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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi leader reveals Aids death Malawi s President Bakili Muluzi has said that his brother died from Aids, in a bid to end the disease s stigma. Mr Muluzi
    Message 1 of 1046 , Feb 11, 2004
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      Malawi leader reveals Aids death

      Malawi's President Bakili Muluzi has said that his brother died from Aids, in a bid to end the disease's stigma.
      Mr Muluzi said that the family wanted the cause of death known to "change attitudes, break the silence and initiate open talk about sex and Aids".

      He noted that it was rare for Malawians to say their relative had died of Aids.

      Mr Muluzi made the announcement as he launched the first Aids policy in a country where an estimated 15% of the 15 million population are HIV positive.


      Some 70,000 people die from Aids every year, said Biswick Mwale head of Malawi's national Aids commission.

      Aids tests

      "My own brother, third born in our family, died of Aids three years ago," Mr Muluzi said.

      Mr Muluzi is not standing in this year's presidential elections after already serving two terms.

      He urged all Malawians to have HIV tests and said he himself had had one.

      "The good news is that it is good news," he said of the result.

      Just 3% of Malawians had had Aids tests, he said.

      But under the new Aids policy, all new recruits to the army, police, prison and immigration services will have mandatory HIV tests.

      Some civil rights activists have expressed disquiet over this part of the policy but officials say those who test positive will not automatically be rejected.

      *****

      Zambian media groups fight for new law

      Zarina Geloo | Lusaka, Zambia

      11 February 2004 14:34


      Media organisations in Zambia are staging a five-day campaign this week to lobby for the proposed Freedom of Information Bill to be brought before the current session of Parliament.

      This follows government claims that the law needs to be revised.

      Groups that have taken up cudgels on behalf of the Bill include the Press Association of Zambia (Paza), the Zambian chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa), the Zambia Media Women's Association (Zamwa), the Zambia Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and the Society for Senior Zambian Journalists (SSZJ).

      Speaking at a joint press briefing, the groups said they would not allow the government to get away with brushing aside a Bill that, when enacted, could assist journalists who are fighting to uncover corruption in Zambia.

      Paza spokesperson Amos Chanda noted that the Bill was central to maintaining democracy in the country.

      "People need to know what government does with their taxes," Chanda said. "They need to know how it governs, what agreements it signs on their behalf with the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the World Bank. It is about having an open and transparent society."

      Kellys Kaunda, chairperson of Misa in Zambia, added that delays in the Bill's passage were giving cause for concern.

      "We are suspicious of government's handling of the Bill, which has gone through all the processes in Parliament and is at committee stage, waiting to be enacted. This was to have been done last year. Now we are hearing all sorts of ridiculous excuses," he said.

      Information Minister Mutale Nalumango told media executives recently that the Bill had some "fundamental errors" and needed "further consultation".

      She declined to elaborate on what these errors were, saying the issues had been discussed among Cabinet colleagues whose deliberations were "privileged information". -- Sapa-IPS

      *****

      One toilet ... for 1 300 people

      Johannesburg

      11 February 2004 12:41


      Africa's urban poor, often struggling to eke out a living in unplanned and expanding shanty communities, are at the back of the queue for water and sewerage services from underfunded local authorities.

      But, as recent serious outbreaks of cholera in Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe have demonstrated, the lack of access to safe water and proper sanitation are critical public health issues.

      Clean water and sanitation are not only universal needs but basic human rights. "They are essential elements of human development and poverty alleviation, and constitute an indispensable component of primary health care ... Sustainable health, especially for children, is not possible without effective and adequate water supply and environmental sanitation," said the forward to the Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000 Report, jointly produced by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UN Children's Fund (Unicef).

      Only 62% of Africans have access to improved water supplies, and just 60% have proper sanitation facilities. Unsurprisingly, malaria and diarrhoea -- diseases linked to poor sanitation -- are among the principal killers of children aged under five in Africa, while cholera, a highly contagious water-borne bacterial disease, is endemic in a number of countries.

      To meet a target of halving the number of people without access to safe water and sanitation by 2015, services would have to be provided to 211-million people in urban areas and 194-million in rural areas, the WHO/Unicef report said. For countries struggling under a burden of accumulated debt that gobbles up precious resources which could be spent on reaching this target, the outlook is grim.

      According to UN Habitat, an estimated 77% of people in the developing world are expected to live in urban areas by the year 2025. In Africa, the majority of that population will reside in informal shanty towns, which many governments treat as illegal settlements and ignore.

      "Even in those cases where governments attempt to assist the urban poor, their activities are hampered by lack of capital, poor statistics, and, most importantly, inadequate understanding of the needs, perceptions, and coping strategies of these communities. This has been exacerbated by the lack of meaningful links between the poor residents and the sanitation agencies, and has resulted in services provided not meeting the needs of the urban poor," according to a study by the Harare-based Institute of Water and Sanitation Development (IWSD).

      The IWSD report looked at the needs of poor communities in Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. It found that, with a few exceptions, residents in the informal settlements surveyed used unimproved pit latrines as toilets. Most were in poor condition and respondents complained of bad smells and overflows. Pit emptying facilities were non-existent, the report said, requiring new construction in very crowded conditions.

      Where there was access to flush toilets, there were problems of "gross overcrowding" at communal facilities. "For example, toilets in Mbare, in central Harare, are overcrowded and most of them do not flush. Up to 1 300 people share one communal toilet with only six squatting holes," noted the IWSD report, Linking Urban Sanitation Agencies with Poor Community Needs: A Study of Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

      "In addition to poor latrines, the urban poor also face solid waste and drainage problems. There is virtually no household refuse collection in any of the study areas in Zambia, Gokwe and Epworth in Zimbabwe, and Phase 1 (Mamelodi) and Jeffsville in Pretoria, South Africa. Residents in these areas use refuse pits or dump waste indiscriminately. Although most of the residents not served by the authorities use refuse pits, these cause problems of mosquito and fly breeding, and foul smells. Worse still, some children defecate in refuse pits," the study noted.

      Even in areas where local authorities provide solid waste management services, "at times refuse is not collected for two weeks or more. Domestic, industrial and, in some cases, hospital waste is dumped carelessly on the fringes of informal settlements, endangering children and animals."

      The report concluded: "The major cause of poor sanitation in informal settlements in the three countries is the lack of strong, transparent and effective linkages between sanitation agencies and the urban poor. The institutional and financial arrangements, and the approaches adopted, do not suit the sociocultural context, nor the needs and priorities of the urban poor. As a result, services do not meet the expectations of the urban poor, or are not provided at all."

      Noma Nyoni, IWSD deputy director, said the approach of local authorities had often been counterproductive - lecturing communities about hygiene, rather than allowing the communities themselves to identify their hygiene needs and priorities.

      "You may find that they want to improve sanitation from the point of view of dignity and safety - bathing in the open can lead to rape in poor urban communities," she told IRIN.

      Nyoni pointed out that in the case of Zimbabwe, local by-laws may have set too high a standard. The Urban Councils Act compels all houses to have waterborne sewerage systems, which are expensive. She suggested the issue should be one of access to proper sanitation, in which households are able to share facilities, rather than a focus on sanitation coverage.

      Across the Southern Africa region, cholera has claimed hundreds of lives in the last few months.

      Zambia - poverty and disease

      Last week the Zambian authorities temporarily closed Soweto market, the largest open-air market in the capital, Lusaka, after the cholera death toll climbed to 100. Fresh food was sold in Soweto's highly unsanitary conditions, where storm drains were blocked with garbage, and public toilets overflowing. The government locked out the 2 500 traders -- despite a howl of protest -- to allow the market to be cleaned.

      "My job is to save lives and to prevent further contamination ... the marketeers will appreciate this once the place is cleaned up and disease free," said health minister Dr Brian Chituwo.

      He also identified Lusaka's crowded shanty compounds as a source of cholera, accusing residents of indiscriminately digging pit latrines close to water sources, and poor standards of personal hygiene. "Therefore, the government will raze down selected structures in the unplanned settlements and put up a proper sanitation system, and sink boreholes where clean water can be obtained in a bid to stop the disease," Chituwo said.

      "At the end of the day it's a poverty problem," commented Sham Marthur, a Unicef official in Zambia. "Most of these waterborne disease problems start in the peri-urban areas, where the groundwater is very shallow and the density of the population very high."

      According to Unicef, as much as 80% of preventable diseases in Zambia are related to poor environmental sanitation. The country's key social indicators are among the worst on the continent. By 1999, conservative estimates indicated that the infant and under-five mortality rates had increased to 112 and 202 per 1 000 live births respectively, from levels of 108 and 191 when the decade began.

      Access to clean water and sanitation can also have an impact on education. A poor sanitary environment can lead to outbreaks of parasitic infections, keeping children out of school and aggravating malnutrition.

      "Although the lack of facilities and poor hygiene affects both girls and boys, poor sanitation conditions at schools have a greater negative impact on girls. Due to the lack of adequate, separate, safe and private sanitation facilities, girls can be forced out of school, thereby greatly reducing their chances of attaining a good level of education," a Unicef report noted.

      Mozambique - 5 000 cholera cases, and counting

      In Mozambique last year there was a cumulative total of around 3 500 cholera cases. In the latest outbreak, which began just before Christmas, the number of cases has already reached 4 700. Cholera has affected Maputo City and five of the country's 10 provinces -- Maputo, Gaza, Sofala, Zambezia and Nampula. Officially, 26 people had died by 26 January.

      The Ministry of Health, UN organisations and NGOs have been working together for years in an attempt to prevent cholera outbreaks, and to encourage communities to adopt safe hygiene practices.

      They have mounted door-to-door hygiene promotional campaigns, street theatre, media campaigns and public debates. UN agencies and NGOs have also supported the provision of clean water, latrine construction and safe garbage disposal.

      But it is a mammoth challenge in one of the world's poorest countries, where most people still live in dismal conditions. Despite the efforts, official figures show that 74 percent of the rural population do not have access to clean water, and 71 percent are not using an improved latrine. The situation is a bit better in urban areas, but 60 percent of the population still do not have access to clean water, while 64 percent do not have the use of improved latrines.

      When HIV/AIDS is factored into the equation the issue becomes even more urgent. Through home-based care programmes, people living with AIDS are expected to be cared for by relatives within the community. Patients need sanitary environments, and chronic bouts of diarrhoea, often associated with the disease, require plenty of water.

      Who should pay?

      Broke local authorities are expected not only to maintain a water and sanitation system -- fixing leaking pipes, buying expensive purification chemicals -- but also to extend that service to a growing urban population that is also struggling to make ends meet.

      In South Africa, a cost-recovery approach means that municipalities subsidise water to the poorest in the community, providing 6 000 litres per month free, and a stepped tariff that compels wealthier consumers to pay more. However, Johannesburg Water -- a public company operating under privatised management -- has come in for a great deal of criticism for reportedly cutting off poor households who persist in not paying their bills.

      According to the IWSD report, water tariffs neither cover the cost of providing the service, nor reflect how much the urban poor are willing to pay. It noted that in Zimbabwe people pay monthly rates the equivalent of $2,14 to cover road maintenance, sewer repairs, rent and refuse collection, but surveys have revealed households were willing to pay almost double that amount for improved sanitation.

      "The surveys show that there is demand for improved sanitation, but there are no institutional means through which this demand can be expressed. Much better cost-recovery mechanisms need to be developed in liaison between the authorities and the local communities," the report said.

      Water demand is expected to nearly double in Southern Africa by 2020. That scenario requires the region to shift from a supply-orientated approach -- the building of more dams and reservoirs -- to a more sustainable demand-management approach, in which the available resources are better utilised.

      Brian Boshof, a development planner at Witwatersrand University, said that sustainability of [water resources] means ecological, economic and social trade-offs, in which cost-recovery policies play a part. "It's a very complicated argument, infused with politics," he commented.
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006
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        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Chihana operated on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

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

        *****

        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Mussa hails new driving licence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu

         

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

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

         

        *****

        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

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

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

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

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

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

        Opposition protests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Crackdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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