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

news

Expand Messages
  • Christine Chumbler
    Wildlife Officials Brace for 2004 Ivory Sale Charles Mkoka BLANTYRE, Nov 11 (IPS) - Conservationist David Bradfield has an interesting story to tell about one
    Message 1 of 1046 , Nov 13, 2003
    • 0 Attachment
      Wildlife Officials Brace for 2004 Ivory Sale

      Charles Mkoka

      BLANTYRE, Nov 11 (IPS) - Conservationist David Bradfield has an
      interesting story to tell about one of his visits to Malawi's capital,
      Lilongwe.

      Wearing the disguise of a tourist, he asked a group of curio sellers in
      the city whether he could buy ivory from them. "When I asked if they
      could offer some for sale, one vendor produced three bags of worked
      ivory, ornaments and souvenirs. I said 'No, I am not interested'," he
      recounts.

      This is the situation that Malawian authorities find themselves
      confronted with, on the eve of a planned sale of 66 tonnes of ivory in
      nearby Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

      In Nov. 2002, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
      Species (CITES) ruled that the global ban on ivory trading could be
      suspended next year for a one-off sale of stockpiles from these three
      countries. The money will be used to improve protection for wildlife
      reserves.

      However, a number of conservation groups believe that adequate
      mechanisms to monitor this sale are not in place - and that it could
      lead to a surge in the poaching that is already evident in Malawi.
      Tanzania has since indicated that it too would like to sell off some of
      its 80,000 kg ivory stockpile.

      Another conservationist, Paul Taylor, says "It's best to have the ban.
      Yes, money to run protected areas (is important). But, it's too
      dangerous. I am totally against it."

      Even when anti-poaching laws are put into effect, the result leaves
      much to be desired. In a recent landmark case, a businesswoman from the
      southern Machinga district who was found in possession of ten tusks
      (weighing 127 kgs) was only fined about 57 dollars.

      According to the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi (WESM) -
      located near the commercial capital of Blantyre, it cost the government
      about 4,700 dollars to try the businesswoman, Maria Akimu. This is
      nearly a hundred times the fine that she was asked to pay.

      A lawyer at the Malawi Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy,
      Gracian Banda, has been hired to assist authorities with re-opening the
      case against Akimu. "There are good grounds for reviewing the case...The
      law says if you are guilty of possession of illegal ivory, the fine
      shall not be less than the value of the trophy. That is the basis of our
      argument: 'value of the specimen'," Banda says.

      Nonetheless, he fears the possible long-term effects of next year's
      planned ivory sales. "Once the gates are open there will be a spill
      over. A mechanism is needed to certify legal trade," Banda notes, adding
      "There is also a need for monitoring, so that illegal ivory from other
      states does not masquerade as legal ivory. Further international
      cooperation between police, customs officials and Interpol needs to be
      harnessed." (Interpol is the International Criminal Police Organisation,
      which helps national police forces to catch miscreants. It is based in
      France.)

      Taylor laments the lack of coordination between the various law
      enforcement agencies in Malawi. "Customs and wildlife personnel don't
      work as a team and lifting the ban would spell doom for (the country),"
      he says. This poor cooperation - combined with porous borders and high
      levels of poverty have combined to make Malawi a hub for the illegal
      ivory trade.

      According to Bradfield, who is in Malawi for a project funded by the
      Frankfurt Zoological Society, elephant populations in the Namizimu and
      Phirilongwe reserves in southern Malawi have declined drastically during
      the past few years. "Look, 15 years ago there were about 200 elephants
      in Phirilongwe forest reserve - but now about 30 are remaining. Local
      people are killing these elephants, and move with tusks in broad
      daylight."

      The Deputy Director of Parks and Wildlife responsible for research and
      planning, Roy Bhima, says the Kasungu, Vwaza and Nyika national parks
      are being targeted by cross-border poachers.

      "The situation is more worrying in Kasungu national park...one of the
      biggest parks in the country, (which) used to be a haven for wildlife. A
      recent elephant count in Kasungu Park, this year, found the elephant
      population to be approximately 200...Numbers used to be exceed 1,000,"
      says Bhima.

      Liwonde park, in the south of the country - and removed from national
      borders - offers some hope. The elephant herds there are said to be a
      stable situation. Malawi is currently estimated to have about 2,500
      elephants.

      Bhima says that Malawian and Zambian officials are discussing a
      trans-frontier venture to guard protected areas along their common
      border -- namely the Kasungu, Zambia Nyika and Malawi Nyika national
      parks. The initiative is being funded by the South Africa-based Peace
      Parks Foundation, of which former President Nelson Mandela is a patron.


      According to Banda, efforts to strengthen laws against poaching are
      still under discussion. "The National Parks and Wildlife Act was
      reviewed in 1999 and...in 2000. But, amendments have not passed. Policy
      processes are ongoing issues," he said.

      Deputy Director of Parks and Wildlife responsible for wildlife
      management, Humphrey Nzima, has also emphasised the need to make
      Malawian society has a whole aware of the need to protect elephant
      populations.

      "Definitely, the support from politicians, the judiciary and the
      community at large is crucial for the future of conservation in the
      country," he said. Malawi is presently trying to build a strong tourism
      industry with wildlife as its major attraction, to boost foreign
      exchange earnings.

      The illegal ivory trade flourishes because of strong demand in East
      Asia. Save the Elephants, a conservation group based in Britain and
      Kenya, visited several countries in the Far East last year to
      investigate how much ivory was being sold in the region, and elsewhere.


      Researchers Esmond Bradley Martin and Daniel Stiles concluded that the
      situation was most worrying in China, which is said to have received in
      excess of 40 tons of ivory over the past five years. The team found
      270,000 pieces of ivory for sale in Africa and Asia.

      CITES banned ivory sales in 1990 in order to protect elephants that
      have been target of this lucrative trade. According to the Environmental
      Investigation Agency, a conservation group based in Britain and the
      United States, Africa's elephant population fell from 1.3 million to
      624,000 in the decade that preceded the ban. (END/2003)

      *****

      Malawi mulls mini-skirt freedoms

      The balance between freedom and tradition in Malawi - a country still
      adjusting to democracy - has been highlighted by a number of attacks on
      women in the country who wear mini-skirts.
      A recent attempted rape on a Brazilian visitor to the country was the
      most serious of a series of verbal and physical assaults in the country
      on women who refuse to cover up areas of their body.

      According to many, the problem has its root in Malawi's change from a
      tightly-controlled one-party state to a democracy in which rights are
      constitutionally enshrined.

      "The challenge [in Malawi] is to strike a balance - how you can
      exercise freedom of rights vis-à-vis responsibilities," Robert Phiri of
      Malawi's Public Affairs Committee told BBC World Service's Africa Live!
      programme.

      "You have, for example, sometimes when women put on mini-skirts - if
      they go to the main bus depot, it would be very difficult for these
      women to walk freely.

      "They will be booed - they may be assaulted, or mocked.

      "There is a big challenge in striking a balance."

      Traditional attitudes

      Malawi only became a democratic country in 1994, after 30 of rule under
      the iron fist of Hastings Banda.

      During these years rights in Malawi were very restricted. Rights of
      association and trial were denied - as was the freedom of choice over
      dress.

      Are Africans abusing their freedoms?
      But for some, the relaxation of Malawi's laws under democracy has gone
      too far.

      "It is to do with attitudes of Malawians," Mr Phiri confirmed.

      "The shift from one-party rule after 30 years - definitely it has been
      difficult."

      Veronica Male, a woman from Lilongwe, said that it was important
      attitudes changed quickly.

      "We don't have too much freedom - but there is a lack of it," she
      argued.

      "We are coming from a one-party state, and people have the traditional
      values which we had in the past.

      "Right now it's very difficult for girls and women to put on
      mini-skirts - they are booed, they are mobbed, they are assaulted."

      She added that Malawian men felt that some of the freedoms that had
      been given went too far.

      By refusing to cover up, a woman was failing to respect herself, they
      felt.

      One man told Africa Live! that his view was that "if it is not for
      sale, do not put it on display".

      But Kenyan Lorna Lee White, who has been working in Malawi, said she
      was stunned by the attitude.

      "It seems that in Malawi they're insinuating that the responsibility
      lies with the women to restrict their freedom so that they don't tempt
      the men who can't control themselves," she said.

      "It seems that perhaps the responsibility should lie on both parts -
      the men should also be responsible enough to realise that women showing
      parts of their body does not give them carte blanche to abuse them"

      *****

      Zimbabwe rebellion 'not helpful'


      Zimbabwe's main opposition party says a military coup would not help
      solve the country's many problems.
      British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell claims a new armed group
      of soldiers and police officers has been formed to topple Mr Mugabe.

      But a spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change says
      he "is not aware" of any attempt to use force against President Robert
      Mugabe.

      Mr Mugabe is accused of rigging elections and ruining the economy.

      He blames Zimbabwe's problems on a Western plot to stop him seizing
      white-owned land.

      Meanwhile, a Harare court has rejected an appeal by directors of the
      banned Daily News to have criminal charges against them dropped and so
      they should stand trial.

      'Cronies'

      Mr Tatchell has twice tried to perform a citizen's arrest on Mr Mugabe
      for alleged human rights abuses.

      He says that he is not involved in the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement (ZFM)
      but is merely releasing a statement on behalf of a group of members of
      the Zimbabwe defence forces and police.

      "If Mugabe refuses to go, the ZFM will remove him and his cronies by
      force," reads a statement signed by national commander Charles Black
      Mamba and deputy national commanders Ntuthuko Fezela and Daniel Ingwe.

      Mr Tatchell said the ZFM was being formed because "all opportunities
      and possibilities for peaceful democratic change have been closed down".


      Hardships

      BBC Africa analyst Liz Blunt says that even the remotest suggestion of
      disaffection in the armed forces is likely to increase government
      pressure on Zimbabwe's opposition.

      MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi, who has been charged with treason
      after helping to organise a national strike against the government
      earlier this year, said a coup was not the answer.

      He told BBC News Online: "I don't think a military coup would be
      helpful.

      "We are staging a struggle through lawful means, even in a restrictive
      environment."

      He said he did not know of any military unrest in Zimbabwe, but added
      that soldiers were suffering the same hardships as other Zimbabweans.

      Inflation is running at more than 455% and up to half the population
      needs food aid.

      Mr Nyathi said the solution was for Zimbabwe's neighbours to put
      pressure on Mr Mugabe to hold new elections, which would be "free and
      fair".

      On Wednesday, a South African-based newspaper, This Day, released a
      special edition in Harare urging Mr Mugabe to step down.

      It also condemned the South African Government for its "shameful
      silence" on the crisis in Zimbabwe.

      ******

      Zimbabwe Paper Seeks Resume Publishing

      By MICHAEL HARTNACK
      The Associated Press
      Wednesday, November 12, 2003; 8:40 PM


      HARARE, Zimbabwe - The publishers of Zimbabwe's only independent daily
      newspaper began legal action Wednesday seeking to resume publication
      after twice being shut down by the government.

      Associated Newspapers Zimbabwe applied to the Administrative Court for
      permission to immediately resume publication of the Daily News, company
      lawyer Gugulethu Moyo said.

      The court, which has the power to review all decisions by government
      bodies, ruled Oct. 24 that the government's Media and Information
      Commission did not have the right to withhold a license from the
      newspaper. A special edition of the Daily News was published Oct. 25,
      but then police shut it down again.

      President Robert Mugabe's government has appealed the court decision,
      effectively keeping the newspaper from publishing.

      The Supreme Court, now headed by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, a
      former minister under Mugabe, may take years to hear the appeal.

      Three directors of the company arrested last month are scheduled to
      appear in a criminal court Thursday. They expect to learn if the case
      against them for allegedly defying Mugabe's media laws will continue.

      Moyo said the publishers had no income from advertising or circulation
      but still were paying a staff of 300.

      "What we are saying is that we would suffer immense and irreparable
      prejudice if the situation continues," she said.

      She could not say when the hearing would take place.

      During its four years of publication, the Daily News became Zimbabwe's
      largest daily newspaper.

      Its presses were blown up in January 2002, hours after Information
      Minister Jonathan Moyo claimed it was "a threat to national security."

      The newspaper gave space to Mugabe critics, who blame the collapse of
      the economy on the president's seizures of white-owned farms. Mugabe has
      ruled for 23 years.

      Zimbabwe faces its worst economic crisis since independence, with 70
      percent unemployment and acute shortages of food, gasoline and medicine.
      Inflation is running at more than 455 percent.
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006
      • 0 Attachment

        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17

        The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by government to look for another contractor instead of China Hunan Construction to construct of the long awaited Karonga/Chitipa road.

        China Hunan from Mainland China won the bid which was approved by the ADB but government later wanted to award the contract to a Portuguese firm, Mota Engil, the second lowest bidder, claiming China Hunan's bid was unrealistically low and that the company had very little experience in Africa.

        Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe confirmed on Sunday the ADB rejected the proposal at a meeting held between the bank and Malawi government in Tunisia last week.

        The Malawi government wanted the Tunisia meeting to authorise it to get another contractor for the road, said Gondwe.

        "They did not allow us to look for another contractor because of their regulations. But we are about to get another alternative for Karonga/Chitipa and I would be surprised if it does not start before end June," said Gondwe.

        The minister explained that the bank insisted that regardless of the unrealistic cost estimates, China Hunan should be allowed to go ahead with the construction.

        But Gondwe could not give further details about the alternatives, arguing there are still a few loose ends to tighten up before disclosing it.

        The problem with China Hunan, according to Gondwe, is that it would require more money to meet the total cost of the project.

        This paper reported last week that government met Taiwanese representatives where they offered to fund the road if the ADB continued to reject its favoured contractor, Mota Engil.

        Gondwe could neither confirm nor deny the reports on the Taiwanese offer, saying government was looking at a number of ways to handle the issue.

        According to Gondwe, the China Hunan's bid was 24 percent lower than the consulting engineers' estimates of K7.9 billion and 34 percent below the second lowest bidder.

        President Bingu wa Mutharika laid a foundation stone for the construction of the road this year ahead of a crucial byelection in Chitipa in December last year.

        The President's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Chitipa Wenya constituency by-election that fell vacant following the collapse and subsequent death of Speaker of Parliament Rodwell Munyenyembe who belonged to the UDF.

        Last week, police and the District Commissioner (DC) for Chitipa stopped a rally that was aimed at soliciting people's views about development projects in the district.

        The meeting, which was reportedly organised by Concerned Citizens of Chitipa, was among other things also supposed to tackle the controversial Karonga/Chitipa road.

        The project failed to start off in 2000 when a contract for an initial loan of US$17 million and US$15 million from the Taiwanese government was signed, with some quarters claiming the Bakili Muluzi administration diverted the money to another road.

        *****

        Chihana operated on

        by Edwin Nyirongo, 22 May 2006 - 06:32:31

        Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana, who is in South Africa receiving treatment, had a brain operation on Friday at Garden City Clinic, family and party officials confirmed on Sunday.

        Aford national chairman Chipimpha Mughogho said he was told by the family members that Chihana had a successful operation on Friday and was put in an intensive care unit.

        Mughogho said Chihana, who initially complained of headache, was found with a brain tumour which South African doctors removed.

        Mzimba West MP Loveness Gondwe said Aford boss condition was stable.

        "Hon. Chihana had a major operation and after that he was put in the intensive care unit but his condition is stable. I do not know where he was operated on but it had something to do with the skull," she said.

        Deputy Information Minister John Bande referred the matter to the Health Minister Hetherwick Ntaba who was reported to be in Geneva, Switzerland.

        Aford publicity secretary Norman Nyirenda said when Chihana's situation got worse, the family alerted the Office of the President and Cabinet who took him to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.

        "The doctors at Mwaiwathu advised that he should be sent to South Africa and they even identified the doctor for him," he said.

        He said the costs are being met by the Malawi government, contradicting his earlier statement that his boss covered the cost.

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

        Gondwe will be a busy person when Parliament starts meeting on June 6 as she is the only Aford MP remaining.

        *****

        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

        by Emmanuel Muwamba , 22 May 2006 - 06:34:13

        A member of the DPP National Governing Council Abdul Pillane on Saturday urged members of political parties and the civil society to put an upper age limit in the Constitution for presidential candidates.

        Pillane was addressing members of political parties and civil society in Liwonde during a two-day follow up workshop to the National Conference on the Review of Constitution held in March in Lilongwe.

        "My view is that (an upper) age limit should be at 75. We have to give a chance to younger people to lead because in circumstance, when you age you become forgetful especially when sickly," said Pillane. "Overall, chances should be given to young people."

        But UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala, whose party members agitated for the age limit during presentations, played the issue down.

        "I feel there is no logic to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates. If someone is 90 or 80 I don't know how that can influence the electorate not to vote for someone who is younger, I don't see any logic behind that," said Makwangwala.

        MCP participants at the workshop also vehemently objected to the proposal.

        MCP vice president Nicholas Dausi in an interview said: "There is no constitution in Africa which stipulates an upper age limit. So it would be strange in Malawi to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates."

        MDP President Kamlepo Kalua also opposed the need to have an upper age limit.

        "If we have personalities in mind that we want to discriminate against then it is unfortunate. The constitution we want to build is a guiding document for future generations and it should not bar certain individuals on the basis of grudges," he said.

        The Malawi Law Constitution Issues Paper of March 2006 says several submissions that were received put an upper presidential age limit in the Constitution.

        "It is argued that it is common sense that mental knowledge faculties tend to fail with age. As regards what the actual age limit should be the submissions are far from being agreed. The range is from 60 years to 80 years," read submissions in the Issues Paper.

        On whether MPs should double as ministers, Kalua said this should be the case.

        Makwangwala also said it is not right for MPs to serve as ministers because the Legislature, another arm of government, is reduced while the Executive branch is beefed up from another arm of government.

        "There is no separation of powers when MPs double as ministers," said Makwangwala.

        But Pillane said there is no problem for MPs to work as ministers as well, saying MPs are elected by the President.

        "One can serve both posts. There have been no problems before for people to double," said Pillane.

        The Centre for Multiparty Democracy funded the workshop through the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.

        The objective was to come up with a collective position on the Issues Paper which will be presented to the Special Law Commission that will be constituted soon.

        *****

        Mussa hails new driving licence

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:58:52

        Transport and Public Works Minister Henry Mussa last week said the design of the Malawi-Sadc driving licence would guard against forgery and ensure that only skilled and legitimate drivers of particular vehicles are licensed.

        Mussa was speaking at the official launch of the licences in Lilongwe where he announced that traffic police would from July enforce speed limits and sober driving using Breathalysers which his ministry is in the process of procuring.

        The minister said financial constraints are the reason for the delay in procuring the equipment but assured that by July they would be available.

        "With the new equipment, the days of those who believe in the thrill of drink and driving are numbered," warned Mussa.

        Mussa added that with the new licence, government is optimistic that the country's roads would be safe.

        Acting Director of Road Traffic James Chirwa said the features that distinguish the new from the old licences are the Malawi national flag and a ghost image of the driver's photograph, among others.

        Those with old licences, according to Chirwa, are expected to get the new ones after the expiry of the former.

        *****

        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

        by Rabecca Theu, 22 May 2006 - 06:30:46

        The United Democratic Front (UDF) has asked government to investigate Ralph Kasambara on allegations of abuse of office while he was attorney general.

        UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu told the press Sunday that the party is neither amused or saddened by the removal of the former AG but asked government to institute investigations on Kasambara.

        "Beyond the removal of the Attorney General, we now urge President Mutharika to institute investigation against Mr Kasambara into allegations that have made rounds in the public domain during the recent past. These include: Mrs Helen Singh and SS Rent-a-Car; SGS and ITS saga; ...........the use of Malawi Police Service in the arrest of three Chronicle journalists and the handling of Mrs Rubina Kawonga," said Mpasu.

        Mpasu also accused Kasambara of awarding government contracts to Lawson and Company where he was a senior partner.

        "We urge government to thoroughly investigate the former AG. We also ask government to cautiously select the new AG ," said Mpasu, who was accompanied by the party's Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala, leader of the party in Parliament George Mtafu, chief whip Leonard Mangulama and a member of the executive Hophmally Makande.

        But Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said UDF should give offer its advice to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB).

        "They should advise bodies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau to conduct the investigations and why are they saying this now? Is it because Kasambara has been fired? This is not a personal issue. If they have other pressing issues they should just say so. These arguments should have come up earlier on when the said cases were happening," she said.

        Kasambara asked UDF to proceed with the mission of urging government to investigate him.

        "They can do their job. Everyone has a right to lobby for anything they want in the country. UDF has a right to do that, let them go ahead," he said.

        Kasambara was relieved of his duties as AG by the President last week. Government has not given reasons behind the removal.

        *****

        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu

         

        MALAWIANS who have encroached on both the 'no-man's' and part of the Zambian land at the Mwami border in Eastern Province have plucked out some beacons that were used in the demarcation of the border.

        The Malawians are now using the beacons as stools in their newly-established villages on Zambian land.

        Eastern Province Minister, Boniface Nkhata, said in Chipata yesterday that if the situation was not controlled urgently, Zambia would lose huge tracts of land to Malawians migrating into Zambian in large numbers.

        A check at the Zambia-Malawi border showed a number of beacons had been vandalised and new structures constructed on the 'no man's' land and a large portion of Zambian land.

        Mr Nkhata said the trend extended to many parts of the province bordering the two countries.

        "A large portion of Zambian land has been taken up by the Malawians starting from the Chama boundary up to the Mwami border.

        "The weighbridge at the Mwami border was initially in Zambia from the time both countries gained independence from Britain, but now the bridge is on Malawian soil," Mr Nkhata said.

        The minister, who is former Chama District Commissioner, said there was similar encroachment in Lundazi and Chama districts where Zambia shares a boundary with Malawi.

        He said a Malawian farmer identified as Mr Mfune had cultivated 71.5 hectares on Zambian land and employed about 265 Malawian workers.

        "Khombe Farm in Chama district in Kanyerere's area, along the Muyombe road which leads to Northern Province where this Malawian farmer has cultivated a vast land is on the Zambian territory," he said.

        Workers on the farm admitted that they were farming on Zambian soil but could not go back to Malawi because the land in that country was inadequate for cultivation.

        Mr Nkhata appealed to the ministry of Lands to urgently release money for the demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border to avoid further land disputes between the two countries.

        Meanwhile, the Immigration Department in Livingstone has arrested a couple and another man, all Zimbabweans, for working in Zambia without permits.

        They were arrested at Gwembe village yesterday where they worked for Into Africa, a tour operating company that provides bush dinners and breakfast.

        According to the Immigration Department in Livingstone, the trio entered Zambia through the Victoria Falls border as visitors but decided to work for the company illegally.

        Last week, immigration officers arrested 10 Zimbabwean traders and six Ethiopians for entering and staying in Zambia illegally.

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

        The Ethiopians were arrested at Konje Guest House when they ran out of money to proceed to Botswana.

         

        *****

        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

        Zimbabwe's biggest labour federation on Saturday threatened to call massive demonstrations against the government over poor salaries and worsening living conditions for workers in the country.

        The threats are ratcheting up pressure against President Robert Mugabe's government after similar threats by the biggest opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), about two months ago.

        Speaking at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) conference on Saturday, the labour body's president, Lovemore Matombo, said the powerful union wants the government to award workers salaries that match the country's ever-rising inflation.

        "I can assure you we will stage massive demonstrations to force them [employers] to award workers minimum salaries that tally with the poverty datum line," said Matombo.

        Matombo did not say when exactly the ZCTU would order workers to strike.

        Opposition protests

        Meanwhile, the MDC on Sunday said it will push ahead with plans for anti-government protests, saying victory in a key by-election at the weekend was a "sign the electorate supported its policies", including democratic mass resistance.

        A spokesperson of the main faction of the splintered MDC, Nelson Chamisa, said victory over Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and a rival MDC faction in a Saturday by-election in Harare's Budiriro constituency is a sign Zimbabweans still have confidence in party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his policies.

        Tsvangirai, the founding leader of the MDC, heads the main rump of the opposition party whose candidate, Emmanuel Chisvuure, polled 7 949 votes to win the Budiriro House of Assembly seat.

        Gabriel Chaibva of the other faction of the MDC, led by prominent academic Arthur Mutambara, garnered 504 votes while Zanu-PF's Jeremiah Bvirindi polled 3 961 votes.

        "This election showed that the electorate still has confidence in the MDC [Tsvangirai-led] leadership and its policies," Chamisa told independent news service ZimOnline.

        He added: "We will now move to consolidate our position * we still believe in mass protests. Until we have attained our goals we see no reason why we should abandon [plans for protests]."

        Tsvangirai has threatened to call mass protests this winter against Mugabe and his government. He says the mass protests, whose date he is still to name, are meant to force Mugabe to relinquish power to a government of national unity to be tasked to write a new and democratic Constitution that would ensure free and fair elections held under international supervision.

        Mugabe and his government, who had hoped for victory in Budiriro to show they were recapturing urban support from a splintered MDC, have not taken idly the opposition's threats to call mass protests, with the veteran president warning Tsvangirai he would be "dicing with death" if he ever attempted to instigate a Ukraine-style popular revolt in Zimbabwe.

        Crackdown

        In a fresh crackdown against dissension, the police last week arrested several church and civic leaders for organising public prayers and marches to mark last year's controversial home-demolition exercise by the government.

        The police also banned the marches and prayers, fearing they could easily turn into mass protests against Mugabe and his government.

        However, the marches went ahead in the second-largest city of Bulawayo after organisers had obtained a court order barring the police from stopping the march.

        Political analysts say although Zimbabweans have largely been cowed by Mugabe's tactics of routinely deploying riot police and the military to crush street protests, worsening hunger and poverty are fanning public anger that Tsvangirai -- with proper planning and organisation -- could easily manipulate.

        Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe six-year old economic crisis that has seen inflation breaching the 1 000% barrier. Last year, the World Bank said Zimbabwe's economic crisis was unprecedented for a country not at war.

        The MDC and major Western governments blame Mugabe for wrecking the country's economy, which was one of the strongest in Africa at independence from Britain 26 years ago.

        Mugabe denies the charge blaming the crisis on sabotage by Britain and her allies after he seized white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks six years ago.

        The Harare authorities recently hiked salaries for civil servants, with the lowest-paid soldier now earning about Z$27-million while the lowest-paid school teacher now takes home about Z$33-million.

        But the salaries are still way below the poverty datum line, which the government's Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says now stands at a staggering Z$42-million a month for an average family of six.

        The Zimbabwe government often accuses the ZCTU, a strong ally of the MDC, of pushing a political agenda to remove Mugabe from power.

        Meanwhile, Matombo and Lucia Matibenga retained their posts as president and first vice-president respectively during the ZCTU congress that ended on Saturday. -- ZimOnline

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