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  • Christine Chumbler
    Go Stacia!!! Maize Dominance Worsens Food Crisis UN Integrated Regional Information Networks June 4, 2002 Posted to the web June 4, 2002 Lilongwe Malawi needs
    Message 1 of 1046 , Jun 5, 2002
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      Go Stacia!!!


      Maize Dominance Worsens Food Crisis

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      June 4, 2002
      Posted to the web June 4, 2002

      Lilongwe

      Malawi needs to shift its focus from maize to the abundance of "local" foods - many of them growing wild - if it wants to avert future food shortages and malnutrition, a nutritionist based in the country told IRIN.

      "It has been ingrained over the last 60 years that maize is food and there is nothing else. People think if they haven't eaten maize, they are 'hungry'," said Stacia Nordin. She hopes to convince Malawians, donors and the government, to re-examine the dominance of this staple food.

      "They don't look at anything else like beans or nuts - there is just a big focus on energy from maize and it's killing our land and not meeting nutritional requirements. I'm begging them to wean themselves off it," she said.

      Focusing only on processed maize and the energy component of the diet was especially detrimental to people with HIV/AIDS because it doesn't contain all the nutrients the body needs. "If they want to focus on energy they might as well just eat sugar," Nordin said.

      Her call comes as President Bakili Muluzi told the opening of Parliament last week that 600,000 mt of maize was needed to avert a food crisis for up to 3.2 million people when food from the current harvest is finished.

      Organisations like the World Food Programme (WFP) and Save the Children have already started distributing emergency supplies of maize and the government has called for tenders towards replenishing the stocks that it controversially sold last year.

      Nordin slammed media articles that poignantly described people eating wild food out of desperation as she believes that the reintroduction of these very foods is the answer to solving Malawi's food crisis and preventing malnutrition.

      She explained that Malawian's ate a variety of "old foods" before the arrival of maize with the Portuguese in the 1790s. Maize was also promoted as a crop by British colonialists and this was perpetuated by previous president Kamuzu Banda, who decided that "maize was the future and everybody had to plant it".

      "It was ingrained that other foods were bad and that Malawi was moving ahead by leaving the old foods," she said.

      Nordin said constant crops of maize had destroyed the soil's nutrients and this, combined with poor land preservation like not putting organic matter back into the soil, burning and the use of fertilisers, was damaging the soil. Maize is also not resistant to drought.

      Nordin wants people to balance their meals by considering the 555 other foods available from local fruits and vegetables and wild food. This would require rediscovering the "old foods" that the "goggos" (grannies) still remember.

      Instead of maize people could eat indigenous crops like millet, sorghum, a local rice and a variety of yam and potato-like foods. She said local wild beans called "kakumpanda" and "mikuna" grow quickly and are tasty. Malawi has local plums, berries and figs and every part of the baobab fruit is edible - the seeds, fruits, leaves, flowers and roots. Avocadoes, though also not indigenous, provide a rich food source and even the leaves can be boiled as tea to prevent anaemia. Flour can be made by roasting and pounding the seeds of pumpkins and watermelons.

      To help get the message across, she gives groups of up to 20 people a presentation with pictures of the wild and local vegetables available. Much of her lectures are built on information contained in a book called "Useful Plants of Malawi" by botanist Jesse Williamson. Williamson's study was "very scientific so it sat on a shelf".

      In Nordin's presentations, she describes the plants and how they contribute to good nutrition. She said the younger generation often don't know the plants "but an older person will then step forward and laugh saying 'I remember that' and take over the presentation and do all the teaching for me".

      "I explain to people that they don't need to have money to have a good diet ... This has been one of the better education years because of the hunger. People are realising that the system of just focusing on maize doesn't work," she said.

      In the wake of two successive years of poor maize harvests, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in conjunction with the government, is now encouraging diversification into drought-resistant cassava. Cassava is traditionally grown along the shores of Lake Malawi on the eastern flank of the country.

      FAO official Des Forpes told IRIN that three agricultural research institutions across the country would be used to propagate cassava cuttings, which would then be distributed to farmers. Cassava is a hardy plant, which although unlikely to replace maize, could be grown as an emergency crop providing a rich source of vitamins, minerals and proteins.

      He acknowledged that a lot of work would be needed to convince farmers of the benefits of cassava: "They haven't been exposed to it, but with this food crisis they'll be encouraged to grow it."


      *****

      Half-a-million people in Mozambique need
      food aid

      More than 500 000 people in two provinces of Mozambique would need food
      aid until next year, according to a special report released on Tuesday by the
      UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme.

      The report said that the 515 000 people were from 43 districts of the
      southern and central regions of the country.

      "This population is about 15% of the total population of the two regions but
      less than three percent of the country's total population."

      They would need more than 70 tons of food aid to survive until April next
      year. Of these people, about 355 000 needed immediate food aid of more
      than 50 tons.

      The famine in the country was caused by severe dry weather during the
      2001/2002 season which had sharply reduced crop yields in the southern
      and central parts of Mozambique.

      The main cereal producing parts of the country received sufficient rain and
      crop estimates were favourable, but high internal transport costs made it
      uncompetitive to move the surplus to the deficit areas in the south.

      The report said that agricultural inputs such as seeds were urgently needed
      to help farmers who were affected by the drought to start producing food
      again. - Sapa

      *****

      Starvation looms in
      Zambia

      By Barnaby Phillips
      BBC Southern Africa correspondent

      It is one of the most beautiful places in
      Southern Africa, but today many of the people
      who live alongside Lake Kariba are struggling to
      survive.

      The UN's World Food
      Programme has started
      emergency deliveries of
      food by boat, in order to
      reach remote villages
      where food stocks are
      dangerously low.

      "We cannot compare this year with any year
      that has come before it," says Alexander
      Kasenzi of Harvest Help Zambia, the
      organisation which is helping to distribute the
      food by boat.

      "People have nothing in reserve this time."

      'Anxious and hungry'

      We came ashore at the tiny village of Henga.

      About 200 people had come down to the
      water's edge to meet us.

      They crowded round us, anxious and hungry.

      Everybody wanted to get their hands on the
      bags of maize, and as these started to be
      unloaded, the villagers were pushing and
      shoving amongst themselves.

      A fight broke out, but
      the village chief
      quickly restored order.

      An old woman told me
      that all her crops had
      wilted, and that now
      she was reduced to
      looking for wild fruits
      from trees.

      The Zambian
      Government has
      declared a national
      disaster following the
      failure of the recent harvest, and has asked
      for urgent international assistance to feed four
      million people.

      Zambia's Southern Province, which includes
      Lake Kariba, is worst affected.

      Rainfall this year was highly erratic - the maize
      crop was an almost total failure.

      Aids

      "We can still avert a calamity," says Zambia's
      President Levy Mwanawasa.

      "The real danger period is two or three months
      from now when the current harvest will be
      exhausted."

      But many Zambians complain their government
      could have seen this crisis coming, and should
      have been better prepared.

      President Mwanawasa has only been in power
      since the beginning of this year, but he
      suggests agriculture could have been given
      more attention by his predecessor, Frederick
      Chiluba.

      "All I can say is that had effective policies
      been put in place I don't understand why we
      should be having these shortages."

      Zambia is not yet experiencing a famine. But
      as the food shortages bite, Zambian society is
      under increasing strain.

      It is those who are already weak who are most
      vulnerable.

      One in five adult
      Zambians is thought to
      be HIV positive.

      Alexander Kasenzi says
      villagers are less and
      less able to help the
      sick people in their
      midst.

      "In a situation like
      now, where there is
      generally food
      shortages, the
      extended family
      system breaks down
      and it becomes a question of survival of the
      fittest."

      John has lived with Aids for five years in a
      village in southern Zambia which has been
      severely affected by drought.

      His eyes are horribly infected, and his body is
      covered in sores. John is too weak to work the
      dusty fields around his hut, and has no regular
      source of income.
      i
      I asked him whether friends or neighbours were
      able to help him with gifts of food.

      "They want to be paid now, and how can I pay
      them?," he asks.

      So what are his worries about the immediate
      future for him and his wife in the coming
      months?

      His reply was chillingly blunt:

      "We are going to die, unless you can help us,
      we are going to die."

      *****

      World Bank Wants More Aid for Africa

      By Harry Dunphy
      Associated Press Writer
      Tuesday, June 4, 2002; 2:29 PM

      WASHINGTON ** World Bank President
      James Wolfensohn urged wealthy nations
      Tuesday to pledge that half of all new
      development money go to Africa, saying no
      other region has a greater need.

      He also said leaders of these nations should
      lower their trade barriers to African products
      and reduce agricultural subsidies to farmers that
      "are crippling Africa's chance to export its way
      out of poverty."

      Speaking to InterAction, a group of
      non-governmental humanitarian organizations,
      Wolfensohn also took several swipes at
      Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, although he did
      not mention him by name.

      "There are those who ask if the problems are so intractable, why should we wager more resources on
      Africa? I would say: equitable development in Africa is crucial to Africa's future and our own. There is
      nothing intractable about Africa's problems unless we choose to make them so."

      Accompanied by Irish rock star Bono, O"Neill completed a high visibility 10-day trip to Africa last week
      and is expected to discuss his findings in a speech Wednesday. He has been a vocal critic of past
      anti-poverty programs in Africa, saying they failed to generate real development and wasted billions of
      dollars.

      Wolfensohn said when leaders of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations meet later this month in
      Canada, they should "pledge that half of all new aid will be provided to Africa. ... Nowhere is the need for
      such help more evident than in Africa."

      The agenda for the two-day summit is groundbreaking because the leaders will spend an entire day
      focusing on Africa. Five African leaders and the U.N. secretary general will attend.

      The United States and other industrialized nations said in March they would spend billions more on
      development aid between now and 2006. But the amount falls short of the $50 billion the World Bank says
      is necessary to reduce by half the number of people living on less than $1 a day by 2015.

      Wolfensohn said of the 1.1 billion people worldwide who lack access to clean water 25 percent live in
      Africa. He said 28 million Africans have been stricken by AIDS, "an epidemic that is daily infecting 9,000
      more."

      He suggested the global community had some responsibility for Africa's problems because in the 1990s
      when African leaders were putting better growth and poverty reduction programs in place and rich
      counteries were prospering, foreign aid fell from $35 a head to $19 a head.

      Declining commodity prices fell by 33 percent, wiping out millions of dollars from African economies,
      Wolfensohn said, and increasing farm subsidies hurt African exports.

      Farm subsidies in the wealthy nations now total $350 billion a year* "roughly equivalent to the entire
      (economic output) of sub-Saharan Africa," Wolfensohn said.

      He said the United States and other G-7 leaders should "end the hypocrisy on trade that says 'do as I say,
      not as I do.'"

      Wolfensohn said African leaders were seeking marked access, a level playing field for products and goods
      and a trade partnership that is more than just in name
    • 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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