Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

news

Expand Messages
  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi Changes Food Aid Policy The Associated Press Friday, September 6, 2002; 8:39 PM BLANTYRE, Malawi –– Malawi said any genetically modified food aid
    Message 1 of 1046 , Sep 9, 2002
    • 0 Attachment
      Malawi Changes Food Aid Policy

      The Associated Press
      Friday, September 6, 2002; 8:39 PM

      BLANTYRE, Malawi –– Malawi
      said any genetically modified food
      aid sent to the country must be processed before
      it's distributed.

      The announcement thos week echoed concerns by other
      southern African
      countries threatened by looming famine about
      accepting food that has been
      genetically modified.

      President Bakili Muluzi said he was concerned that
      if the grain wasn't milled
      first it might cross-pollinate with native crops,
      causing "genetic pollution."

      A severe food shortage is threatening more than 3
      million people in Malawi.
      About 10 million others in the region also face
      starvation.

      Citing potential health risks, Zambia has rejected
      any food aid that may have
      been genetically modified. Mozambique and Zimbabwe
      have policies dictating
      that any genetically modified grain has to be milled
      first.

      Researchers splice bacteria genes that produce
      natural insecticides, drought
      resistance and other commercial properties into
      crops like corn and soy.

      Farmers in the United States, the main food
      assistance donor, grow
      genetically modified crops extensively.

      *****

      Malawi to shut biggest
      textile factory

      Malawi has said it will shut down the country's
      largest textile factory, putting more than 2,000
      people out of work, after plans for privatisation
      failed.

      The government has decided to stop
      subsidising the factory because of heavy
      financial losses, the Commerce and Industry
      Minister Peter Kaleso said.

      Only last month Mr Kaleso said that the
      government was looking for a strategic partner
      for the state-owned David Whitehead and
      Sons (DWS) factory and he was predicting a
      "booming" future.

      The closure comes even though Malawi has
      seen textile exports surge since it signed the
      African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa)
      treaty with the US in September 2001.

      In the last year the industry's yearly growth
      rate was reported to be 120%.

      Failed privatisation

      DWS is the main source of cotton yarn, fabrics
      and African prints exported from Malawi
      according to the local Confederation of
      Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

      The company hit financial difficulties in the
      early 1990s when the government ended its
      monopoly status - in-line with International
      Monetary Fund and World Bank policies - and
      liberalised the textile market.

      The resulting imports of second-hand clothes
      from the Far East virtually destroyed domestic
      production in Malawi, as in many other African
      countries.

      DWS was one of the companies that launched
      Malawi's privatisation programme but like many
      others has now been shut down after failing to
      find a buyer.

      In a letter of intent to secure poverty
      reduction funding, Malawi promised to liquidate
      DWS in July 2002.

      DWS is 51% owned by the Malawi Government
      and 49% by the state owned Admarc
      Investments Holding Company.

      The government has set aside about 140m
      kwacha ($2m; *1.3m) to compensate workers.

      *****

      Zambia allows GM aid
      for refugees

      Zambia has allowed the World Food Programme
      to start distributing genetically modified (GM)
      food aid to refugees.

      James Morris, the UN agency's executive
      director, told the BBC that GM foods were
      being used to feed about 130,000 refugees
      from Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo.

      But the Zambian
      Government is continuing to
      resist the UN agency's calls
      to distribute GM aid to
      nearly 2.5 million of its own
      people on the grounds that it
      is "poison".

      Mr Morris, who is touring
      the famine-stricken region, confirmed that
      neighbouring Zimbabwe had, in contrast,
      approved GM aid for its people.

      "Zimbabwe has said that they have taken a
      cabinet decision to accept commodities which
      have a GM component," he said.

      Saying he believed that the US-produced GM
      corn would probably be milled before being
      allowed to enter the country, he added that
      he had had a "good conversation" about
      bringing in non-GM wheat.

      Fact-finding team

      Mr Morris said Zambian President Levy
      Mwanawasa - who recently described GM grain
      as "poison" - had decided to send a team of
      scientists to the US and the EU on a GM
      fact-finding mission.

      The WFP executive director said famine could
      be averted in southern Africa if GM grain was
      accepted and warned of the daunting
      prospects for Zambia if it continued to refuse
      it.

      "Without being able to use
      biotech GM commodities,
      it will be nearly impossible
      for us to meet the needs
      of the people of Zambia,"
      he said.

      Zambia's minister for
      agriculture has
      explained his country's
      continuing doubts in
      an interview for the
      BBC.

      "Several countries,
      including Europe, are
      still reluctant, cautious, about the acceptance
      of GM organisms," said Mundia Sikatana.

      Zambian producers could find their exports to
      Europe blocked if their crops were found to be
      growing alongside GM grains, he argued.

      *****

      Spectre of famine haunts Zimbabwe
      Ravi Nessman | Nhwali, Zimbabwe

      09 September
      2002 10:45

      The girls giggle nervously as they talk about their
      hunger. Their grades have
      plummeted. They fall asleep in class from
      exhaustion. Often, when they
      have nothing at all to eat, they don't even bother
      coming to school.

      "Sometimes it's better to stay home than to come and
      collapse here,"
      Litsoanelo Moyo, a 19-year-old student at Nhwali
      secondary school, said on
      Saturday.

      Zimbabwe's worst food crisis in a decade has begun
      to take its toll on the
      village of Nhwali, 700 kilometres southwest of
      Harare.

      Many now eat only one small meal a day. The poorest
      are forced to beg for
      a handful of corn meal from their neighbors. Child
      malnutrition has more than
      doubled to eight percent.

      And teachers and students at the local schools worry
      about the damage
      this is doing to the education system.


      At the beginning of the year, the school enrolled
      450 students. More than 50
      have dropped out because their families have stolen
      across the border to
      South Africa, they were forced to help scavenge for
      food or their parents no
      longer could afford the 1 280 Zimbabwean dollars
      (about $2) in school fees,
      said Soneni Dube, the deputy headmaster.

      Of the remaining students, about 50 are absent on
      any given day, up from
      one or two in normal times. Those that come are
      often too hungry to study.

      One girl fainted in the middle of a class. Teachers
      gave her some food, but
      she dropped out a few days later.

      The schoolgirls talk of their dreams - of being
      nurses, a journalist, a
      stewardess.

      But they are more fixated on their hunger.

      "I used to be fat," laughs Itumeleng Mdlongwa, a
      petite 17-year-old girl.

      It is noon on a weekend day and they have walked
      between two and 10
      kilometres to school to hold a study group on the
      history of Europe's
      colonisation of Africa. Not one of them has anything
      more in her stomach
      than black tea.

      The girls used to eat two hearty meals a day of
      meat, corn mash and
      vegetables and a small lunch. Now, when they are
      lucky, they get two small
      meals of corn mash and the rabe or spinach they grow
      in small gardens in
      their yards. When the government trucks selling corn
      don't come for a while
      - and they haven't been to Nhwali for months - they
      get only one meal,
      sometimes just vegetables.

      Their grades have plunged.

      Nontokoza Moyo (16) passed six subjects last term.
      Now she is
      only passing three. "When I'm reading, I sleep," she
      said. "We don't
      normally concentrate much these days."

      Dube is worried that his teachers are at risk of
      falling through the cracks in
      the shaky food delivery system. They are too wealthy
      to get food aid and are
      not official residents of any of the cluster of
      nearby villages, so never make it
      onto the lists to buy scarce government grain.

      "Even if we have the money, we don't have the grain
      to buy," he said.
      "Morale is very low. Very, very low."

      An estimated six million of Zimbabwe's 12,5-million
      people are threatened
      by a hunger crisis caused by a terrible drought and
      the government's chaotic
      land reform program, which has badly wounded its
      agriculture-based
      economy, according to the World Food Program.

      Nearly seven million people in five other countries
      in southern Africa are also
      at risk of starvation. There are no accurate figures
      for hunger-related deaths.

      WFP head James Morris, who is touring the region to
      inspect the crisis,
      appealed on Friday for donor nations to increase
      their contributions to help
      head off a potential disaster in the region.

      The agency, which is currently delivering 10 000
      metric tons a month to
      Zimbabweans, hopes to increase that to 55 000 tons.
      They predict the
      situation will get much worse in the coming months.

      Meanwhile, human rights groups accuse the
      government, which sells corn
      at the fixed price of 555 Zimbabwean dollars (less
      than $1) for a 50 kilogram
      bag, of refusing to sell grain to opposition
      supporters and making only
      sporadic deliveries to opposition strongholds.

      The government denies its land reform policies are
      to blame for food
      shortages, saying drought is the sole cause. It also
      denies allegations that
      it is denying the opposition food.

      When Morris arrived in Nhwali to inspect the
      distribution of WFP corn, an
      unprecedented seven government trucks filled with
      bags of corn for sale
      rolled up, the first time since July that even one
      truck has arrived to feed the
      9 000 people in the area, deep in opposition
      territory.

      Janet Siziba, a 73-year-old widow, waits in line
      with money she has
      borrowed from a kind neighbor to buy corn to feed
      herself, her grandson, his
      wife and their two children.

      She and her grandson used to feed the family off the
      harvest from their tiny
      field and the earnings they made by making bricks
      for neighbors. But their
      field produced nothing this year, and no one has
      money to pay them for
      piecework.

      So she begs door to door for small handfuls of grain
      and watches fearfully as
      her one and four-year-old great grandchildren grow
      weaker.

      Siziba says she has not even bothered to plow her
      tiny field for the
      upcoming planting season, which frightens aid
      workers who hope the crisis
      will end with the next harvest.

      "Where will I get the money to get the seed," she
      said. - Sapa-AP

      *****

      Zimbabwe farmers flee
      ultimatum

      Dozens of white farmers in Zimbabwe have
      been leaving their properties after receiving a
      new government ultimatum to get off their
      land.

      One eyewitness counted more than 100
      farmers' lorries piled high with furniture and
      household goods leaving the fertile area
      north-west of the capital, Harare.

      Justice for Agriculture
      (JAG), a farmers' lobby
      group, says the authorities
      told scores of farmers to
      leave on Sunday or face
      arrest for resisting the land
      redistribution programme.

      JAG is advising them to stay put and take the
      eviction orders to court, saying the deadline
      has been imposed by local administrators not
      the central government.

      But a BBC correspondent in neighbouring South
      Africa says it seems many white farmers are
      taking these latest threats seriously and are
      leaving with whatever they can take.

      Farming officials in
      Zimbabwe say most of the
      farmers facing the
      deadline have decided to
      leave.

      One official in the
      town of Banket told
      the BBC that about 50
      farmers in his area had
      been told to leave and
      warned that their
      possessions would be
      seized if they stayed.

      A Zimbabwean police spokesman has told the
      BBC that any farmer who stays on his land in
      violation of the law will be punished.

      'Stay your ground'

      JAG's chairman, David Connelly, told the BBC
      that at least two farmers were being "held
      hostage" in their homes on Sunday.

      In one case, an army major accompanied by
      other men dressed in civilian clothes was
      insisting he had been issued the farm by the
      government.

      But the farmer was
      "completely within the
      laws of Zimbabwe",
      said Mr Connelly.

      "The government is
      trying to intimidate
      farmers off their land
      because they
      obviously realise that
      in the courts they are
      not going to have too
      much success," Mr
      Connelly said.

      Most farmers affected
      by the new deadline
      are believed to have
      had previous eviction
      orders overturned in
      court last month.

      'Undeserving
      farmers'

      Last week,
      Zimbabwe's President
      Robert Mugabe said
      time was running out
      for white farmers
      resisting land redistribution.

      "Those do not deserve to be in Zimbabwe
      and we shall take steps to ensure that
      they are not entitled to our land," he told
      supporters after returning from the world
      summit in Johannesburg.

      The United Nations says the turbulent land
      reform programme has worsened food
      shortages in Zimbabwe, where six million
      people are threatened with starvation.

      But Mr Mugabe denies this, saying that
      most white farmers concentrate on
      commercial crops for export.
    • 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
      • 0 Attachment

        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

      Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.