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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi s Food Shortage to Worsen As Maize Aid Runs Out Business Day (Johannesburg) October 16, 2002 Posted to the web October 16, 2002 Claire Keeton SOUTHERN
    Message 1 of 1046 , Oct 17, 2002
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      Malawi's Food Shortage to Worsen As Maize Aid
      Runs Out

      Business Day (Johannesburg)
      October 16, 2002
      Posted to the web October 16, 2002

      Claire Keeton

      SOUTHERN AFRICAN FAMINE: Hospital admissions of
      starving babies are likely to rise sharply until the next
      harvest brings some relief in April

      FOOD shortages in Malawi are very severe and will only worsen in the
      months ahead as scarce stocks from the harvest run out and food aid,
      reaching 2-million out of 10,6-million people, becomes more difficult
      to
      distribute.

      Hospital admissions of starving babies, like howling 13-month-old
      Nakareti
      from Mua, are likely to rise sharply as they did in the first quarter
      this year
      until the next harvest brings some relief in April.

      "People are on the edge and if we do not keep moving food, they may go
      over the edge," says the World Food Programme's (WFP's) Malawi
      director Gerald van Dijk, at his Lilongwe office. "When you look at
      people
      with almost nothing, you wonder how they are surviving and not dying.

      "We scaled up distribution in September to reach 2-million people and
      by
      December we need to feed 3,2-million people, which requires about
      30000
      tons of maize a month. It will be a struggle to mill and move that
      amount
      during the rainy season."

      Malawi is one of six countries in southern Africa where 14,4-million
      people
      are threatened by famine until the next harvest, according to the
      United
      Nations' WFP.

      The WFP is spearheading a 507m emergency relief operation in the
      region, where the staple, maize, is in short supply and soaring prices
      mean many people can no longer afford to buy the little that is
      available.
      But the bulk of its donations are genetically modified maize from the
      US
      and once the planting season starts, with the onset of the rains later
      this
      month, the genetically modified maize may only be distributed if it is
      milled.

      This process will delay food distribution as Malawi lacks enough spare
      capacity to mill large amounts of WFP relief maize. Milling also adds
      more
      than 20% to the cost of relief operations, which are about 36% funded
      at
      present.

      Until the rains set in, the government is allowing the distribution of
      whole-grain maize for consumption, a pragmatic approach that differs
      from neighbouring Zambia, which has banned the distribution of all
      genetically modified food aid.

      "Our position is simple. People are hungry so they will eat the maize,
      not
      plant it," says Ellard Malindi, head of Malawi's emergency joint task
      force.
      The task force was set up after a 600000-ton deficit was projected in
      February, prompting President Bakili Maluzi to declare a national
      disaster.

      Says Malindi: "As a precaution we are running a campaign to say the
      maize is for food not planting."

      The determination with which 220 villagers many down to one meal a day
      collect their monthly WFP rations from Mtakwa, southwest of the
      capital
      Lilongwe, confirms that the maize is urgently needed, after a second
      year
      of inadequate or failed harvests.

      "I have no food and this bag lasts only about half the month," says
      Musaularapo Diverias, a single mother with three children who share
      her
      50kg maize rations between 12 relatives. "Often at the village they
      redistribute the food and it is not fair," she complains.

      The number of Malawians desperate for food is much greater than the
      number of "vulnerable" beneficiaries targeted for relief. This leads
      to
      frequent redistribution, both voluntary and forced, explains the WFP
      emergency officer in Blantyre, Elmigdad Abdalla.

      Theft is another problem. Since last year people exhausted legal
      efforts,
      such as selling assets like bicycles or goats at a quarter of their
      value, to
      secure food.

      Thieves were mutilated and beaten to death in the first quarter of this
      year
      when food shortages peaked ahead of the harvest.

      At that time hundreds of people died from hunger and admissions to the
      country's 90 nutritional rehabilitation units rocketed. Malnutrition
      jumped to
      10% in some areas and school dropout rates increased from about 12 to
      50%.

      "Looking at the register we found that deaths had increased.
      Malnutrition
      makes people more susceptible to disease so we are trying now to
      improve sanitation and hygiene," says Unicef's Malawi director,
      Catherine
      Mbengue.

      More than a 1000 people died this year from a cholera outbreak and
      malaria is rampant. UN Children's Fund (Unicef) is handing out 100000
      treated nets to contain malaria, for example at Mchinji nutritional
      rehabilitation unit, next to the eastern Zambian border.

      About 80 children die a month at that hospital, where the ravages of
      HIV/AIDS which has infected about 19% of the population and orphaned
      about half a million children in Malawi is visible among the listless
      patients.

      The government is preparing a "safety net" of food relief to those
      affected
      by AIDS, says Malindi.

      "About a third of people can afford to buy food, about a third
      including
      orphans and the elderly get it free and about a third are involved in
      the
      public works programme, where they are working for cash, but may be
      paid in seed or food when it is scarce," he says.

      This year the government promoted winter cropping, using irrigation to
      make up some of the maize shortfall and provide seeds for the next
      season.

      "We are hoping to produce 75000 tons of maize and 3000 additional tons
      of maize seed," says Malindi, who is the government's chief
      agricultural
      adviser.

      About 250000 tons of maize will be imported for commercial use, in
      addition to about 208000 tons of food aid.

      Traditionally there is not enough food in the rainy season, but this
      year a
      number of problems have converged to bring the country to the brink of
      famine. "Everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. There are not
      one or two scapegoats," Van Dijk says bleakly.

      Underlying the dire food shortages is endemic poverty aggravated by
      HIV/AIDS, excessive dependence on maize which is susceptible to
      climatic shocks, a sharp reduction in agricultural subsidies, a
      regional
      maize deficit and mismanagement of national grain reserves.

      Of countries at peace Malawi ranked 163 out of 174 in the UN's human
      development index is one of the poorest, with 65% of the population
      living
      below the extreme poverty line of $1 a day.

      The majority have almost no reserves when natural disasters, like
      flooding
      in the south early this year followed by dry spells, hit the country.
      Both
      destroy maize crops which account for 70% of cultivation and 80% of
      consumption.

      Four years ago the government distributed starter packs, including
      fertiliser, to 2,8-million subsistence farmers and the country
      experienced
      bumper maize harvests in 1999 and 2000.

      But the beneficiaries were scaled down to 1-million after reduced
      sponsorship and pressure to abolish subsidies, in line with
      agricultural
      reforms advocated by international bodies like the World Bank.

      Deepening the crisis, Malawi sold off its strategic grain reserves from
      2000
      to last year, despite warning signs that the harvest was likely be
      poor.
      Nearly 27000 tons of maize was exported at a loss, with large amounts
      of
      money from the sales not yet accounted for, according to the National
      Audit Office report of May 2002.

      Now the whole region is afflicted by maize shortages which have forced
      prices up, by as much as four times in parts of Malawi. At the
      recommended rate of 17,50 Kwacha (R7,50) a kilogramme, a 50kg bag
      costs roughly three weeks' wages for a subsistence fisherman on Lake
      Malawi, or about a quarter of a medical doctor's monthly salary.

      "This year the situation is very, very fragile. We cannot say it is
      under
      control as it could deteriorate at any time, says Mbengue.

      Aid workers on the ground, like Ralph Makhambela of the Catholic
      Church
      in Zomba, sound an even stronger warning. "The situation is getting
      worse
      by the day. The worst is still to come."

      *****

      Zambia to get $50-million credit from World
      Bank
      Lusaka

      16 October
      2002 11:06

      Zambia is to receive $50-million in credit from the
      World Bank (WB) for
      current drought and food shortages in the country, a
      government
      representative said on Tuesday.

      According to Finance Minister Emmanuel Kasonde, the
      WB funds will be
      released under the Emergency Drought Recovery
      Project (EDRP), and will
      go towards logistical and humanitarian support in
      ongoing food distribution.

      The EDRP is an emergency credit facility that the WB
      gives to member
      countries to enable them deal with the effects of
      drought. The funds are
      awaiting approval from the WB board which is
      scheduled to meet at the end
      of October. "The situation is very serious. There is
      no doubt that people are
      dying, disease is taking its toll on hunger-weakened
      people," Kasonde said,
      adding that Zambia was seeking further support from
      the WB for economic
      expansion and diversification.

      He said parliament would approve a supplementary
      budget next Tuesday to
      allow for food imports and methods to alleviate the
      drought. He did not say
      how much would be approved.

      Zambia has an annual consumption of 1,2-million tons
      of grain, but currently
      has only half of the required amount. About four
      million people face
      starvation and two million of them are already on
      the brink of famine. -
      Sapa-DPA

      *****

      Zimbabwe's farmers
      cross race divide

      In the midst of all the stories of violent
      confrontation associated with Zimbabwe's
      land reform, some farmers - black and
      white - are making it work in Zhombe, 220
      km west of the capital, Harare, as the
      BBC's Lewis Machipisa found out.


      White farmer Neville
      Coetzee agreed to
      give up 6,000 ha of his
      9,000 ha farm to new
      black settlers.

      Although he said it
      was hard to give up so
      much of the farm he
      had built, he is sure he
      did the right thing.

      "In this area, we're
      very fortunate. We've
      had dialogue which
      took place right at the
      beginning of the land
      issue," he said. "I can
      still be very viable with
      what I've got left.

      "I'm very happy to
      stay in the country
      because I've still got a
      good life," he said.

      Mr Coetzee's new
      neighbour, Tichafa
      Chitate, is also
      pleased with the way
      things have gone.

      After a year on his new plot of land, his wheat
      crop is just as high as Mr Coetzee's.

      "There is a lot of money in farming... I'm
      expecting a profit of over a million [Zimbabwe
      dollars - US$18,000]."

      "Somebody who says we cannot do as good as
      the white farmers does not know what he is
      talking about. Come on the ground and have a
      look," he said.

      Way forward

      "I worked as a customs officer for 21 years but
      I grew up farming," he said, adding that his
      father had always encouraged him to get some
      land and take up farming.

      Although Mr Chitate is
      luckier than most
      black farmers in that
      he had some money
      to invest in his new
      land, he still needs
      more equipment.

      He said banks had refused to give him a
      loan but at least the government had
      given them irrigation equipment.

      "I have a tractor but I don't have a
      plough, a cultivator or a planter," he said.

      He got round this by hiring equipment
      from Mr Coetzee to harvest his crop - at
      Z$30 700 per hectare.

      "We are happy and he is happy," he said.

      "This is the way forward. We have to
      relinquish land... so everyone can farm
      together," Mr Coetzee said.

      "I would like people elsewhere in the
      country to see how we're handling the
      situation here."

      *****

      British envoy told to 'stop meddling' in
      Zimbabwe
      Harare

      17 October
      2002 07:37

      British High Commissioner to Zimbabwe Brian Donnelly
      was warned on
      Wednesday not to "interfere" in the internal affairs
      of the southern African
      country, according to the state-run Zimbabwe
      Broadcasting Corporation.

      Information Minister Jonathan Moyo accused Donnelly
      of funding
      non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the
      Amani Trust, which
      were involved in violence in Zimbabwe, according to
      the ZBC. Amani Trust
      helps victims of torture and has made allegations of
      widespread torture by
      the ruling party against members of the opposition.

      A state-owned weekly, The Sunday Mail, accused the
      British High
      Commission of granting 3,6-million Zimbabwe dollars
      ($65 450/ euros) to the
      NGO.

      President Robert Mugabe on Friday warned NGOs not to
      get
      involved in politics. Moyo was quoted by the state
      radio as saying that
      Donnelly was posted to Zimbabwe to destabilise the
      country as he did in
      Yugoslavia where he played an active role, according
      to the information
      minister, in the overthrow of the "democratically
      elected" government of
      Slobodan Milosevic.

      The arrival of Donnelly in Zimbabwe in 2001 saw a
      worsening of the already
      tense relations between London and Harare with the
      Zimbabwean
      government repeatedly accusing the high commissioner
      of having been sent
      to Zimbabwe to "do a Yugoslavia." - Sapa-AFP
    • 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 8:06 AM
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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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