
      that many residents of other urban centres
      such as Bulawayo and Mutare had also not
      been able to vote over the weekend because
      of the queues and the lack of ballot papers.

      Victory

      But all this was precisely what Mr Mugabe had
      planned.

      The government-controlled Herald newspaper
      crowed "Mugabe headed for victory" on the
      basis that turnout was higher in the president's
      stronghold of Mashonaland than in Harare and
      the second city of Bulawayo.

      The number of polling
      stations in rural areas
      had been increased,
      making it easier for Mr
      Mugabe's supporters
      to vote.

      Official statistics say
      that just a quarter of
      eligible Harare
      residents had voted by
      noon on Sunday,
      compared to well over
      60% in Mr Mugabe's
      stronghold of
      Mashonaland Central.

      If the other Hararians do not manage to cast
      their ballots on Monday, all of Mr Mugabe's
      carefully-laid plans may well succeed in
      delivering him victory.

      Democratic avenue

      But at what cost?

      Those who were so desperate to vote, were
      prevented from doing so and feel that deprived
      their candidate of victory, may well decide
      that the democratic avenue had been closed
      to them, leaving them little option but to take
      to the streets.

      There were some isolated outbreaks of
      violence on Monday morning when people
      found polling stations closed, despite the court
      order.

      Alternatively, if many people do manage to
      vote on Monday - and they seem ready to
      overcome enormous obstacles to do so - Mr
      Mugabe's stratagems may come to nought.

      And if urban residents feel so strongly that
      Zimbabwe needs a change, maybe their rural
      cousins are also beginning to doubt their
      long-time leader.

      The question then would be: Would Mr Mugabe
      respect the verdict of the electorate?

      *****

      Photos from the election

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/newsid_1865000/1865455.stm

      There are lots of other stories about the elections on BBC, but I thought these were the highlights.
    • 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
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        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.

        Crackdown

        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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