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  • Christine Chumbler
    Gender Groups Call for Women-Sensitive Poll System African Church Information Service November 17, 2003 Posted to the web November 17, 2003 Hamilton Vokhiwa
    Message 1 of 1046 , Nov 18, 2003
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      Gender Groups Call for Women-Sensitive Poll System

      African Church Information Service

      November 17, 2003
      Posted to the web November 17, 2003

      Hamilton Vokhiwa
      Blantyre

      Representatives of women organisations in Malawi have called for the
      adoption of a system that would enable more women to contest
      parliamentary positions during next year's general elections, scheduled
      for May 18 .

      The women made the resolution at the end of a two-day workshop here on
      November 4 and 5, organised by Gender Electoral Support Network (GESN),
      in collaboration with the Association of Progressive Women (APW).

      A cross-section of participants stressed the need for quick
      implementation of the resolutions reached, saying that stakeholders
      should promote activities that would enable women to vie for positions
      in the national assembly.

      Subsequently, they called for extensive civic education for the rural
      masses, on a Protocol of the Heads of State of Southern Africa
      Development Community (SADC), that recommended a 30 percent female
      representation in national assemblies of member states.

      Ngeyi Kanyongolo, a lecturer in Law at Chancellor College of the
      University of Malawi, who facilitated the workshop, confirmed that the
      women had resolved to set up a fund to enable them to come strong in
      their campaign for greater decision-making positions.

      The women also called on political organisations to create "conducive
      environments" for accommodating more women to contest for legislative
      positions during the coming general elections, in order to achieve a 30
      percent representation in parliament.

      The development comes against a background of what has been described
      as insufficient number of women in decision-making positions in member
      states of SADC, of which Malawi is a member.

      A number of political parties were represented at the workshop and gave
      their views.

      Bazuka Mhango, Secretary General of the main opposition group, Malawi
      Congress Party (MCP), pointed out the need for women to be aggressive
      enough so as to achieve the intended percentage representation in
      parliament.

      Dr Ken Lipenga, the Publicity Secretary of the ruling United Democratic
      Front (UDF), stressed the need for the women organisations to involve
      men in the process, and appealed for women's co-operation.

      Malawi Electoral Commission could not comment on a proposal by GESN
      chairperson, Catherine Munthali, that it reserves some constituencies
      for women contenders only, in next year's general elections.

      Munthali had expressed the desire to lobby the electoral commission and
      political parties in the country to reserve at least one constituency
      per district for women.

      But this idea has been widely criticised. Some commentators have said
      that women should stand tall and contest on merit, and not because they
      are female.

      Reacting to the issue, Public Relations Officer for the Malawi
      Electoral Commission, Fergus Lipenga, said it was too early to comment
      on the matter, since the proposal had not officially been presented to
      the commission.


      *****

      Mozambicans cast votes in municipal elections

      Fienie Grobler | Maputo

      18 November 2003 09:05


      Mozambicans cast their vote in municipal elections on Wednesday ahead
      of what is expected to be a tight presidential race next year, but
      opposition parties say their voters are under-represented since polling
      will take place mainly in cities.

      It is the first time the Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo) party
      will participate in local elections since the end of a devastating
      16-year civil war in 1992 which pitted Renamo -- then a rebel movement
      --against the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo).

      Renamo boycotted the first municipal elections in 1998, saying the
      government was bent on fraud, and Frelimo consequently received local
      seats on a silver platter.

      Those results were a far cry from reflecting the popular will since a
      mere 14% of the 17-million inhabitants of the former Portuguese colony
      showed up to cast their ballot.

      This year the local elections will take place mainly in urban areas,
      effectively barring three-quarters of the 8,4-million voters registered
      for the general elections next year from casting their ballot at local
      level.

      "Frelimo put those areas out of the municipal areas because they know
      the opposition have more people there voting for them," said Renamo
      spokesperson Jose Samo Judo.

      "It is a big problem for us but we will try to make the best of
      the situation. Next year will be much better."

      Frelimo's parliamentary majority -- now 133 of the National Assembly
      seats to Renamo's 117 -- allowed it in 1997 to repeal a bill intended to
      establish district municipalities linking urban and rural areas.

      A new law was eventually promulgated, but it is being phased in
      gradually, starting with existing urban municipalities, and adding only
      10 rural centres. This means the majority of rural areas are still
      excluded, and remain subject to rule by officials appointed by Maputo.

      But this year both the main contenders, Frelimo and Renamo, and no less
      than 15 smaller opposition parties, will participate in the power
      struggle for 33 municipalities.

      "I am sure we will win," said Frelimo spokesperson Edson Macuacua.

      "The people know we are the best, we have the best programme and the
      best organisation. We are very, very strong."

      Frelimo enjoys substantial support in urban areas, especially in the
      capital Maputo in the more developed south. Renamo is popular among
      residents in the impoverished and more populated northern provinces,
      including Mozambique's second city, Beira.

      In Maputo, Frelimo is facing competition from a strong third party, the
      Juntos Pela Cidade (JPC), Portuguese for "Together for the city", under
      the leadership of Swiss-turned-Mozambican Philippe Gagnaux.

      A former rebel peace negotiator and top lawmaker, Raul Domingos, is the
      brain behind the Institute for Peace and Development, which is running
      in at least 11 of the 33 municipalities, including Maputo and Beira.

      Domingos led the Renamo delegations during two years of peace
      negotiations in Rome that culminated in the 1992 peace deal, but was
      expelled from the party in 1999 for allegedly holding secret talks with
      Frelimo.

      He is planning to run in presidential elections next year, facing his
      former Renamo boss, Afonso Dhlakama, and Armando Guebuza, a former
      independence war veteran representing Frelimo.

      President Joachim Chissano, in power since 1986, steps down under the
      conditions of the constitution at the end of his term in 2004.

      Political analyst Eduardo Serpa believes the local elections will
      provide a clue to the outcome of the general elections next year.

      "The results will fail to express, regrettably, the political feelings
      of voting preferences of the rural population...

      Nevertheless, the upcoming local elections will provide preliminary
      clues in terms of which regions will be dominated by Frelimo and Renamo
      respectively." - Sapa-AFP

      *****

      'Many of us are badly wounded'

      Harare, Zimbabwe

      18 November 2003 15:19


      Zimbabwe police arrested scores of trade unionists and rights activists
      on Tuesday as they gathered to stage protests across the Southern
      African state against alleged rights abuses and the sky-rocketing cost
      of living in Zimbabwe, witnesses said.

      In the second-largest city, Bulawayo, riot police moved in immediately
      to disperse about 2 000 people who had gathered outside government
      offices to hand over a petition to the governor of the province.

      The protesters held running battles with riot police, and several
      people were injured, according to a witness and an official from the
      Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), which organised the protests.

      "The people just massed," the union official said via cellphone, adding
      that the police had initially failed to prevent the protesters
      gathering.

      But minutes later police could be heard breaking up the demonstration.
      They also made an unknown number of arrests.

      Jenni Williams, a spokesperson for the rights group Women of Zimbabwe
      Arise, who took part in the demonstration, said she had been briefly
      handcuffed and arrested in the police crackdown.

      The "peaceful demonstration" was broken up by police with batons and
      dogs, she said.

      "They were forcing us to run by beating us so they could set the dogs
      on us," she asserted via cellphone from Bulawayo.

      "Many of us are badly wounded by baton sticks," she added.

      In the capital, Harare, the ZCTU had announced plans to march to
      government offices to hand over a petition to the Finance Ministry, but
      groups of baton-wielding riot police stood guard on every street
      corner.

      About 40 rights activists and union leaders were arrested as they
      gathered outside the town hall in central Harare for the protest, one of
      those arrested said by cellphone from the police station.

      Lovemore Madhuku, a prominent constitutional lawyer, said top officials
      of the ZCTU, the largest labour grouping in Zimbabwe formerly headed by
      opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, were among those arrested.

      The ZCTU had last week called for nationwide demonstrations to protest
      at deteriorating living conditions and alleged rights abuses under the
      government of President Robert Mugabe.

      The labour group's secretary general and president, Wellington Chibebe
      and Lovemore Matombo, were arrested in the police swoop in Harare,
      according to Madhuku.

      Photojournalists were also among those arrested, according to an
      eyewitness.

      Earlier on Tuesday nine officials of the union's general council were
      arrested at a hotel in central Harare as they held a meeting, ZCTU
      spokesperson Mlamleli Sibanda said.

      Sibanda said those arrested included the labour grouping's
      vice-president, Elias Mlotshwa, and the head of a teachers' union,
      Raymond Majongwe.

      Eight more union officials were arrested in the central city of Gweru,
      another in Bulawayo, and one in Gwanda, a southern Zimbabwean town,
      Sibanda said.

      He claimed one person was struck and injured by a lorry as he tried to
      flee the police in Bulawayo.

      Police were not able to immediately confirm the arrests, but they had
      declared the planned nationwide protests illegal and threatened to clamp
      down on any such action.

      On Monday a defiant Chibebe vowed that the protesters would not be
      deterred.

      He said Mugabe's government should not "interfere with bona fide trade
      union work and [should] let the workers of Zimbabwe express their
      feelings over the mess the economy is in".

      Zimbabwe is in the throes of severe economic hardship, with the annual
      inflation rate above 525%, 70% of the work force unemployed and chronic
      shortages of food, fuel and medicines due to a lack of hard currency to
      import them.

      Those Zimbabweans who do have jobs have seen take-home wages eroded to
      levels that barely cover monthly transport costs.

      Last month close to 200 ZCTU activists and officials, including
      Chibebe, were arrested for holding demonstrations in cities around
      Zimbabwe. -- Sapa-AFP

      *****

      Mugabe insists he will go to summit

      18 November 2003 07:15

      The threat of a damaging split within the Commonwealth loomed on Monday
      after Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe insisted he was determined to
      secure an invitation to a summit of leaders next month.

      His remarks followed a flying visit to Harare by Nigerian President
      Olusegun Obasanjo, who has been attempting to broker a deal to prevent a
      rift over whether Zimbabwe, which has been suspended from the
      Commonwealth council, should be allowed to attend.

      When asked at a press conference if Mugabe will be invited to a summit
      of the 54 leaders of the commonwealth countries, Obasanjo said: "I am
      still consulting."

      However, Mugabe, who was standing next to him, stepped in and
      interjected: "Yes, consultation is always necessary and we look forward
      to attending."

      Mugabe has put Obasanjo into an awkward position, and his stance
      threatens to split the Commonwealth along racial lines if he is not
      invited.

      If he goes, Tony Blair is unlikely to attend.

      When asked if the British prime minister would go to the Commonwealth
      summit if Mugabe was there, a Foreign Office spokesperson said: "This
      remains a hypothetical question but suffice it to say it would create
      significant difficulties for the participation of the UK as well as a
      number of other Commonwealth countries."

      Zimbabwe has been suspended from the Commonwealth council since March
      2002, following the finding by Commonwealth observers that Mugabe's
      re-election was marked by state violence and evidence of massive vote
      rigging. Since then, Mugabe has waged a determined effort to get the
      suspension lifted and to be invited to the Commonwealth summit in Abuja,
      Nigeria, December 4-8.

      Mugabe has lobbied other African Commonwealth members with the slogan,
      "There is no Africa without Zimbabwe" and urged a boycott of the summit
      if he is not invited. Mugabe has argued that the "white Commonwealth",
      chiefly Britain and Australia, have ostracised Zimbabwe because they
      object to his seizure of white-owned farms. Mugabe has urged a split of
      the Commonwealth along racial lines over the issue of his exclusion.

      But Mugabe has not taken any steps to lessen his repressive policies.

      Most Commonwealth members, including African countries, appear to have
      taken the view that Zimbabwe remains suspended and therefore Mugabe
      cannot be invited.

      Obasanjo met Mugabe for 90 minutes yesterday in what Harare diplomats
      said was a last-ditch effort to keep dialogue open.

      Obasanjo is an ally of Mugabe's, but he recently said unless there is a
      "sea change" in Zimbabwe, Mugabe cannot go to the summit.

      Obasanjo has made little progress in his bid to broker talks between
      Mugabe and Zimbabwe's opposition -- a key Commonwealth demand.

      In recent months he has closed the country's largest newspaper, the
      Daily News, and police have illegally arrested and beaten trade union
      leaders and lawyers.

      African diplomats say Obasanjo views a successful summit in Abuja as a
      matter of pride for Nigeria and does not want to risk a crisis by
      inviting Mugabe.

      Obasanjo met opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai earlier yesterday.
      Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change is pressing a court
      challenge to Mugabe's re-election on the grounds of state violence and
      ballot stuffing. - Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited
      2003
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006
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        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Chihana operated on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

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

        *****

        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Mussa hails new driving licence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu

         

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

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

         

        *****

        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

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

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

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

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

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

        Opposition protests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Crackdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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