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  • Christine Chumbler
    Girls Face Obstacles to Education UN Integrated Regional Information Networks July 9, 2002 Posted to the web July 9, 2002 Girls in Malawi have to overcome a
    Message 1 of 1046 , Jul 10 7:21 AM
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      Girls Face Obstacles to Education

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      July 9, 2002
      Posted to the web July 9, 2002


      Girls in Malawi have to overcome a mountain of sometimes insurmountable
      obstacles if they hope to complete their education, a new study has
      found.

      The girls' battle to get an education falls within the shocking
      statistic that only 20 percent of Malawi's children complete primary
      school.

      The latest study, conducted by the government and UNICEF's Basic
      Education Programme, found that although the introduction of free
      education in 1994 removed a major obstacle, the country still had a high
      drop out rate caused by a new set of constraints.

      While boys also struggled through difficulties, such as being taken out
      of school during peak agricultural activities, getting an education
      appeared to be more difficult for girls.

      Poverty and economic conditions often decided whether an education was
      possible. One of the main obstacles was the perception that boys'
      education was seen as more important. Girls often started school at a
      later age - eight instead of six - and were weighed down with
      "burdensome involvement" in household chores while trying to find time
      for their schooling, the report said.

      According to the government and UNICEF report, gender differences,
      encouraged through segregated activities at home, continued at school.
      Girls were tasked with collecting water for teachers if the school
      didn't have its own taps. Schools had fewer female teachers so girls did
      not have role models and female teachers were often allocated infant
      classes.

      The study found that girls were perceived to be less intelligent and
      they were bullied and sexually harassed, making school a hostile place.

      Their performance was hampered by other conditions that boys also had
      to deal with, such as poor teacher knowledge and training, inadequate
      teaching materials and unstimulating class environments.

      If girls became pregnant, the Education Department allowed them to
      return to school once they had given birth, but this policy had not been
      properly disseminated so girls still aborted and hid pregnancies.

      The processing of applications for readmission often took two years -
      another setback for young women already battling community pressure to
      get married rather than return to school.

      Some teachers were responsible for pregnancies, but because of
      connivance they were not held to account for their actions, the report
      said.

      When girls were able to return to school, they found that their old
      school saw them as a bad influence and preferred them to go to another
      school.

      Education policy stated that boys responsible for pregnancies should
      also be suspended, but they avoided this by transferring to another
      school, with no disruption to their own education.

      The Malawi National Human Development Report (MNHDR), released in May,
      put the student mix in secondary schools at 72 percent boys and 28
      percent girls and said only 27 percent of university admissions were
      women.

      The joint government/UNICEF programme had been responding to these
      challenges through a number of strategies with the help of the World
      Food Programme (WFP), the US Agency for International Development
      (USAID), the British Department for International Development (DFID),
      the Danish Agency for Development Assistance, the World Bank and the
      African Development Bank.

      In a paper on accelerating progress toward education for all, released
      in April, the World Bank said: "Good education reduces poverty and
      inequality and is essential for sustained economic growth. Combined with
      good macroeconomic policies, it is fundamental for the construction of
      democratic societies and globally competitive economies."

      It noted that in every country, completion rates were lowest for
      children from poor families and in rural areas. The MNHDR put Malawi's
      education challenges into perspective - it said 65 percent of the people
      in Malawi are poor, and 28 percent are extremely poor.

      A single mother at a nutrition centre told IRIN earlier this year that
      her seven-year-old daughter could not go to school as she had to look
      after her baby twin brothers to enable her mother to do piece work to
      feed the family.

      To turn this situation around, in the 1997 to 2001 programme cycle, the
      government/UNICEF programme had implemented two major projects revolving
      around community schools and life skills. So far, 85 community schools
      had been built in 10 districts in areas of low enrolment.

      The new schools had enrolled 80,000 pupils and introduced the concept
      of "Joyful Learning". This incorporated participatory teaching and
      learning, the provision of text books, furniture and equipment, the
      improvement of the school environment and the provision of safe water
      and improved sanitation.

      In response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, they also introduced life skills
      programmes to help youths make informed decisions on their sexual
      behaviour.

      But for the girls who hope to complete their education and have greater
      choices, the most significant changes will come in projects within the
      2002 to 2006 programme planned by the government and UNICEF.

      One such project will support measures to ensure full and equal access
      to basic education through community schools and will ensure the
      elimination of gender discrimination in classrooms, schools, home and
      community and the provision of textbooks.

      It will also promote the enforcement of the policy of re-admission of
      young mothers and mobilise families and communities against harmful
      traditions and cultural practices.


      *****

      'Saboteurs' to blame for Zim crisis
      Louis Babineaux and Agencies
      05 July
      2002 07:00

      Food queues in Zimbabwe are growing. In the past six
      months people have
      become used to scouring shops and the stalls of
      black market vendors for
      mealie meal, cooking oil and sugar.

      Last week salt joined the list of
      basic-foods-turned-precious-commodities
      and this week bread disappeared from store shelves.

      The government responded by finding a new set of
      "saboteurs" to blame.
      State TV launched a blitz accusing bureaux de change
      of profiteering by
      driving up the exchange rate, while President Robert
      Mugabe accused Anglo
      American's National Foods of hoarding salt.

      "I want to say this to National Foods ... we want
      them to come out in the
      open and tell this nation why they have been
      hoarding salt, why ... they are
      creating shortages," Mugabe said at a Zanu-PF
      meeting last weekend.

      "We will not allow Anglo American to become the
      principal saboteurs of our
      economy."

      National Foods said the problem is with the
      government's price-control
      regime, which has kept salt prices steady since
      October, even as inflation
      has soared to 122% and the parallel exchange rate
      has risen as high as
      Z$700 to US$1. Without a price increase the company
      can no longer afford
      to import salt from Botswana and South Africa.

      The most troubling shortage is seed. With commercial
      farms limping along
      and farmers ordered to abandon crops, production of
      maize seed for next
      year's crops has stopped, sparking fears that the
      food crisis will be greater
      next year.

      The Zimbabwe Grain Marketing Board has a monopoly on
      buying and selling
      maize and wheat. The United Nations says the
      government must loosen its
      controls to cope with the food crisis.

      "It won't work for [Mugabe's] Grain Marketing Board
      to manage this or to try
      to set prices, for all sorts of reasons, but
      specifically because they don't
      have the hard currency to provide the working
      capital to do the work," UN
      World Food Programme executive director James Morris
      said in New York
      on Monday.

      Morris was speaking at the launch of a
      US$507-million appeal for food aid in
      six Southern African nations.

      *****

      Zimbabwe will be a litmus test for the AU
      Durban

      10 July
      2002 10:07

      The African Union (AU) is now a reality, but the
      crisis in Zimbabwe casts a
      shadow over the festivities.

      Speaking to close to 20 000 people at a stadium
      during the launch, South
      African President, Thabo Mbeki said: "This is a
      moment of hope for the
      continent and its peoples. Let us proclaim to the
      world that this is a
      continent of democracy and good governance."

      But the unresolved crisis in Zimbabwe will be a
      litmus test for the new AU.

      The leader of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for
      Democratic Change
      (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai - unable to attend the
      launch - sent a videotaped
      message saying the biggest challenge for the AU was
      the "illegitimate"
      government of President Robert Mugabe.

      Tsvangirai said: "The meeting of AU heads of state
      presents an opportunity
      for Africa to make a fresh start. Dictators must not
      be allowed to get away
      with murder. The situation in Zimbabwe will test the
      AU's commitment to
      democracy and human rights."

      The new union, arguably the most ambitious
      post-colonial project to unite
      Africa, came into effect on Tuesday replacing the
      39-year-old Organisation
      of African Unity (OAU). Forty heads-of-state and
      other African
      representatives attended the first AU assembly.

      The AU is expected to set in motion an era of
      accountability and improved
      governance. Leaders on Tuesday adopted rules and
      procedures for the four
      key organs of the new organisation.

      The assembly of the AU, the supreme decision-making
      body, consists of
      the heads-of-state. While the executive council
      consists of foreign ministers.
      The permanent representatives committee is
      responsible for preparing work
      for the executive council.

      Most of this committees members are drawn from the
      diplomatic corps of
      member states.

      Some believe the driving force of the AU will be the
      10 member commission,
      responsible for coordinating the activities of the
      AU.

      Closed-door discussions between leaders have focused
      on strengthening
      multi-lateralism, the empowerment of women and the
      New Partnership for
      Africa's Development (Nepad). However, the crisis in
      Zimbabwe has been left
      off the summit's agenda.

      "Zimbabwe was deliberately not discussed at this
      session. It is not part of
      African diplomacy to name and shame African leaders
      at such events,"
      regional legal affairs analyst Professor Shadrack
      Gutto told Irin

      MDC chairperson Isaac Matongo said that the MDC was
      not calling for the
      exclusion of Zimbabwe but had hoped that the AU
      would target Zimbabwe
      when enforcing the African peer review mechanisms
      under Nepad.

      Although it is not compulsory for countries to be
      signatories to the
      mechanism, Nepad requires countries to commit
      themselves to good
      governance, in return for better trade and aid
      deals.


      Matongo said that it was an embarrassment that the
      current political crisis
      was not tabled for discussion.

      "However, we remain optimistic that the African
      Union will assist us to
      resolve this matter," said MDC secretary for
      International Affairs, Sekai
      Hollard.

      Hollard added that the MDC had not abandoned its
      intention to call on
      Zimbabweans to take to the streets in protest
      against the deteriorating
      situation in the country, and continued to lobby for
      support in Africa.

      "Almost six million are facing starvation. We cannot
      stop now. There has to
      be a change soon," she said.- Irin

      *****

      War veterans jailed in
      Zimbabwe

      One of the leaders of Zimbabwe's war veterans
      association has been sentenced to three years in
      prison for fraud.

      Andrew Ndlovu and another war veteran were found
      guilty of embezzling around $14,000.

      Mr Ndlovu has been an outspoken supporter of
      President Robert Mugabe's programme to seize land
      belonging to white Zimbabwean farmers with the
      official aim of handing it over to landless black
      citizens.

      Correspondents say the
      campaign has plunged the
      country into its worst
      economic and political
      crisis since independence
      22 years ago.

      But President Mugabe
      insist that it is an attempt
      to correct years of colonial
      misrule.

      Mr Ndlovu said the trial
      was an attempt by
      unnamed government
      officials to "fix" him for
      criticising what he said
      was the slow pace of land
      resettlement.

      Housing scheme

      Mr Ndlovu and his co-accused were whisked off to jail
      to start serving their terms after Justice Mahomed
      Adam declined to grant them bail pending appeal.

      Heavily-armed riot police guarded the High Court
      building to thwart demonstrations by fellow war
      veterans, said The Daily News.

      They were convicted of
      corruptly receiving gifts
      from a Chinese national,
      now deceased, as an
      inducement or reward for
      facilitating business
      between him and aNep
      housing firm.

      The judge ordered that
      two motor vehicles worth
      594,000 Zimbabwe dollars
      ($10,800) they received
      as proceeds of the crime
      be forfeited to the state.

      The two were also
      charged with stealing
      Z$860,000 from a housing
      scheme operated by war
      veterans, which they used
      to buy three motor vehicles for their personal use.

      Chenjerai Hunzvi, who led the war veterans when the
      farm invasions began two years ago, died last year.

      At the time, he too was facing trial for fraud.
    • 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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