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  • Christine Chumbler
    Earnings Mushroom to Help Make Village Model in Malawi United Nations Development Programme (New York) December 1, 2003 Posted to the web December 2, 2003 New
    Message 1 of 1046 , Dec 3, 2003
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      Earnings Mushroom to Help Make Village Model in Malawi

      United Nations Development Programme (New York)

      December 1, 2003
      Posted to the web December 2, 2003

      New York

      As tobacco fails to light up, earnings, instead of taking a dive, have
      literally mushroomed in Ndawambe, 140 kilometres from Malawi's capital
      Lilongwe.

      Such ventures as mushroom growing are enabling villagers, scraping by
      on a dollar a day not three years ago, to improve their livelihoods.

      With tobacco fast losing its position as the largest foreign exchange
      earner due to the worldwide anti-smoking campaign, the government is
      looking at mushrooms, for which there's heavy global demand, as an
      alternative. The local market is already brisk.

      "We are unable to meet demand for mushrooms from supermarkets in
      Lilongwe," said Monica Hara, vice chairperson of the group growing
      mushrooms, the most popular of such initiatives in Ndawambe. The success
      is making the village a model in overcoming rural poverty.

      "The demand for training in mushroom farming is growing, and we are
      getting groups of smallholder farmers," said Henry Mbedza, head of
      agricultural engineering at Bunda College of Agriculture, part of the
      University of Malawi.

      Professor Moses Kwapata, coordinator of the project, said: "There has
      been a growing awareness that mushrooms, apart from being a delicacy,
      have high protein value and medicinal properties."

      UNDP and the Japan International Cooperation Agency funded the
      programme, launched in collaboration with the University of Namibia as
      part of an environmentally friendly "zero emission research initiative."
      Mushroom growing helps conserve the environment since growers use waste
      matter from other crops, such as maize stalks.

      Ndawambe residents are gaining from training in this and other
      commercial activities, thanks to the Government's Sustainable
      Livelihoods Programme. The UN Capital Development Fund and UNDP support
      the government established District Development Fund in financing the
      training, provided by the National Small and Medium Enterprises
      programme.

      Other partners in the initiative are the Malawi Industrial Research and
      Technology Development Centre, and the Malawi Entrepreneurship
      Development Institute.

      Nicholas Chiwaya Banda and his wife Expressia gave up money-losing work
      growing tobacco and are doing well raising chickens, with 900 hens
      producing 23 trays of eggs a day. They are building a two-storey,
      12-room home, a first for the village.

      Neighbours have increased their earnings by starting businesses such as
      fruit juice production, vegetable oil pressing, honey production,
      bakeries and fish farming.

      Mchinji, one of the 12 pilot districts in the national decentralization
      programme, plans to replicate Ndawambe's achievements in three more
      villages, according to Mchinji district chairperson Moses Kuchingale.

      The District Development Fund is providing support.

      Leoson Hara, Ndawambe village headman, said he is looking forward to
      day when the Government helps the groups operate as fully-fledged
      cooperative societies and links them up with lending institutions for
      loans to buy better equipment.

      "We have the capacity to produce almost everything from honey to
      tomatoes and onions, but we still need technical and financial
      assistance to become organized and effective," he said.

      For further information please contact or , UNDP Malawi, or , UNDP
      Communications Office.

      *****

      Malawi's Visually Impaired Want Aids Messages in Braille

      African Church Information Service

      December 1, 2003
      Posted to the web December 2, 2003

      Hobbs Gama
      Lilongwe

      Members of the visually impaired community in Malawi have decried
      discrimination against them in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and have
      called for access to information on matters concerning the pandemic.

      Executive Director for Malawi Union of the Blind (MUB), Kassim Gama,
      said here recently that the union recommends that HIV/AIDS awareness
      campaign messages be printed in Braille, for the blind to follow.

      He was speaking during the launch of Malawi youth wing of the Southern
      Africa Federation of the Disabled (SAFORD).

      "Besides being sidelined by their counterparts, blind young people are
      also marginalised on education, health and sport, which does not auger
      well for their future," Gama complained.

      His concerns were echoed by SAFORD President, Rachel Kachaje, who, in
      commending the formation of the youth wing within her organisation,
      said: "Most of the youth organisations have a wrong perception that the
      blind cannot contribute due to their disability, an attitude we are
      geared to fight."

      Earlier, the minister responsible for persons with disabilities docket,
      Susan Chitimbe, condemned men who culturally believe that having sex
      with disabled females can save them from HIV infection.

      "There is no single scientific proof of that, and I warn any men
      violating the rights of the disabled by taking advantage of their
      vulnerability," said Chitimbe.

      *****

      Wife-beating in Zambia a 'natural consequence'

      Lusaka

      03 December 2003 11:37


      About 80% of Zambian wives find it acceptable to be beaten by their
      husbands "as a form of chastisement", according to the latest Zambia
      Demographic Health Survey.

      Out of 5 029 women interviewed countrywide, 79% said they should be
      beaten if they went out without their husband's permission. Sixty-one
      percent said a beating was acceptable if they denied their husbands sex,
      while 45% said a beating was in order if they cooked 'bad' food.

      Compounding the abuse was the culture of silence around domestic
      violence. "This is an aberration -- and women are making an abnormality
      normal," said National Aids Council director, Dr Alex Simwanza, when he
      recently met traditional leaders to urge their support in fighting
      gender-based violence.

      "Zambian wives are living in a sorry state. As far as they are
      concerned they can be beaten for almost anything. This is a frightening
      phenomenon," he noted.

      Simwanza said most of the women who took part in the survey did not
      believe they had sexual or reproductive rights. Quoting the survey, he
      said 88% of women felt their husbands could have sex with them just
      after giving birth, while 67% said they would have sex even though they
      did not want it.

      Simwanza blamed the submissive attitude uncovered in the poll on what
      is taught to girls during puberty rites.

      But custodians of tradition have refused to accept the blame. Gertrude
      Mulande, a traditional marriage counsellor, believes wife-beating is a
      "natural consequence" of male-female relationships and must be seen in
      perspective. She says there is 'chastisement' and 'violence' -- two
      separate issues.

      Her organisation, "alangizi", which is made up of traditional
      counsellors, works closely with community leaders and the police to
      sensitise women on domestic violence "within the confines of cultural
      values".

      "Yes we teach young girls to expect to be slapped or hit lightly when
      they err as a form of chastisement, and we also tell them to keep their
      marital problems within their family circles -- but we do not teach them
      to accept violent beatings, neither do we teach them to suffer in
      silence," said Mulande.

      Mulande said in the past women were married off at 16 years or even
      younger to an older man, who had the right to act as 'chastiser', but it
      was frowned upon for that to extend to a severe beating. Traditionally,
      if a woman was badly abused, the matter was taken to family elders and
      resolved, because men were counselled not to hit their wives as though
      they were fighting with another man.

      "The extended family has become extinct, causing women to air dirty
      linen in public, and chastisement has turned to brutality. That is not
      our fault," Mulande said.

      Mulande, whose husband had slapped her "a couple of times" during 30
      years of marriage, argued that although the statistics revealed that
      beatings were occurring, this should not be interpreted to mean women
      were being brutalised in their homes.

      One diplomat, based in the capital Lusaka, agreed. He said domestic
      fights were common in homes and, even as educated and enlightened as he
      was, admitted to "roughing up" his wife a couple of times in their 19
      years together. He did not know of any wife who could say she had never
      been slapped or beaten by her husband.

      "In the earlier years of marriage when we [men] are still immature, we
      tend to use force instead of reason, but a beating should never be so
      severe that that a wife runs away or reports you to the police," he
      said. A father of two daughters, he hopes they will have husbands who
      are not violent, but is certain that at one point "they will receive a
      slap".

      This is the kind of perception that raises the ire of the national
      Women's Lobby group, who define violence as any form of force used
      against women.

      "Whether it is a weak slap on the cheek or a powerful fist in the face,
      it is still violence," explained lobby group member Juliet Chibuta.
      "There should be no so-called chastisement among equals. In these days
      of gender awareness and the fight against abuse, it is sad that women
      are still being subjected to outdated cultural norms."

      She added: "The fact that women are admitting that they expect to be
      beaten for perceived wrongs means we [the lobby] have a long way to go
      in sensitisation."

      Equally perturbed is President Levy Mwanawasa, who recently said the
      country needed to examine its cultural values that legitimised violence
      against women. "Any form of domestic violence is a violation human
      rights and should be stopped," he warned.

      Police spokesperson Brenda Mutemba said whether it was chastisement or
      beating, some women were suffering severe brutality. "We are receiving
      about five cases of wife battering a day. I cannot say whether it's an
      increase or just more cases being reported, but there is cause for
      concern."

      There has been a heightened awareness of violence against women since
      the launch of the annual international campaign of 16 days of activism
      against gender violence, which kicked off on 25 November. The event is
      being observed by some 100 countries.

      Charles Lwiindi is among 50 members of the "men's travelling
      conference" who are heading to neighbouring Malawi by bus, making stops
      to talk about gender violence with communities on the way.

      Lwiindi, who has been married for 11 years, admitted he hit his wife
      once, but had never done so again. "You live with someone whom you know
      is physically weaker than you are, the temptation to impose your will or
      dominance by force is great. For many it is the first time they are in a
      position of strength in all their adult life," he said. - Irin


      *****

      Mugabe moots alliance with China

      Harare, Zimbabwe

      02 December 2003 17:36


      Zimbabwe will support China as an alternative world power, President
      Robert Mugabe declared on Tuesday as his country faced an uncertain
      future within the Commonwealth.

      Mugabe, who was delivering a state-of-the-nation address to Parliament,
      said China is increasingly becoming "an alternative global power point"
      indicating "a new alternative direction, which in fact could be the
      foundation of a new global paradigm".

      "Zimbabwe must work for this new paradigm, which is founded on
      principles of sovereignty and independence," he declared.

      On Friday last week Mugabe indicated that Zimbabwe was ready to quit
      the Commonwealth after he was left out of this week's Commonwealth Heads
      of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Nigeria.

      On Tuesday he attacked the current "unipolar order".

      "We abhor the global high-handedness of the strong and powerful," he
      said.

      "We abhor unilateral interference in the internal political affairs of
      other countries, especially smaller states," said Mugabe, whose country
      was last year suspended from the Commonweath councils for alleged
      electoral fraud and rights abuses.

      "Recent events in Iraq have clearly shown that a unipolar order that
      presently governs international relations is both unjust and
      unsustainable. It is a source of conflict, and even of war," he warned.

      "Our continued membership of the Commonwealth ... is dependent on this
      fundamental consideration, currently being vitiated by Britain,
      Australia and New Zealand -- the Anglo-Saxon unholy alliance against
      Zimbabwe," he said.

      Mugabe gave the 30-minute address as the country was struggling to cope
      with a deep economic crisis characterised by hyperinflation, poverty,
      70% unemployment levels and shortages of most basic goods and services.
      -- Sapa-AFP
    • 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 8:06 AM
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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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