- Interview with Senior Disaster Preparedness Official Lucius Chikuni,
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
July 8, 2003
Posted to the web July 8, 2003
Malawi, like its neighbour Zambia, has staged a remarkable recovery
from the widespread food shortages of the 2002/03 agricultural season.
From a situation where nearly 3 million Malawians needed food aid to
survive at the height of the past year's crisis, aid agencies now
estimate that the need for food aid will peak at about 400,000 people in
January 2004. But experts have warned that the recovery is extremely
IRIN recently interviewed Lucius Chikuni, Secretary to the Minister of
State Responsible for Poverty and Disaster Management Affairs and
Commissioner for Disaster Preparedness Relief and Rehabilitation, in the
This is the second part of the interview in which Chikuni outlines why
he believes the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) structural
adjustment directives played an aggravating role in Malawi's food
crisis, and what is being done to make the country's recent agricultural
recovery sustainable over the long term.
MAKING THE RECOVERY SUSTAINABLE
What is the long-term plan?
We have embarked on a compost manure programme, so that people don't
have a total reliance on inorganic soil nutrients - like fertiliser,
which is expensive - because the IMF forced us to remove subsidies [on
We are still bound by that [agreement with the IMF] because balance of
payments support comes from donors, which can only come if the IMF says
we have been going on with the agreed programme. If the IMF says we are
off-track from the agreed programme, the IMF punishes us by withholding
budget support, and balance of payments support, [and] the donors follow
We want to re-engage the IMF on subsidies, to find out whether there
can be a way around it (cutting subsidies). [But] as I said, we have
embarked on a compost/manure utilisation, and also, crop and soil
husbandry will be intensified, so people will be taught proper methods
of farming. You see, when independence came ... [the government] of
Kamuza Banda never enforced forestry management, trees were just cut ...
we had serious environmental degradation.
My department is busy right now engaging local government on
contingency plans to try and stop further environmental degradation.
Still, my department has listed Malawi as right on the verge of
[environmental] disaster. It is the same environmental degradation that
has caused heavy siltation in our waterways, to the extent that the
siltation phenomenon is now affecting electric power generation in the
Shire River [the main electricity generation facility in Malawi].
This is causing a lot of serious problems for the economy, [because] of
frequent power cuts ... [the national power utility] is forced to engage
Environmental degradation is a very big issue in this country. It will
take a concerted effort to reverse it - all because of wanton cutting
down of trees, even in catchment areas. Streams that were once
perennial, no longer are. When floods occur, it's very bad because
there's no vegetation, [so] water flows freely.
We could prevent up to 60 percent of flooding in Malawi ... [through]
mitigation activities [such as] aforestation of river banks and water
catchment areas. And in some areas, but not on a big scale, through the
construction of dykes.
ECONOMIC POLICY AND FOOD SECURITY
What of plans to privatise the Agricultural Development and Marketing
Corporation (ADMARC), which is seen as a safety net for the vulnerable?
They [ADMARC] have markets throughout the countryside. The concern is,
if it is privatised, would the private owner keep these markets -
maintain and sustain markets which are not profitable? The answer is no.
The private owner would be looking for a return on investment. Some of
these markets are not profitable, [they] are a social service, and
people are concerned about this.
But then again, the IMF and the donors say we must privatise ADMARC,
along with the other parastatals. I believe the Bretton Woods
Institutions are wrong - they don't look at the social aspects of the
parastatals. When these social aspects are removed, misery is brought on
the people. The people become poorer. (The IMF and its sister
organisation, the World Bank, were born in 1944 in Bretton Woods, New
Hampshire, and are commonly referred to as the Bretton Woods
My own view is - we should be permitted to conduct privatisation at a
comfortable pace, a pace that will not cause a crash for the people of
What happened with government's distributions of agricultural inputs to
communities, the so-called starter-pack programme?
The universal starter-pack programme helped Malawi a lot. In 1999/2000
Malawi produced a surplus of 500,000 mt of maize, a total of 2.5 million
But in 2000/2001, donor pressure forced us to cut the starter-pack
programme and embark on a targeted inputs programme (TIP). Following
that season, Malawi went into the food crisis. Of course, there were
other factors like the erratic weather but, in the main, it was because
people could not afford [agricultural] inputs.
Because the removal of [agricultural] subsidies happened at the same
time, inputs became unaffordable. (It is estimated that up to 65 percent
of Malawians live below the poverty line - on less than US $1 a day.)
The international community thinks we sold off the strategic grain
reserves (which aggravated the food shortages) but the major factors
contributing to the crisis were: the removal of subsidies for inputs;
and transforming from the universal starter-pack programme to the TIP.
These are the factors that took us into the food crisis we have just
MDC asks Bush to 'save Zimbabwe'
09 July 2003 10:16
Supporters of the Zimbabwe opposition Movement for Democratic Change
marched on the United States embassy in Pretoria on Wednesday to bring
the crisis in their country to the attention of visiting US President
The group of about 100 people carried posters urging Bush to
"Bush, like Iraq, save Zimbabwe," some placards read. Another said:
"Help us liberate Zimbabwe."
Bush arrived in Pretoria on Tuesday night for a brief official visit to
The MDC protesters were hoping to deliver a letter for Bush to embassy
Two lanes of Pretorius Street in front of the embassy were closed to
traffic going into the city. Metro police from Pretoria and Johannesburg
were lining the street, keeping a close watch.
A strong police contingent stood guard at the entrance to the embassy.
The demonstration was the first in a series planned by different
groupings at or near the embassy during the day.
By mid-morning, the Anti-War Coalition was expected to protest against
the Bush visit because of the war he initiated against Iraq.
Later in the day the Congress of SA Trade Unions, SA Communist Party
and the African National Congress are to demonstrate against US foreign
In their letter, the MDC welcomes Bush's pledge to help Africa against
Aids. It also thanks the US for its consistent condemnation of human
rights abuses in Zimbabwe. - Sapa
Malaria vaccine trial begins
Scientists hope they are moving closer to preventing deaths from
malaria with a trial to test a vaccine in children.
Two thousand children aged one to four will be given the vaccine in a
study to measure how effective it is at preventing infection.
About 3,000 African children die of malaria every day.
A number of vaccines are being developed to prevent deaths and illness,
but research into this particular vaccine, created by pharmaceutical
company GlaxoSmithKline, is the most advanced.
Trials in Europe, the US and Gambia and Mozambique have already
suggested the vaccine is safe and effective for adults.
This latest research, which will be carried out in an area where
malaria is endemic, will also check the vaccine is safe for small
children to take.
The children will be monitored for up to 18 months, longer than
previous trials of the vaccine, to see if they develop the disease.
In previous short-term trials of the vaccine, its effectiveness has
appeared to wear off after two months. It is hoped that its protection
will last longer in children.
If the trial is successful, further research will be needed.
Researchers estimate it could be between five and eight years until the
vaccine, RTS,S/AS02, is available, even if the trials are successful.
When a mosquito bites, it transmits an early form of the malaria
parasite called the sporozoite into the bloodstream.
From there, it moves to the liver, where the full parasite develops.
Researchers hope that by interrupting the life cycle of the parasite at
the early sporozoite stage, it will be possible to arm the immune system
The vaccine is made from a surface protein from the sporozoite.
This is then combined with two substances which will trigger the immune
system to attack.
Dr Pedro Alonso, who is heading the study in Mozambique, said: "We are
looking at whether it could be delivered early in life in a programme
where it could be delivered to young infants."
"Our team is committed to finding ways to prevent malaria from
remaining the number one killer of Africa's children.
"This trial is an important contribution to that effort and brings us
that much closer to the goal of immunising children against malaria."
Dr Ripley Ballou, of GlaxoSmithKline, who has been involved in the
development of the vaccine, said: "We will be looking to see how many
children become infected, do they develop anaemia, or other
complications of malaria."
Dr Melinda Moree, director of the Malaria Vaccine Initiative which is
backing the Mozambique research said: "For each month of delay, 120,000
children die of malaria.
"Each year, a million more children vanish from the face of the earth
because we don't have a vaccine."
On Goree Island, Bush Visit Sparks Anger
Tue July 8, 2003 12:00 PM ET
By Clar Ni Chonghaile
GOREE ISLAND, Senegal (Reuters) - President Bush made an eloquent
speech but did not win many friends during his brief visit to Goree
Island off Senegal on Tuesday.
"We are very angry. We didn't even see him," said Fatou N'diaye, a
necklace seller watching dignitaries file past to return to the mainland
at the end of Bush's tour.
N'diaye and other residents of Goree, site of a famous slave trading
station, said they had been taken to a football ground on the other side
of the quaint island at 6 a.m. and told to wait there until Bush had
departed, around midday.
Bush came to Goree to tour the red-brick Slave House, where Africans
were kept in shackles before being shipped across a perilous sea to a
lifetime of servitude.
He then gave an eloquent speech about the horrors of slavery, standing
at a podium under a sizzling sun near a red-stone museum, topped by
cannon pointing out to the sea.
The cooped-up residents were not impressed.
"It's slavery all over again," fumed one father-of-four, who did not
want to give his name. "It's humiliating. The island was deserted."
White House officials said the decision to remove the locals was taken
by Senegalese authorities. But there was no doubt who the residents
"We never want to see him come here again," said N'diaye, hiking her
loose gown onto her shoulders with a frown.
As the sun rose over Goree before Bush's arrival, the only people to be
seen on the main beach were U.S. officials and secret service agents.
Frogmen swam through the shallows and hoisted themselves up to peer into
brightly painted pirogues.
Normally, the island teems with tourists, Senegal's ubiquitous traders,
hawkers of cheap African art, photographers offering to take pictures
and all the expected trappings of a tourist hot-spot in one of the
world's poorest countries.
On Tuesday, shutters on the yellow and red colonial-style houses
remained shut. The cafes were closed and the narrow pier deserted, apart
from security agents manning a metal detector, near the sandy beach. A
gunship patrolled offshore.
"We understand that you have to have security measures, since September
11, but to dump us in another place...? We had to leave at 6 a.m. I
didn't have time to bathe, and the bread did not arrive," the
"We were shut up like sheep," said 15-year-old Mamadou.
Many residents compared Bush's hour-long visit unfavorably to the
island tour by former President Bill Clinton in 1998.
"When Clinton came, he shook hands, people danced," said former Mayor
Urbain Alexandre Diagne.
As the Bush roadtrip moved on, Goree was returning to normal with
children once again diving into the shallows and clambering over the now
Congress set to slash Africa aid
By Steve Schifferes
BBC News Online, Washington
AS US President George W Bush proclaims his commitment to Africa during
this week's five-day trip, his Republicans in Congress are planning on
cutting back the money allocated to his much-vaunted plans to tackle
HIV/Aids and encourage development.
The White House says Bush is underlining his commitment to Africa
At the heart of the president's new focus on Africa are two initiatives
for which the administration has promised a significant increase in
Mr Bush has pledged $15bn to fight HIV/Aids, primarily in Africa, over
the next five years, and an additional $10bn in additional foreign aid
over the next three years in a new Millennium Challenge Account.
But the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee - which
determines how much money will actually be spent in next year's budget -
looks set to cut back that request when it meets on Thursday.
Representative Jim Kolbe, chairman of the subcommittee on foreign
operations, said that in his view Congress would be unlikely to allocate
the full amount because neither initiative will be fully operational by
the time the fiscal year begins.
The amounts "assume you have full-blown programmes up and running on
October 1, and that's not the case," he said.
Mr Bush has just recently appointed his Global Aids administrator, a
former pharmaceutical executive, Randall Tobias.
In all the Bush administration has requested $18.9bn in foreign aid for
the next fiscal year, but the House appropriations committee has said it
plans to allocate only $17.lbn - a reduction of $1.8bn.
Aid agencies worried
Jamie Drummond, executive director of Data, a pressure group set up to
campaign for debt relief and African aid, said that the two new
programmes together could represent a massive change in America's
commitment to Africa, increasing US aid spending to that region from
$1bn now to $5bn in 2006.
But he warned that the trip "was set up in quite a dramatic way to see
if the president will see through on his promises".
Mr Drummond said it would be ironic that, while Mr Bush was in Africa,
"the House foreign operations subcommittee was actually deciding to
slash those promises, to break them if you like".
And he warned that there should be no cutbacks in other programmes to
fund these new initiatives, nor restrictions on contributions from other
Aid experts say that it may be difficult for many African countries to
meet the strict conditions that the US has set for receiving funds from
the new Millennium Challenge Account, which requires nations to adhere
to strict standards of openness and democracy.
It may be that as few as four or five African nations would qualify for
the first wave of assistance under this programme.
There are also significant problems of health care delivery in relation
to HIV/Aids, with many African nations lacking the basic public health
infrastructure to deliver improved care.
Meanwhile, experts are concerned about the lack of progress in
negotiations over trade in agricultural products, which could offer more
real benefits to African economies than any aid programme.
Robert Shapiro of the Brookings Institution points out that while many
African countries have a per capita income of $1 per day, in Europe the
agricultural subsidy per cow is $2 per day.
Overall, subsidies by rich countries for agricultural amount to $300bn,
compared to $50bn in foreign aid.
Mr Shapiro said that African income from exports of agricultural
products could triple from $10bn to $30bn if subsidies were reduced.
But with trade talks between the US and the EU over agriculture
deadlocked in the run-up to the crucial Cancun summit in September,
there is little hope that Africa can develop its natural advantage in
the near future.
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
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
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.
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