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  • Christine Chumbler
    Democracy in Southern Africa threatened by Aids Marianne Merten | Cape Town 07 April 2003 18:45 “Our voters’ rolls are bloated with dead voters,” said
    Message 1 of 1046 , Apr 9, 2003
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      Democracy in Southern Africa threatened by Aids
      Marianne Merten | Cape Town
      07 April 2003 18:45
      “Our voters’ rolls are bloated with dead voters,” said Monica
      Ngwembe of the Malawi Electoral Commission. “The number of registered
      voters that is on the voters’ roll is not a true reflection of what is
      on the ground.”

      A pilot project in two of Malawi’s constituencies showed that about
      100 000 voters, or 2% of the voters’ roll, had died of
      HIV/Aids-related diseases, Ngwembe told the Regional Governance and Aids
      Forum in Cape Town in the first week of April.

      She said HIV/Aids-related deaths would undermine the entrenching of
      democracy as it was increasingly difficult to assess voter turn-outs and
      she called on other electoral commissions to start investigating the
      full impact of the epidemic on voters.

      Without proper records of deaths to be compared with the voters’
      roll, there was potential for voting abuses.

      It is estimated that between 30% and 35% of people living in the
      Southern African Development Community are HIV-positive, even though the
      region’s population accounts for only 4% to 5% of the world’s total
      inhabitants. The life expectancy in countries like Botswana has been
      slashed from about 70 years to as low as 29 years.

      Approximately 70% of the world’s 40-million HIV-infected people, or
      about 30-million people, are living in sub-Saharan Africa, which
      accounts for just 10% of the total global population.

      Concern that the HIV/Aids epidemic already threatens democracy and
      governance appears to be confirmed in research by the Electoral
      Institute of Southern Africa (EISA), presented at the conference hosted
      jointly by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa’s governance
      and Aids project and the United Nations Development Programme’s
      Southern African HIV and development project.

      According to EISA not only were voters affected, but also the running
      of elections: as electoral staff died in the epidemic, crucial skills
      were lost.

      HIV/Aids-related deaths would also affect the number of voters as the
      age group most affected by the epidemic was between 15 and 45 years. In
      its study of the Zambian elections in 1991, 1996 and 2001, the institute
      found not only a drop in voter turn-out, but also a fall in registered
      voters. In 1991 just over 2,9-million voters were registered for the
      presidential elections but this had dropped to 2,6-million by the 2001
      presidential elections.

      Meanwhile, HIV/Aids also posed a serious challenge to the institution
      of government: as more demands are being made on government services
      such as health and welfare — particularly the care of Aids orphans,
      who by 2010 could account for between 15% and 25% of all children in
      sub-Saharan Africa — the tax base to finance these services is
      shrinking. The epidemic affects predominately the economically active

      By 2020 labour forces throughout the Southern African Development
      Community could shrink by between 32,6% (in South Africa) and 6,9% (in
      Angola, which is just emerging from a decades-long conflict), said the
      International Labour Organisation.


      MDC leadership reels under Zim govt crackdown
      09 April 2003 13:51
      Most of the top leadership of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for
      Democratic Change (MDC) is facing criminal charges following a
      government crackdown.

      Party spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi, the latest detainee, was arrested
      on Monday afternoon as he was attending the bail hearing of Gibson
      Sibanda, the party's vice-president and chief whip.

      Nyathi, like Sibanda, was charged under Section 5 of the Public Order
      and Security Act for attending a planning meeting of the party's two-day
      anti-government protest in March.

      Sibanda was freed on bail of $1 200 after one week in detention. But by
      Tuesday afternoon Nyathi was still in custody.

      Among those arrested and out on bail are: MDC President Morgan
      Tsvangirai, secretary-general Welshman Ncube, and MP Renson Gasela, who
      are in the middle of a treason trial in which they are accused of
      plotting to "eliminate" Mugabe.

      The party's legal affairs director, David Coltart, was arrested on
      firearm charges and Roy Bennet, MP for Chimanimani, was arrested for
      allegedly breaking the electoral law outside a polling station last

      MDC information director, Nkanyiso Maqeda, said that in addition to the
      party's top leadership, at least 600 MDC supporters or members had been
      arrested in the last two weeks -- 350 of whom were still in custody.

      Paul Graham, executive director of the Institute for Democracy in South
      Africa (Idasa), said the arrest of senior figures could destabilise the

      "It makes it almost impossible to develop a mature leadership and
      respond to the crisis of governance in Zimbabwe," he said. "It's
      difficult for them to provide leadership at a time when it is needed and
      the arrests also have an impact on how the party's supporters behave.
      The stayaway was largely peaceful, but there were some problems."

      Since its formation in 1999 the MDC has won 54 of the 120 elected seats
      in parliament and is currently challenging the outcome of the 2001
      presidential election which returned President Robert Mugabe to power.

      "The MDC has been criticised for being weak as a party, but they are a
      relatively new party and have had constant disruptions. The fact that
      they have electoral successes when this is happening means they should
      be given more credit," Graham added.

      Maqeda insisted: "What they [the government] don't realise is that this
      is not just a leadership-orientated party, but a party that succeeds at

      However, he acknowledged that the arrests had placed a strain on the
      party's financial resources, not only for legal fees, but for the
      medical bills of assaulted members. - Irin


      Rape as a political weapon in Zimbabwe
      09 April 2003 13:58
      "In a Dark Time", a documentary film about sexual abuse in Zimbabwe
      perpetrated by pro-government militia, premiered last week at
      Witwatersrand University.

      In the film, 16-year-old Sarudzai recalled how she was alone in the
      family home with three younger siblings when militiamen surrounded it.
      Her father was at a funeral. Her mother was in the bush, hiding from the
      militia. Fearing they would set the hut on fire, Sarudzai stepped out.
      She was raped right there, she said, to punish her mother for supporting
      Zimbabwe's opposition party.

      Sarudzai and other women featured in the documentary said their
      attackers were militiamen known as the "Green Bombers", a
      government-created youth brigade often accused of human rights abuse.
      For protection, the film maker and women interviewed have remained

      The event, organised by Wits Institute for Social and Economic
      Research, sought to alert academics and human rights activists about
      gender-based human rights abuses, like gang rape and sexual torture,
      reportedly taking place in Zimbabwe.

      "We need to break the silence of academia and human rights institutions
      in South Africa about what is happening in our neighbourhood," said Dr
      Sheila Meintes, a member of South Africa's Commission on Gender Equality
      and a lecturer in political studies at Witwatersrand University.

      International human rights watchdogs like Amnesty International, Human
      Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group and Physicians for Human
      Rights have documented systematic rape and sexual torture of women
      during Zimbabwe's political violence since 2000.

      Last year, Amnesty International warned about "mounting reports of rape
      and sexual torture by the militia, continuing the pattern seen before
      presidential elections in March 2002".

      Tony Reeler, regional human rights defender with the Institute for
      Democracy in South Africa, described what he said was a new pattern of
      sexual violence in Zimbabwe.

      During 2000 and early 2001, human rights watchdogs documented
      widespread torture of opposition supporters. About 40% of these were
      women. They were beaten up, stripped naked and humiliated, but few were
      raped or sexually abused.

      After June 2001, rape and sexual torture of women became more prevalent
      and brutal. It allegedly happened in front of family and neighbours. As
      a result, the whole community experienced the psychological impact.

      "One individual's physical torture becomes a mass psychological
      torture," explained Reeler.

      The Zimbabwean government has dismissed reports by local and
      international human rights groups that rape is used as a political

      "Yes, we have seen the allegations, but I don't need to tell you that
      definitely these are fabrications," said Betty Dimbi, an official in the
      Department of Information.

      Rape remains the least condemned war crime, concluded the United
      Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, referring to
      Rwanda and other civil wars in the late 1990s.

      The tide, though, is turning.

      In 2001, in a historic decision to acknowledge rape as a war crime, the
      International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia began
      prosecuting rapists. This, says Amnesty International, "challenges the
      widespread acceptance that torture of women is an intrinsic part of

      The Rwanda Tribunal is explicitly empowered to prosecute rape as a
      crime against humanity and a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

      South African judge Richard Goldstone, a former prosecutor for the
      Rwanda Tribunal, found that sexual assault can constitute torture and be
      prosecuted as a transgression of international humanitarian law.

      International law condemns rape and other forms of sexual violence as
      war crimes. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 were later strengthened by
      Protocol II, which extends protection to victims of rape, enforced
      prostitution or indecent assault during conflict.

      Broadly, four kinds of rape can be identified in conflict.

      # Genocidal rape, as in Rwanda and the Balkans, seeks to destroy an
      ethnic or political group perceived as being the enemy.

      # Political rape punishes individuals, families or communities who hold
      different political views.

      # Opportunistic rape takes place when combatants run amok, assured of
      impunity in a lawless context.

      # Forced concubinage involves the conscription or kidnapping of young
      girls to wash, cook, porter and have sex with soldiers and militiamen.
      The Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association estimated that some 1 000 women
      were held in militia camps in 2002.

      The last three forms of rape are found in Zimbabwe, said Reeler.

      Tina Sideris, a South African researcher and activist on gender-based
      violence, noted the general invisibility of sexual abuse of women during
      conflicts in Southern Africa. Rape and forced concubinage were frequent
      during the long-running civil wars in Mozambique and Angola, but ignored
      in South African media and political circles, she said.

      Even in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission "didn't
      deal with rape as a gross human rights abuse. Women were raped in
      detention and in guerrilla bases, raped by the enemy and by comrades,"
      she noted.

      The TRC devoted a great deal of time to the murder and torture of
      freedom fighters, but only one day to listen to abused women. "Awareness
      of the gender dimension in human rights abuses is missing," said

      In conflicts throughout the world, sexual violence is routinely
      directed at females as a conscious strategy, although commanders and
      politicians may dismiss it as isolated incidents by rogue soldiers.

      "Rape in conflict is a weapon to terrorise and degrade a particular
      community and to achieve a specific political end," said a Human Rights
      Watch report.

      "The rape of one person is translated into an assault upon the
      community through the emphasis placed in every culture on women's sexual
      virtue. The shame of the rape humiliates the family and all those
      associated with the survivor."

      "I act, I feel differently from the other girls," Sarudzai said in the
      documentary. "I am not a virgin any more. It happened against my will.
      Maybe I have HIV. I wish I'd die. Then I'd feel no pain."

      Sideris points out that post-conflict programmes don't deal adequately
      with gender violence.

      One reason is underreporting. Out of shame, economic vulnerability and
      powerlessness, women keep quiet about sexual abuse.

      In Zimbabwe, "the most vulnerable, the poorest, uneducated, unemployed
      rural women like Sarudzai ... are abused, which makes it all the more
      sinister," said Reeler.

      "We have a responsibility to speak out against human rights abuses and
      the time has come to do so," concluded Meintes. - Irin
    • 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.


        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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