- Food Aid Agencies Seek to Consolidate Gains
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
September 2, 2003
Posted to the web September 2, 2003
Malawi has mostly recovered from last year's food crisis that at its
height threatened 3.3 million people, but a large vulnerable population
still needs humanitarian aid.
World Food Programme (WFP) head of programmes in Malawi, Lola Castro,
said her agency was planning to feed about 670,000 people through
targeted distributions to identified vulnerable groups from July 2003 to
WFP was assisting malnourished children, pregnant and lactating women,
primary school children in food-insecure areas, people living with
HIV/AIDS and the chronically ill with food aid. Food-insecure
communities were being assisted either with food-for-work or
Castro stressed that "the 670,000 [beneficiaries] is the total number
of people who will receive food over the 12 months" of the WFP's
The highest monthly number of beneficiaries targeted would be "around
450,000 in January and February, which are normally the worst months -
just before the harvest, when households have depleted all their [food]
stocks. Malnutrition increases as well during those months," she told
Castro remarked that the number of WFP beneficiaries was not the total
number of people in need of aid in Malawi.
"This is the total number [of people] that we will assist, but there
has been talk of about 200,000 households in flood- and drought-affected
areas [needing aid]. Of course, there are other [aid] pipelines that
will distribute food to other vulnerable people [not on WFP's list],"
"But we are making sure that we will not duplicate food aid
[distributions] with other agencies like [the Southern Africa Food
Security Emergency] C-SAFE - we have made sure that the same people do
not benefit from both [aid] pipelines," Castro added.
C-SAFE monitoring and evaluation officer Michka Seroussi told IRIN that
the organisation's implementing partners in Malawi had "reached about
93,783 beneficiaries over the three months of May, June and July".
Like WFP, C-SAFE was targeting vulnerable groups and focussing on
programmes that would assist in making Malawi's partial recovery
sustainable. C-SAFE's targeted assistance began in earnest during
January this year, she added.
"The situation is better in Malawi than last year. [Among our]
objectives is restoring the livelihood systems in the countries C-SAFE
is operational in, and trying to increase and maintain productive
output, and developing activities to improve resilience to shocks,"
Elections a rude 'wake up call', says Moyo
03 September 2003 13:00
The ruling party conceded on Wednesday that opposition gains in local
elections were "a rude wake up call" for its politicians, officials and
Jonathan Moyo, a ruling party spokesperson who is also the government's
Information Minister, said victory by the Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC) in most weekend town council polls across the country were
sobering and the ruling party needed to examine the reasons for its
"We should have seen it coming. The writing was on the wall but somehow
we did not read it," Moyo told the state Herald newspaper, a government
"We can't be mourning. It's good we have gotten a rude wake up call"
ahead of the next parliament elections in 2005, he said.
The opposition won control of 10 town councils in this weekend's local
elections, according to results released on Tuesday. The opposition MDC
hailed the polls as a sign people were dissatisfied with the
increasingly authoritarian government and worsening economic hardships.
The local elections in this troubled southern African country, which
included races for two vacant parliament seats, were beset by low
voter-turnout and reports of political intimidation by members of the
The opposition captured 134 council seats across the country to the
ruling party's 100.
The opposition also retained its parliament seat in central Harare,
while the ruling party retained a seat in Makonde, a traditional
stronghold of the ruling Zanu-PF.
Moyo said preoccupation over stalled talks between the ruling party and
the opposition, to negotiate an end to the country's political and
economic crisis, caused some ruling party officials to lose focus ahead
of the polls.
Debate and speculation on a possible ruling party successor to longtime
ruler President Robert Mugabe (78) also hurt the party, he said.
Talks between the two main parties collapsed after the opposition
refused to recognize Mugabe's election for another six-year term in
presidential polls last year.
Attempts to revive the talks as the economy crumbled this year have
failed. Mugabe is demanding the opposition drop a court challenge to his
re-election scheduled to begin the High Court on November 3.
The MDC has refused to drop the case and is demanding Mugabe step
Independent and foreign observers said Mugabe's narrow win in the
presidential poll was swayed by intimidation, corruption and vote
Zimbabwe is suffering its worst economic crisis since independence in
1980, with record inflation of 400%, one of the highest rates in the
world. Soaring unemployment and acute shortages of hard currency, local
money, food, gasoline, medicine and other imports are crippling the
Opposition officials reported widespread intimidation of their
supporters in the run-up to and during the elections. They also said
ruling party campaigners were handing out food to voters in some areas
in a bid to gain their support.
The state election commission dismissed those reports as "exaggerated".
US offers faint praise for Zim election
03 September 2003 08:13
The United States on Tuesday begrudgingly offered the faintest of
praise for the conduct of weekend local elections in Zimbabwe, saying
there had been "a degree of improvement" over previous polls.
But the State Department pointedly expressed concern about reports of
electoral malfeasance including violence, intimidation and vote buying
on the part of President Robert Mugabe's supporters.
"We're somewhat encouraged that the elections showed a degree of
improvement over the March 2003 parliamentary by-elections and the
September 2002 rural council elections in Zimbabwe," spokesperson
Richard Boucher said.
"These local elections were relatively calm, albeit with a very low
turnout," he said of the voting in which the leading opposition party
won the majority of seats in urban councils, besting Mugabe's ruling
"We note with concern, however, that there were scattered reports of
intimidation, violence, vote buying and the politicised use of
government maize supplies predominantly perpetrated by supporters of the
ruling party," Boucher said.
"We're also concerned about flaws in the run-up to the elections, with
opposition candidates in at least three areas prevented from filing
paperwork," he said.
"So there were significant flaws, as I noted, but somewhat improved
over previous elections."
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won 134 out of the 238 seats
that were up for grabs, as well as six of the mayoral elections. Zanu-PF
took just one mayoral post, according to results available from the
The elections took place at a time of unprecedented economic and
political crises in Zimbabwe, for which the US has placed the blame
squarely on Mugabe.
Inflation is currently officially running at about 400%, and 75% of
Zimbabweans live in poverty, according to internationally accepted
The country has in recent months endured shortages of not only food and
fuel, but cash with which to buy those commodities.
Last week, the State Department denounced calls from the Southern
African Development Community (SADC) for the lifting of US and European
Union sanctions against Zimbabwe and urged its members to "openly
distance" themselves from Mugabe's government.
It said on Thursday that the appeal was misguided and suggested that
the SADC did not understand the root causes of dire situation in
"The humanitarian and economic crises in Zimbabwe are a direct result
of failed Zimbabwean government policies," said Jo-Anne Prokopowicz, a
department spokesperson. -- Sapa-AFP
UN forced to close Zim field offices
03 September 2003 10:14
The United Nations Relief and Recovery Unit (RRU) in Zimbabwe has been
forced to close its provincial field offices, which coordinate and
monitor the use of donor-funded humanitarian aid.
In the latest Zimbabwe Humanitarian Situation Report released this
week, the RRU said the government had requested that its "field offices
be closed from mid-August".
"The government of Zimbabwe's position is that not all procedures for
the establishment of this field presence had been properly followed. All
RRU field staff have been recalled to Harare while negotiations
proceed," the situation report said.
It noted that "the provincial field units are mandated to provide
support to provincial and district-level coordination structures in the
humanitarian fields. They are also supposed to monitor, from an
independent perspective, assistance provided with donor resources."
A UN official said that while the situation was not ideal, "field staff
are being allowed to go out into the field from Harare".
"Two teams left yesterday [Monday], one to Matabeland south and the
other to Midlands province. So, although it would be better to have the
staff based in the provinces, and that is still the desire of the UN
[humanitarian] coordinator, their work will still be going on as
planned," the official added.
Zimbabwe will have about 5,5 million people in need of food aid by
January 2004. Last month the government released a new policy directive
that withdrew responsibility from the World Food Programme (WFP) for the
selection of beneficiaries and the distribution of food aid, and
replaced the agency with local government structures and village
authorities. NGOs would perform only a monitoring role.
Although the government later gave an assurance to WFP country
representative Kevin Farrell and UN humanitarain coordinator Victor
Angelo that the WFP would remain in control of food distributions, the
directive has not been withdrawn. Critics have protested that it opens
the door to the potential politicisation of food aid.
In the case of the RRU, which falls under the office of the
humanitarian coordinator, the situation report noted that "at all stages
the RRU and its field officers have worked in collaboration with the
appropriate government of Zimbabwe authorities at field level".
"The governors' and provincial administrators' offices have been kept
informed of all activities, and have also invited RRU to participate in
some of their activities and programmes where appropriate".
It was therefore hoped that the closures "are only a temporary measure
while the protocols and procedures needed to carry out field activities
are regularised", the RRU said. -- Irin
Zimbabwe govt hikes maize-buying price
03 September 2003 11:21
The Zimbabwe government has more than doubled the price it will pay for
maize and wheat in a bid to boost production in the famished Southern
African country, a newspaper said on Wednesday.
According to the state-controlled Herald, maize will now be bought for
Z$300 000 (US$364) a tonne, up from Z$130 000, while wheat will now
fetch a price of Z$400 000 (US$485) a tonne, up from Z$150 000 dollars.
Millet and sorghum will be bought at the same price as maize, the paper
It is the second time this year that the government, which is the sole
legal buyer of grain, has hiked the producer price for wheat and maize,
amid reports that farmers were holding on to their harvests because of
the poor prices offered.
However, the government-run Grain Marketing Board will continue to sell
maize and wheat to millers for less than the buying price, the newspaper
Zimbabwe is critically short of food due to poor harvests, which the
government blames on drought but which aid agencies blame partly on the
country's controversial government land-reform programme.
Under the reforms, launched in 2000, land was taken from white farmers
and redistributed to landless black people, often with little or no
farming experience, causing production levels to plummet.
The United Nations's World Food Programme estimates that 5,5 million of
Zimbabwe's 11,6 million people will require emergency food aid by the
end of the year. -- Sapa-AFP
Call for global action on Aids
By David Loyn
BBC developing world correspondent
A new deal to provide cheap anti-aids drugs to the world's poorest
countries should not be seen as an act of charity but the responsibility
of the developed world, according to Francisco Sumbane, the Health
Minister of Mozambique.
The deal was reached at the weekend, after United States objections
were swept aside.
Mr Sumbane said that the deal does no more than deliver on commitments
previously made to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and agreed at
the United Nations in the millennium development goals.
The new agreement will allow the poorest countries to buy generic
copies of expensive patented drugs.
The cheaper versions are made mainly in India and Brazil, but they
cannot be imported into Africa without stringent conditions demanded by
the US, including the demand that each drugs consignment should have a
separate licence from the WHO.
This will make the programme very expensive to administer.
"We have done our bit, but we are not sitting back and waiting for
gifts. That's why we want this better offer in terms of pricing of drugs
so we can buy them. It is a matter of morality of course, but it is a
matter of responsibility because people are dying in their millions," Mr
The deal is set to clear one obstacle to successful negotiations at the
key summit of the World Trade Organisation in Cancun, Mexico next week.
About 12-15% of Mozambique's 18 million population is HIV positive, and
the availability of cheap antiretroviral remedies could reduce the
discrimination against those who are affected, according to Dr Alice
Roussaux, a doctor working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
"I think it will make a big difference to discrimination, because if
you are able to propose something from the moment you are tested, then
people will come forward. Once they know that they are not the only one,
you can be HIV positive and still live a life," she explained.
"If from the moment that you know you are sick that you receive drugs,
then it is not going to be a death sentence as it is now."
MSF have been piloting a programme in Mozambique to demonstrate that
African patients can be trusted to take the drugs responsibly, despite
the belief of some prominent figures, including Andrew Natsios, the head
of USAID, that these drugs would be a waste of money in Africa at any
cost because of the fragility of the health system.
But only a few hundred patients can be treated.
Waiting in the queue is Bento Bango, one of Mozambique's most prominent
journalists, who knows what anti-Aids discrimination is like.
Earlier this year he announced that he was HIV positive.
"Not only did I lose my job, but I had a girlfriend and her father did
not want me to marry her, because he thought I was not worthy to join
the family. And furthermore my landlord expelled me from my house," he
Mozambicans are also helping themselves to improve their health and
immunity against the opportunistic diseases which come with Aids.
The British NGO Action Aid is pioneering the spread of red sweet
potato, which has an unusually high Vitamin A content. In the Marakuene
region north of Maputo, the area worst affected by flooding two years
ago, they call it a magic vegetable, and they even grind it into flour
to make doughnuts for schoolchildren to improve their health.
It is all part of a health picture which will significantly help to
reduce mortality in a country where almost one in five children do not
reach their fifth birthday.
The government is moving towards its goal of spending 15% of its budget
on health care, but Mr Sumbane says this can only be effective if
generic copies of drugs for other diseases are made available too.
Malaria continues to kill more people in Mozambique than Aids, and the
disease it mutating so that only the newest drugs are effective against
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