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  • Christine Chumbler
    $5.6m Needed for Malawi Border Demarcation The Times of Zambia (Ndola) December 16, 2003 Posted to the web December 16, 2003 Abel Mboozi Chipata ABOUT $5.6
    Message 1 of 1046 , Dec 17, 2003
      $5.6m Needed for Malawi Border Demarcation

      The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

      December 16, 2003
      Posted to the web December 16, 2003

      Abel Mboozi

      ABOUT $5.6 million is required to complete demarcating the border between Zambia and Malawi to end persistent encroachment accusations.

      A report by a joint survey team said the money is meant to complete demarcation of the remaining 604 km.

      Lands ministry surveyor-general Danny Mubanga who read out the report yesterday, said there was urgent need for the Malawian and Zambian governments to commit funds to end persistent hostilities on the common land between the two countries.

      He said the demarcation of the boundary on the ground would harmonise relations of the communities living on the common border and subsequently create a conducive environment for development.

      He was speaking when he presented the report at the joint Zambia, Malawi international boundary meeting at Luangwa House.

      And Zambia's High Commissioner to Malawi Ian Sikazwe also reiterated the need to end perceived border hostilities.

      He said although the task would be expensive, it was important that the border was demarcated for the sake of peace.

      He appealed to the donor community to assist the Government in order to complete the project on time.

      Earlier Lands Permanent Secretary George Kawatu commended experts from both governments who had undertaken the first phase of the exercise covering Mwami/Muchinji area.

      He said it was a pity that the colonial masters overlooked the issue but he expressed hope that it would be resolved.

      And his counterpart from Malawi Andrina Mchiela hailed leaders from the two countries for creating an enabling environment to meet and discuss issues of common interest.

      The Zambian delegation included Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Peter Mumba and experts from the land surveyor-general's office.


      Mozambique prison director gunned down


      17 December 2003 09:05

      Gunmen have shot dead the director of Mozambique's maximum security prison, where a major fraud trial got under way last week in the country's capital Maputo, the Interior Ministry announced on Tuesday.

      Ministry spokesperson Nataniel Macamo said that Armando Ussufo was gunned down on Monday evening in a suburb of the capital by unknown criminals who then stole his car.

      "He was murdered at around 7pm (1700 GMT) by unknown assailants," he said.

      "We are searching for the attackers and we are investigating the motive for the crime."

      Macamo said he believed the crime had nothing to do with car theft, as Ussufo's vehicle was not in the group generally preferred by thieves, who do not usually kill their victims in the Mozambican capital.

      Macamo said the former prison boss could have been strangled before he was shot in the head.

      The attack on Ussufo took place just days after the start of the trial of more than 15 people accused of being involved in a $14-million fraud case at Banco Comercial de Mocambique (BCM) in 1996.

      The trial began on Friday morning in the maximum security jail.

      Among the accused in the BCM case are three convicts serving sentences of between 23 and 24 years for ordering the late 2000 assassination of Mozambican journalist Carlos Cardoso as he investigated the fraud at the bank.

      Cardoso had exerted pressure on the Mozambican authorities to rapidly identify the fraud culprits and bring them to justice.

      He also investigated illegal trade activities, some of which were used to cover drugs trafficking in Mozambique.

      The murdered jail boss was a controversial figure during the trial in mid-2003 of seven policemen, accused of releasing another of Cardoso's assassins, Anibal Antonio dos Santos.

      Testifying in court, Ussufo openly held the seven policemen, who included a high-ranking officer, responsible for dos Santos' escape.

      The court acquitted all the seven for lack of sufficient evidence.

      Ussufo was found to have altered the security system in the jail, a move that could have facilitated the escape of dos Santos and other criminals.

      Dos Santos was sentenced in absentia to 28 years. He returned to Mozambique from his hiding in South Africa on the day his sentenced was handed down. - Sapa-AFP


      Cholera sweeps through Zambian capital

      Zarina Geloo | Lusaka, Zambia

      17 December 2003 11:18

      Six people have died from cholera and another 165 are reported to be in a serious condition as the disease sweeps through Zambia's capital, Lusaka.

      It appears that local authorities have been caught flat-footed by the outbreak. They are now engaged in a frantic bid to contain the disease, which is transmitted through contaminated water and food. Cholera typically occurs in Zambia during the country's rainy season.

      The city council of Lusaka is scouting for extra garbage collection trucks. It is also making urgent appeals to members of the public to assist it in clearing drains and burying rubbish in high-density parts of the capital where cholera has hit.

      Lusaka mayor John Kabungo says the council only has two trucks at its disposal, and cannot regularly collect garbage in the city of 1,5-million people: "We need the private sector to come in and help us clear up. We need at least five or six more trucks."

      The public has responded by accusing the council of a lack of foresight.

      According to the director of technical services at the Central Board of Health, Victor Mukonka, cholera outbreaks never come as a surprise. On the contrary, they're quite predictable.

      "Cholera comes in waves, every two to three years, so it is not like the council did not know that an outbreak was imminent," says Mukonka. "It should have started a warning and public awareness campaign early on. It was not proactive and now we have this emerging crisis," he adds.

      Davis Banda, who is nursing a cholera patient, agrees: "There is no excuse. We know that the rains bring cholera, and this time even the rains were on our side -- they started late. It was if the rains were waiting for us to get our act together, but we were still caught unawares."

      Council public relations officer Peter Kashiwa refuses to accept all responsibility for the crisis.

      "People should stop blaming the council for its failure to remove garbage and learn to keep their surroundings clean," he says.

      "Yes, we all know the rains are coming and the threat of cholera is present. But the council can only do so much with its meagre resources. Should people really wait for the council to tell them to keep their surroundings clean?" he asks.

      Kashiwa says another reason cholera breaks out in high-density areas is that some of these have not been designated as residential zones by the local authorities, and are therefore not serviced with proper drainage systems and clean water.

      But the MP for one of these areas, Henry Mtonga, says his constituency -- Kanyama -- is recognised by the council, but still not serviced. Kanyama has been hit hard by the cholera outbreak.

      "I have been asking for another borehole to supplement the two we have the in area, to no avail. Now the entire water system is contaminated. The rains have caused seepage from toilets, ablution blocks and solid-waste dumps into the drinking water," says Mtonga.

      "Instead of looking for excuses the council should admit it has not picked up the slack, and get their house in order," he adds.

      When tackled on this point, Kashiwe concedes that the council failed to do its job in Kanyama. But he maintains Lusaka residents should not wait for local authorities to collect garbage when matters get out of hand.

      Cholera has also affected police stations and prisons. Authorities at two jails in Lusaka have been forced to quarantine inmates, suspend visits and halt deliveries of food for the time being.

      The measures stem from a well-founded fear of the ease with which cholera could spread in the over-crowded jails. One institution built to house 260 inmates currently accommodates 1 339 people.

      "We have four inmates with cholera. We have to quarantine them because you can imagine how it will spread in a congested place," says a prison warder.

      However, most prisoners rely on meals brought in from their relatives, as the once-a-day prison ration of nshima (porridge) and beans is inadequate.

      "It will be difficult to enforce this measure and I am very scared of what is coming," says the warder.

      The last time Zambia had a serious cholera outbreak was in 1992 when more than 500 people died in the central Copperbelt province, and had to be buried in a mass grave. Last year there were six deaths in the remote area of Sinazongwe, in southern Zambia.

      Health experts agree that preventing cholera is a fairly straightforward matter of maintaining basic standards of hygiene. However, this has proved difficult in Zambia where 42% of the 10,5-million population does not have access to clean drinking water, and lacks adequate sanitation facilities.

      "The starting point should be getting the town cleaned up and getting the water and sanitation people to ensure that everyone has access to clean and safe drinking water and proper sewer systems," says Mukonka.

      "It also means sensitising the people [to] the need to keep their surroundings clean, with garbage disposed [of] all the time."

      He says the council should observe the Public Health Act more strictly, to clear the streets of vendors. At present, these traders sell everything from fresh meat and fish to ripe fruit -- the remainders of which lie strewn across the street when they leave. The Act also allows the licences of restaurants and other food providers to be revoked if these places do not adhere to hygiene standards.

      "We have so many epidemic emergencies to deal with, [that] cholera should not feature anywhere," says Mukonka. "It is an unnecessary waste of time and resources because it is easily preventable." -- IPS


      German MP in secret talks with Zim opposition

      Johannesburg, South Africa

      17 December 2003 16:36

      Germany's deputy opposition leader in parliament, Christian Democrat Arnold Vaatz, met with members of the Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Zimbabwe on Wednesday.

      Following secret talks with MDC chief Morgan Tsvangirai and Pius Ncube, the Bishop of Bulawayo, Vaatz criticised South Africa for acting as an advocate for Zimbabwe's controversial President Robert Mugabe during the recent Commonwealth summit in Nigeria.

      The German politician entered Zimbabwe on a tourist visa.

      Following the Nigerian summit, Western diplomats had expressed shock at South African President Thabo Mbeki's defence of Mugabe's government, which has been internationally criticised for repressing the opposition and bringing economic ruin to the country.

      Vaatz urged Germany's Social Democratic chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, to use his upcoming visit to South Africa -- scheduled for January 21 to 23 -- to point out to Mbeki that his stance towards Zimbabwe will have negative consequences.

      The German parliamentarian said a meeting by Schroeder with MDC representatives could send a clear signal in the region.

      "The impression that South Africa poses as a kind of protective power for this regime will have immense consequences for the reputation of the country [South Africa] and will certainly also impact on German investments," Vaatz said.

      "It has to be expected from a country like South Africa that it distances itself from machinations such as those of Zimbabwe," he added. -- Sapa-DPA


      Zim government to seize farming equipment

      Harare, Zimbabwe

      17 December 2003 15:53

      In its latest clampdown on civil liberties, Zimbabwe's government announced plans on Wednesday to seize tractors and other equipment from white farmers thrown off their properties under President Robert Mugabe's farm seizure programme.

      Owners selling, damaging or immobilising their machinery face a fine or up to two years in jail, said the presidential decree, published in an official notice.

      "It's suddenly a crime to have a piece of equipment you cannot use because you have been forced off your farm," said John Worsely-Worswick, head of the Justice for Agriculture farmers' organisation.

      The decree empowers the Agriculture Ministry and its representatives to "enter any land or premises to ascertain whether there is any farm equipment or materials not being used for agricultural purposes".

      Mugabe has said the farm seizures, which began in this Southern African nation three years ago, were an effort to correct colonial-era injustices that gave about 4 000 whites about one-third of the country's productive land in a country of more than 12-million people.

      The notice said farmers could claim compensation for all property ceded to the state. Worsely-Worswick said despite its promises the government has failed to pay compensation for seized land and owners are skeptical about payment for confiscated equipment.

      He said many displaced farmers have stored their equipment in hopes of returning to their farms or selling it to survive.

      "This is daylight robbery. It is vindictive and intimidatory. Mugabe is keen we give up altogether and pack and go," he said, arguing that the presidential order violates constitutional rights of ownership.

      The Commercial Farmers Union, representing a few hundred white farmers still on their land, said its lawyers are studying the decree.

      Vehicles, tractors and other equipment farmers took from their properties have been kept in warehouses, storage lots or auction houses.

      The often-violent farm seizures, along with erratic rains, have been blamed for crippling Zimbabwe's agriculture-based economy, leading to record inflation and unemployment and acute shortages of food, gasoline and essential goods.

      The independent Famine Early Warning Systems Network estimated earlier this month that as many as six million people, including about one million urban residents, will need food aid in the first three months of next year. -- Sapa-AP


      Zimbabwe's inflation hits record

      Zimbabwe's inflation rate has rocketed to record levels, driven by increases in the cost of food and fuel.
      According to government statistics, prices rose year-on-year by 619.5% in November, up from 525.8% the previous month.

      The actual rate of inflation may be even higher, economists say, as the official figures do not take into account black market prices.

      The central bank said it would announce measures on Thursday aimed at averting an economic crisis.

      Shrinking economy

      According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Zimbabwe's economy has shrunk by about 40% in the past four years.

      About two thirds of the population face food shortages, and the country suffers from one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection in the world.
    • 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

        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.


        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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