- When Poverty and the Environment Become Enemies
By Charles Mkoka
The effects of environmental degradation have increasingly become more
evident in Blantyre, Malawi ’s commercial capital, due to the
disappearance of forest cover on Ndirande Mountain, one of the two
mountains that are found in the city. The other mountain, Michiru, has
of late experienced enormous pressure from the peri-urban population of
the city that has almost tripled in the past decade due to the
immigration of people in search of new jobs. As a result, the demand for
wood for household use by families has increased tremendously of late.
In Malawi, 93 percent of energy used comes from firewood. The supply of
trees has therefore become scarce due to deforestation, thus negatively
affecting women that must walk longer distances to gather firewood.
Research has shown that as firewood becomes scarce, the nutritional
status of families is affected as the limited supply of energy usually
forces families to reduce their meal frequency and not prepare the more
nutritious and affordable foods such as beans, which require more
Gathering Wood to Survive
Such is the story of one Idan Dyeratu, 50, his wife Feligasi, 30, and
their first born daughter Gertrude, who at 2:30 pm in the afternoon have
just descended Blantyre’s Michiru Mountain that reaches 1470m at its
peak. Leaving as early as 6 am on empty stomachs, they climb the
mountain in search of wood. One must really be strong to climb the
mountain in order to get a head load of firewood sold by forestry
officials as part of earning revenue for the government.
Now, 8 hours later, they are just half way home taking a rest
underneath a Eucalyptus tree on a weathered road that leads to Blantyre
city from the mountain. Idani sells the wood in the densely populated
township of Chirimba. He climbs the mountain every Saturday in addition
to his guard duties at a printing company in the city.
“The exotic pine plantation is benefiting us a lot. We take advantage
of those cutting planks and we collect the remains ourselves for our own
business,” he said. “I make a profit of about K200.00 (Kwachas),
about $3.5 per head load carried down the mountain, after buying it at
K7.00 from forestry officials.”
However, tracks leading to the plantation frequently used by those
fetching firewood have caused severe gullies that, once the rains
commence, will cause massive environmental damages downhill. Some
woodcutters have also wantonly destroyed the forest cover that used to
be part of the protected area in Blantyre City . The Michiru Mountain
conservation area is the only protected area that hosts wildlife species
like hyena, bushbuck, duiker, and hyraxes, just to mention a few.
Malawi Brick Industries a Threat
A booming brick-making industry operating just outside the protected
area has been earmarked as a major threat to the conservation area set
aside for tourists after disembarking from the nearby Chileka
International Airport. Harry Chikaonda, a villager who survives on
brick-making from Suya village says, “The brick-making industry is a
source of livelihood and banning it will affect my family’s
survival,” he said. Efforts to ban the brick-making industry have
proved futile. The majority of human habitats and buildings in Malawi
are built on burnt brick structures. As a result, the industry is a
major consumer of fuel wood.
Deforestation for Charcoal Production
A recent participatory assessment survey conducted by the Wildlife and
Environmental Society of Malawi (WESM) with the local people in Mwanza
on Non Timber Forest Products (NTFP) identified poverty as a major
problem faced by the local people in the Southern region district of
According to William Chadza, Head of Natural Resources Management,
wanton indigenous tree cutting by rural masses is carried out in order
to make quick money, since charcoal is in high demand by urban dwellers.
This has resulted in massive soil erosion and siltation in low-lying
areas resulting in floods during heavy rains.
Research indicates it takes 250 kg of wood to make a 50 kg bag of
charcoal. Large forested areas in the country have suddenly disappeared
due to excessive charcoal burning. Surprisingly because of the quick
money in the trade, women and children also participate in the business.
The law in the Malawi Forestry Act bans charcoal production unless a
permit is obtained from the Director of Forestry. Charcoal production
persists, however, as people have no alternative.
Coincidentally, the flat areas of Mwanza are blessed with a large
number of Baobab trees Adansonia digitata and Tamarinds trees Tamarindus
indica. In order to provide the people with an alternative, an in-depth
study was conducted in the area with the possibility of producing
locally made fruit juice from the two indigenous species of trees.
Antonio Angel, a German volunteer under the sustainable management of
indigenous forests, conducted a survey with support from the German
government. The survey revealed the possibility of producing fruit
juices from indigenous fruits from the wild. WESM then started producing
Malambe and Bwemba juices. The Malawi Bureau of Standards, a body
established to look into the quality of products before they are
marketed for consumption, approved selling the products to the masses
after conducting tests. Original products were later marketed in major
retail shops in the country.
Asked how the project is fairing, Chadza said, “The people were given
an alternative to charcoal. The project is doing well, it has offered
employment to the communities.”
Poverty Stresses the Environment
The UNDP Human Development Report for the year 2000 ranked Malawi as
one of the lowest in terms of the Human Development Index (HDI) at 163
out of 173 in the world. The percentage of people living below the
poverty line was 65.3 percent in 1998. Severe poverty affects about 28.7
percent of the population and a large part of the population is engaged
in subsistence farming, 60 percent of which in 2001/2002 failed to
produce sufficient food to last the whole year. The UNDP classifies 60
percent of rural people and 65 percent of urban dwellers as poor,
placing Malawi among the ten poorest countries in the world.
Recognizing the growing levels of poverty that are putting pressure on
the environment, the government initiated the implementation of the
Poverty Alleviation Programme. This was followed by the launching of the
poverty monitoring system aimed at establishing a nationwide information
system to oversee poverty related issues, policies and there impacts.
The government poverty reduction strategy paper for debt relief under
the highly indebted poor countries (HIPC) initiative is the long term
plan for investment to alleviate poverty for sustainable development
according to the Malawi National Report to the recent World Summit for
Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg.
However, in a country where the economy is dependent on agriculture,
accounting for 85 percent of the population, the growing population has
exerted enormous pressure on the country’s natural resources and on
the environment in general. Already the pressure exerted by over one
million refugees from Mozambique during the instability in their country
a decade ago has lead to the loss of large areas of indigenous
plantations due to the demand for wood energy and poles for housing.
Furthermore, due to the influx of firearms, the country has lost its
remaining elephants in the Majete Wildlife Reserve and the Black Rhino
in the Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve.
eal people in the Souther
Encroaching on National Parks
In a related development, the threat of encroachment is imminent in
Lengwe National Park in the Southern district of Chikwawa Boniface
Mwanza. The Assistant Parks and Wildlife Officer APWO (E) for Education
recalls how he and his classmates from Magomero Community Development
College while on a community conservation field course received a cold
shoulder at Therere area in Chapananga on the periphery of the park.
“We have been cheated that the park belongs to us. But when we go
inside we are harassed and arrested by game guards,” said an angry
villager. The relations have not been all that rosy with park staff.
According to information sourced from the Wildlife Research Unit at
Lengwe National Park, 74 km south of Blantyre, encroachments have been
a major problem faced by the law enforcement officers in the park. In
the village of Kamzimbi, Ndakwera and Zalera in Chapananga, a total of
44 hectares of land have been encroached upon. Around Jasi, an area of
5.36 hectares, and in Therere an area in Ngabu of 156 hectares have been
encroached upon by surrounding communities. Villagers have also built
houses in Zalera, Jasi and Therere areas inside the park according to a
boundary inspection survey conducted in August, November 2002 and
earlier this year in February by the survey department and National
Parks staff. Lengwe National Park has an area of 887 km2, however
surrounding communities have been pressing to get a share of the park
especially in the extension area of the park where it is believed
animals do not often find shelter because of the problem of water
associated with this semi-arid area.
In a separate development, Environmental District Officer for Blantyre,
Mike Makonombela, recently lashed out at companies and manufacturers
that have been dumping wastes along the main road that runs from
Blantyre to Lilongwe at Matindi area. According to the Environmental
Management Act of 1996, it is an offence to dump wastes in habitable
areas. The Act provides for Environment Impact Assessment (EIA),
monitoring pollution, and provides for offences and penalties with
respect to environmental protection and management in Malawi.
Environmental conditions in areas of human habitation have an important
influence on the quality of life for people in squatter settlements who
typically do not have access to basic services such as safe water and
waste removal, and are thus subject to a range of environmental hazards
and associated risks.
IMF to expel Zimbabwe
04 December 2003 14:19
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has moved to expel Zimbabwe,
citing a lack of cooperation and arrears of more than $270-million
running back almost three years, the body said in a statement.
"The executive board of the IMF reviewed Zimbabwe's overdue financial
obligations to the Fund and decided to initiate the procedure on the
compulsory withdrawal of Zimbabwe from the IMF after having determined
that Zimbabwe had not actively cooperated with the IMF," a statement
posted on its website said.
The IMF board held a meeting in Washington on Wednesday to discuss the
deteriorating economic situation in the southern African country.
Its gross domestic product has declined by about 40% between 1999 and
2003, and inflation rose to 526% in October.
Zimbabwe has not only been dogged by severe drought, but also political
instability and a controversial land reform programme that saw almost
30% of white farmers being forced off their farms, causing major food
The IMF said Zimbabwe had been in continuous arrears since February
"As of end-November 2003, Zimbabwe's arrears to the IMF amount to
$273-million, or about 53% of its quota in the IMF," the statement
Of the total amount of arrears, $110-million was overdue to the Poverty
Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) Trust.
"Zimbabwe is the first and only country to have protracted overdue
obligations to the PRGF Trust," the statement said.
The executive board will review Zimbabwe's overdue financial
obligations to the IMG again within six months. - Sapa-AFP
Cold comfort for Mugabe's 'zombies'
04 December 2003 08:39
Right up to the last moment, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
appeared to be keeping up his hopes that he might be invited to the
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Abuja, Nigeria this
That the Commonwealth summit would coincide with the annual conference
of his ruling Zanu-PF party did not bother Mugabe two weeks ago.
"We look forward to participating at Abuja," he said brightly, a week
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo announced last week that the
Zimbabwean leader would not be invited, after finding no evidence that
Mugabe had carried out any reforms to meet the Commonwealth's principles
of democracy and governance.
The Zanu-PF annual conference, a three-day meeting of 3 000
rank-and-file supporters, was always opened by Mugabe on the Friday of
the weekend on which it was held. This year, however, party officials
had hinted he might speak instead on Thursday -– an arrangement which
would allow him to deliver his speech and head off to Abuja, in case
Obasanjo relented at the last moment.
Reports from travel agents that domestic flights from Harare on
Thursday and Friday had been reduced without explanation added fuel to
speculation. One of Air Zimbabwe's few remaining aircraft was on standby
for Nigeria, they suggested.
However, no official comment was available on what might well be a
couple of coincidences.
Nor was there any hint from Abuja that Mugabe would be diverted from
rallying the party faithful at the conference in the southern town of
A year since the last party conference, inflation had surged to 526%,
gross domestic product was estimated to have shrunk nearly 20%, over
five-million Zimbabweans were in the grip of a second year of famine and
Zimbabwe had become number 112 in a list of 133 of the world's most
Only two weeks ago, similar conditions saw thousands of Georgians take
to the streets of Tbilisi and drive out long-standing president Eduard
Shevardnadze. Professor Eliphas Mukonoweshuro of the University of
Zimbabwe's politics department said: "It's a long shot to expect any
kind of autonomous revolt. They're like a pack of zombies. Everything
that the 'great leader' says will be cheered by all the delegates."
In the 23 years since he came to power in 1980, he said, Mugabe has got
rid all of the old generation of black nationalist politicians who were
his peers in the resistance against white minority Rhodesian rule, when
the party had a tradition of open debate and public criticism of its
The wealthy, corrupt ruling hierarchy around Mugabe now were all
beneficiaries of his patronage, said Mukonoweshuro. "They are nothing
without Mugabe. If there was a revolt and they got rid of him, they
would lose everything they have -- including his protection, and some of
them would probably go to jail.
"How can you expect Mugabe's own creations to stand up to him?"
This week, the chances of any important debate neutralised in advance.
On Monday, ruling party spokesperson Nathan Shamuyarira announced that
the conference "will not discuss the issue of succession," local
shorthand for Mugabe's retirement and the choice of his replacement.
Every previous conference since Mugabe approached retirement age had
been preceded by almost identically worded bans by Shamuyarira on such
On Tuesday, Mugabe delivered his annual state-of-the-nation address
which had television viewers wondering which country he was talking
"Corruption and dishonesty will not be tolerated," he intoned, a day
after political intervention reversed the eviction of a senior party
official from a white-owned farm he had grabbed for himself.
There would be "rational management" of prices of basic commodities, an
echo of the "fine-tuning" to prices of basic commodities he promised at
last year's annual conference. Fourteen new post offices had been opened
this year, he said, without a word on the strike that has stopped all
postal deliveries for the last three weeks.
"The conference is a non-event. You are not going to get any decisions
that will have any effect on the situation. The problem with Zimbabwe is
political, not economic," said Mukonoweshuro. - Sapa
ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract
by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17
The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by government to look for another contractor instead of China Hunan Construction to construct of the long awaited Karonga/Chitipa road.
China Hunan from Mainland China won the bid which was approved by the ADB but government later wanted to award the contract to a Portuguese firm, Mota Engil, the second lowest bidder, claiming China Hunan's bid was unrealistically low and that the company had very little experience in Africa.
Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe confirmed on Sunday the ADB rejected the proposal at a meeting held between the bank and Malawi government in Tunisia last week.
The Malawi government wanted the Tunisia meeting to authorise it to get another contractor for the road, said Gondwe.
"They did not allow us to look for another contractor because of their regulations. But we are about to get another alternative for Karonga/Chitipa and I would be surprised if it does not start before end June," said Gondwe.
The minister explained that the bank insisted that regardless of the unrealistic cost estimates, China Hunan should be allowed to go ahead with the construction.
But Gondwe could not give further details about the alternatives, arguing there are still a few loose ends to tighten up before disclosing it.
The problem with China Hunan, according to Gondwe, is that it would require more money to meet the total cost of the project.
This paper reported last week that government met Taiwanese representatives where they offered to fund the road if the ADB continued to reject its favoured contractor, Mota Engil.
Gondwe could neither confirm nor deny the reports on the Taiwanese offer, saying government was looking at a number of ways to handle the issue.
According to Gondwe, the China Hunan's bid was 24 percent lower than the consulting engineers' estimates of K7.9 billion and 34 percent below the second lowest bidder.
President Bingu wa Mutharika laid a foundation stone for the construction of the road this year ahead of a crucial byelection in Chitipa in December last year.
The President's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Chitipa Wenya constituency by-election that fell vacant following the collapse and subsequent death of Speaker of Parliament Rodwell Munyenyembe who belonged to the UDF.
Last week, police and the District Commissioner (DC) for Chitipa stopped a rally that was aimed at soliciting people's views about development projects in the district.
The meeting, which was reportedly organised by Concerned Citizens of Chitipa, was among other things also supposed to tackle the controversial Karonga/Chitipa road.
The project failed to start off in 2000 when a contract for an initial loan of US$17 million and US$15 million from the Taiwanese government was signed, with some quarters claiming the Bakili Muluzi administration diverted the money to another road.
Chihana operated on
by Edwin Nyirongo, 22 May 2006 - 06:32:31
Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana, who is in South Africa receiving treatment, had a brain operation on Friday at Garden City Clinic, family and party officials confirmed on Sunday.
Aford national chairman Chipimpha Mughogho said he was told by the family members that Chihana had a successful operation on Friday and was put in an intensive care unit.
Mughogho said Chihana, who initially complained of headache, was found with a brain tumour which South African doctors removed.
Mzimba West MP Loveness Gondwe said Aford boss condition was stable.
"Hon. Chihana had a major operation and after that he was put in the intensive care unit but his condition is stable. I do not know where he was operated on but it had something to do with the skull," she said.
Deputy Information Minister John Bande referred the matter to the Health Minister Hetherwick Ntaba who was reported to be in Geneva, Switzerland.
Aford publicity secretary Norman Nyirenda said when Chihana's situation got worse, the family alerted the Office of the President and Cabinet who took him to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.
"The doctors at Mwaiwathu advised that he should be sent to South Africa and they even identified the doctor for him," he said.
He said the costs are being met by the Malawi government, contradicting his earlier statement that his boss covered the cost.
Mughogho is now in charge of the party.
Gondwe will be a busy person when Parliament starts meeting on June 6 as she is the only Aford MP remaining.
Pillane proposes presidential age limit
by Emmanuel Muwamba , 22 May 2006 - 06:34:13
A member of the DPP National Governing Council Abdul Pillane on Saturday urged members of political parties and the civil society to put an upper age limit in the Constitution for presidential candidates.
Pillane was addressing members of political parties and civil society in Liwonde during a two-day follow up workshop to the National Conference on the Review of Constitution held in March in Lilongwe.
"My view is that (an upper) age limit should be at 75. We have to give a chance to younger people to lead because in circumstance, when you age you become forgetful especially when sickly," said Pillane. "Overall, chances should be given to young people."
But UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala, whose party members agitated for the age limit during presentations, played the issue down.
"I feel there is no logic to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates. If someone is 90 or 80 I don't know how that can influence the electorate not to vote for someone who is younger, I don't see any logic behind that," said Makwangwala.
MCP participants at the workshop also vehemently objected to the proposal.
MCP vice president Nicholas Dausi in an interview said: "There is no constitution in Africa which stipulates an upper age limit. So it would be strange in Malawi to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates."
MDP President Kamlepo Kalua also opposed the need to have an upper age limit.
"If we have personalities in mind that we want to discriminate against then it is unfortunate. The constitution we want to build is a guiding document for future generations and it should not bar certain individuals on the basis of grudges," he said.
The Malawi Law Constitution Issues Paper of March 2006 says several submissions that were received put an upper presidential age limit in the Constitution.
"It is argued that it is common sense that mental knowledge faculties tend to fail with age. As regards what the actual age limit should be the submissions are far from being agreed. The range is from 60 years to 80 years," read submissions in the Issues Paper.
On whether MPs should double as ministers, Kalua said this should be the case.
Makwangwala also said it is not right for MPs to serve as ministers because the Legislature, another arm of government, is reduced while the Executive branch is beefed up from another arm of government.
"There is no separation of powers when MPs double as ministers," said Makwangwala.
But Pillane said there is no problem for MPs to work as ministers as well, saying MPs are elected by the President.
"One can serve both posts. There have been no problems before for people to double," said Pillane.
The Centre for Multiparty Democracy funded the workshop through the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.
The objective was to come up with a collective position on the Issues Paper which will be presented to the Special Law Commission that will be constituted soon.
Mussa hails new driving licence
by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:58:52
Transport and Public Works Minister Henry Mussa last week said the design of the Malawi-Sadc driving licence would guard against forgery and ensure that only skilled and legitimate drivers of particular vehicles are licensed.
Mussa was speaking at the official launch of the licences in Lilongwe where he announced that traffic police would from July enforce speed limits and sober driving using Breathalysers which his ministry is in the process of procuring.
The minister said financial constraints are the reason for the delay in procuring the equipment but assured that by July they would be available.
"With the new equipment, the days of those who believe in the thrill of drink and driving are numbered," warned Mussa.
Mussa added that with the new licence, government is optimistic that the country's roads would be safe.
Acting Director of Road Traffic James Chirwa said the features that distinguish the new from the old licences are the Malawi national flag and a ghost image of the driver's photograph, among others.
Those with old licences, according to Chirwa, are expected to get the new ones after the expiry of the former.
UDF demands investigation on Kasambara
by Rabecca Theu, 22 May 2006 - 06:30:46
The United Democratic Front (UDF) has asked government to investigate Ralph Kasambara on allegations of abuse of office while he was attorney general.
UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu told the press Sunday that the party is neither amused or saddened by the removal of the former AG but asked government to institute investigations on Kasambara.
"Beyond the removal of the Attorney General, we now urge President Mutharika to institute investigation against Mr Kasambara into allegations that have made rounds in the public domain during the recent past. These include: Mrs Helen Singh and SS Rent-a-Car; SGS and ITS saga; ...........the use of Malawi Police Service in the arrest of three Chronicle journalists and the handling of Mrs Rubina Kawonga," said Mpasu.
Mpasu also accused Kasambara of awarding government contracts to Lawson and Company where he was a senior partner.
"We urge government to thoroughly investigate the former AG. We also ask government to cautiously select the new AG ," said Mpasu, who was accompanied by the party's Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala, leader of the party in Parliament George Mtafu, chief whip Leonard Mangulama and a member of the executive Hophmally Makande.
But Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said UDF should give offer its advice to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB).
"They should advise bodies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau to conduct the investigations and why are they saying this now? Is it because Kasambara has been fired? This is not a personal issue. If they have other pressing issues they should just say so. These arguments should have come up earlier on when the said cases were happening," she said.
Kasambara asked UDF to proceed with the mission of urging government to investigate him.
"They can do their job. Everyone has a right to lobby for anything they want in the country. UDF has a right to do that, let them go ahead," he said.
Kasambara was relieved of his duties as AG by the President last week. Government has not given reasons behind the removal.
Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land
The Times of Zambia (Ndola)
May 18, 2006
Posted to the web May 19, 2006
MALAWIANS who have encroached on both the 'no-man's' and part of the Zambian land at the Mwami border in Eastern Province have plucked out some beacons that were used in the demarcation of the border.
The Malawians are now using the beacons as stools in their newly-established villages on Zambian land.
Eastern Province Minister, Boniface Nkhata, said in Chipata yesterday that if the situation was not controlled urgently, Zambia would lose huge tracts of land to Malawians migrating into Zambian in large numbers.
A check at the Zambia-Malawi border showed a number of beacons had been vandalised and new structures constructed on the 'no man's' land and a large portion of Zambian land.
Mr Nkhata said the trend extended to many parts of the province bordering the two countries.
"A large portion of Zambian land has been taken up by the Malawians starting from the Chama boundary up to the Mwami border.
"The weighbridge at the Mwami border was initially in Zambia from the time both countries gained independence from Britain, but now the bridge is on Malawian soil," Mr Nkhata said.
The minister, who is former Chama District Commissioner, said there was similar encroachment in Lundazi and Chama districts where Zambia shares a boundary with Malawi.
He said a Malawian farmer identified as Mr Mfune had cultivated 71.5 hectares on Zambian land and employed about 265 Malawian workers.
"Khombe Farm in Chama district in Kanyerere's area, along the Muyombe road which leads to Northern Province where this Malawian farmer has cultivated a vast land is on the Zambian territory," he said.
Workers on the farm admitted that they were farming on Zambian soil but could not go back to Malawi because the land in that country was inadequate for cultivation.
Mr Nkhata appealed to the ministry of Lands to urgently release money for the demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border to avoid further land disputes between the two countries.
Meanwhile, the Immigration Department in Livingstone has arrested a couple and another man, all Zimbabweans, for working in Zambia without permits.
They were arrested at Gwembe village yesterday where they worked for Into Africa, a tour operating company that provides bush dinners and breakfast.
According to the Immigration Department in Livingstone, the trio entered Zambia through the Victoria Falls border as visitors but decided to work for the company illegally.
Last week, immigration officers arrested 10 Zimbabwean traders and six Ethiopians for entering and staying in Zambia illegally.
The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.
The Ethiopians were arrested at Konje Guest House when they ran out of money to proceed to Botswana.
Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests
22 May 2006 11:51
Zimbabwe's biggest labour federation on Saturday threatened to call massive demonstrations against the government over poor salaries and worsening living conditions for workers in the country.
The threats are ratcheting up pressure against President Robert Mugabe's government after similar threats by the biggest opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), about two months ago.
Speaking at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) conference on Saturday, the labour body's president, Lovemore Matombo, said the powerful union wants the government to award workers salaries that match the country's ever-rising inflation.
"I can assure you we will stage massive demonstrations to force them [employers] to award workers minimum salaries that tally with the poverty datum line," said Matombo.
Matombo did not say when exactly the ZCTU would order workers to strike.
Meanwhile, the MDC on Sunday said it will push ahead with plans for anti-government protests, saying victory in a key by-election at the weekend was a "sign the electorate supported its policies", including democratic mass resistance.
A spokesperson of the main faction of the splintered MDC, Nelson Chamisa, said victory over Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and a rival MDC faction in a Saturday by-election in Harare's Budiriro constituency is a sign Zimbabweans still have confidence in party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his policies.
Tsvangirai, the founding leader of the MDC, heads the main rump of the opposition party whose candidate, Emmanuel Chisvuure, polled 7 949 votes to win the Budiriro House of Assembly seat.
Gabriel Chaibva of the other faction of the MDC, led by prominent academic Arthur Mutambara, garnered 504 votes while Zanu-PF's Jeremiah Bvirindi polled 3 961 votes.
"This election showed that the electorate still has confidence in the MDC [Tsvangirai-led] leadership and its policies," Chamisa told independent news service ZimOnline.
He added: "We will now move to consolidate our position * we still believe in mass protests. Until we have attained our goals we see no reason why we should abandon [plans for protests]."
Tsvangirai has threatened to call mass protests this winter against Mugabe and his government. He says the mass protests, whose date he is still to name, are meant to force Mugabe to relinquish power to a government of national unity to be tasked to write a new and democratic Constitution that would ensure free and fair elections held under international supervision.
Mugabe and his government, who had hoped for victory in Budiriro to show they were recapturing urban support from a splintered MDC, have not taken idly the opposition's threats to call mass protests, with the veteran president warning Tsvangirai he would be "dicing with death" if he ever attempted to instigate a Ukraine-style popular revolt in Zimbabwe.
In a fresh crackdown against dissension, the police last week arrested several church and civic leaders for organising public prayers and marches to mark last year's controversial home-demolition exercise by the government.
The police also banned the marches and prayers, fearing they could easily turn into mass protests against Mugabe and his government.
However, the marches went ahead in the second-largest city of Bulawayo after organisers had obtained a court order barring the police from stopping the march.
Political analysts say although Zimbabweans have largely been cowed by Mugabe's tactics of routinely deploying riot police and the military to crush street protests, worsening hunger and poverty are fanning public anger that Tsvangirai -- with proper planning and organisation -- could easily manipulate.
Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe six-year old economic crisis that has seen inflation breaching the 1 000% barrier. Last year, the World Bank said Zimbabwe's economic crisis was unprecedented for a country not at war.
The MDC and major Western governments blame Mugabe for wrecking the country's economy, which was one of the strongest in Africa at independence from Britain 26 years ago.
Mugabe denies the charge blaming the crisis on sabotage by Britain and her allies after he seized white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks six years ago.
The Harare authorities recently hiked salaries for civil servants, with the lowest-paid soldier now earning about Z$27-million while the lowest-paid school teacher now takes home about Z$33-million.
But the salaries are still way below the poverty datum line, which the government's Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says now stands at a staggering Z$42-million a month for an average family of six.
The Zimbabwe government often accuses the ZCTU, a strong ally of the MDC, of pushing a political agenda to remove Mugabe from power.
Meanwhile, Matombo and Lucia Matibenga retained their posts as president and first vice-president respectively during the ZCTU congress that ended on Saturday. -- ZimOnline