- 'They rejected me because I am a woman'
Frank Phiri | Blantyre
20 February 2004 14:12
Vera Chirwa is a prominent human rights activist in Malawi, a prison rapporteur for the African Union -– and someone who was imprisoned for speaking out against authoritarian rule under former head of state Hastings Kamuzu Banda. But, this pedigree wasn’t enough to earn her a shot at Malawi’s presidency during the May elections.
Chirwa’s candidacy was rejected a few days ago by the newly-formed opposition coalition, Mgwirizano, which decided on a male candidate. Republican Party leader Gwanda Chakuamba will be the coalition torch bearer in the upcoming poll.
While Chirwa has pledged her support for Mgwirizano, the group’s decision still rankles: “They rejected me because I am a woman,” she says.
This activist isn't the only woman to cry foul as Malawi moves towards general elections later this year. Those who are contesting party polls to become candidates for parliament also complain of difficulties -– including harassment from voters who believe women have no business in politics.
“Culture comes in a lot. In families men believe women can’t lead –- and women themselves then think we can’t lead,” explains Makoko Chirwa, Director of Women’s Voice, a non-governmental organisation.
“This goes back to the way we were raised, that the women’s place is the home where she’s relegated into the kitchen.”
Steven Duwa, executive director of the Pan-African Civic Educators Network (Pacenet), says a survey by his NGO shows most female parliamentary hopefuls have lost in the primaries because political parties do not believe women can win national elections.
“Regrettably, no political party appears fully committed to giving a chance to women to run on their ticket,” he said. Pacenet is currently managing a project to promote women's participation in politics.
The result of all this is that Malawi may have difficulty in meeting a 1997 commitment taken under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to have women occupy 30% of legislative seats by 2005.
Anger at the conduct of the primaries has prompted the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) to order re-runs in at least 20 constituencies where it received complaints from women.
The Gender Electoral Support Network (GESN), a coalition of women’s rights groups, claims the UDF skewed its primaries in favour of men by giving them more campaign funds than women.
GESN spokesperson Reen Kachere says the group would like to meet the leaders of the three main parties -– the UDF, the Malawi Congress Party and the National Democratic Alliance -– to lobby for better treatment of potential women candidates.
While women make up more than 50% of Malawi’s 12-million people, only 17 of the 193 people sent to parliament after the 1999 poll were female.
Last year, activists proposed that Malawi’s constitution should be amended to allow the president to nominate women to at least 20% of seats in the house. The head of state, Bakili Muluzi, won accolades when he announced his support for constitutional reform -– although this has yet to be matched with actions.
But, Osborne Manyowa, a resident of Malawi’s commercial centre -– Blantyre -– says women are partly to blame for being sidelined.
“They make a lot of noise but fall when it comes to the real push. Instead they waste time entertaining politicians by dancing at their rallies.”
The dancing he refers to dates back to the Banda era when it was compulsory for all women to dance before the head of state, who had declared himself President for life.
Even though the current government rejected the tradition during its 1994 campaign to get into office, it has proved a hard habit to shake. - IPS
Are Zim's youths being brainwashed?
Wilson Johwa | Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
20 February 2004 15:03
Deputy Commandant Ndlovu runs one of the camps for Zimbabwe’s national youth training programme -- which he swears is above political allegiances. Yet, quite unaware of the irony, he’s wearing a campaign T-shirt from the last election, which is decorated with face of a ruling-party legislator.
On paper, the 90-day programme is meant to instill a “sense of responsible citizenship among the youth”. Zimbabweans between the ages of 14 and 30 are prepared for “the world and for work in their country”.
But since its inception in 2000 and the deployment of the first trainees in December 2001, it has been dogged by a welter of criticism and demands for its disbandment. The main complaint is that it is simply a ruse by the ruling Zanu-PF government to brainwash hapless youths, and turn them into a militia for terrorising the opposition.
Southern African church groups working under the auspices of the Solidarity Peace Trust point out that the need for national service has never been formally debated in Parliament -- and that there is no legislation controlling its implementation.
The trust also notes that school leavers are denied access to tertiary training and civil service posts, including those in teaching and nursing, without proof of their having completed the national service.
Bongani (not his real name) was part of a group of 1 000 trainees that graduated in July last year at the Border Gezi Training Centre, named after the deceased Cabinet minister who suggested the programme.
He says recruiters from various branches of the government -- including the army, air force, police and national parks department -- made regular visits to select trainees who could join their ranks. Representatives from nurse and teacher training colleges also selected trainees, some of whom were taken away before they finished the programme.
Bongani himself has since joined the army. But he doesn’t have much praise for the youth service.
“Most people go there just to build up their lives,” he says. “You’ll be desperate for a job. You’ll be having no choice. It’s not that people join whole-heartedly.”
The 19-year-old describes the training as “half-military” with much emphasis being placed on drills -- although he was not trained to use a gun. Physical exercise and national history formed the biggest components of the programme.
However, Bongani says the teaching of history is selective and seems to exclude unpalatable episodes in Zimbabwe’s past -- like the heavy-handed government response to an insurrection that arose in the south soon after independence in 1980.
“The bad things they don’t mention,” he says. “They don’t talk about the [opposition] MDC [Movement for Democratic Change], but mention that Britain is imposing sanctions and we have to defend our country. The way they talk to you, it’s like they want you to be on their side.”
From his small office in a secluded former army barracks at Guyu in southern Zimbabwe, Ndlovu maintains that recruits are merely given an understanding of nationhood, culture and gender tolerance -- as well as some lessons in post-colonial history that they may not have received at school.
This updated syllabus could include the assertion that neighbouring “Botswana is claiming our land up to the Khami Ruins” (just outside Zimbabwe’s second-largest city of Bulawayo), because Botswana says the landmark was named after Sir Seretse Khama: the country’s last colonial-era prime minister and first post-independence president.
Mozambique -- chips in Mafunga, Ndlovu’s fellow trainer -- sees the land up to the Odzi River in Zimbabwe as its property.
The Solidarity Peace Trust believes that the national youth service programme merely pretends to be a training scheme that imparts useful skills and patriotic values to the youth.
“The reality is a paramilitary training programme for Zimbabwe’s youth with the clear aim of inculcating blatantly anti-democratic, racist and xenophobic attitudes,” it says.
The group has catalogued atrocities allegedly perpetrated by the national service trainees in the run-up to presidential elections in March 2002, and concluded that trainees were used as instruments to maintain Zanu-PF’s hold on power by whatever means necessary -- including torture, rape, murder and arson.
Before the 2002 poll, adds the trust, “militia had been deployed to 146 camps around the country, in close proximity to, or in some cases even sharing, venues for voting”. The election was subsequently won by President Robert Mugabe.
As a result of these reportedly violent tactics, the national service trainees have become known as “the Zanu-PF militia”, the “Border Gezis”, the “Green Bombers” (because of their uniform) and the “Taliban”.
David Munyoro, permanent secretary in the government ministry responsible for the programme, dismisses criticism of bias towards the ruling party, saying only whites could have reason to complain. (Authorities in Zimbabwe are frequently at loggerheads with the country’s minority whites, whom they accuse of funding the opposition and supporting international sanctions.)
“For a black person, I’d be surprised,” Munyoro says. “What’s wrong with a programme that tries to give you an identity of your country?”
He also claims that enlistment is purely voluntary: “We need to design it in such a way that one feels he’s not a man until he’s gone through it.”
However, in a 70-page report, the Solidarity Peace Trust notes that “the youth militia is now referred to by government as compulsory”.
Bad publicity, reports of acute food shortages in the training camps, alleged sexual abuse and the ridicule to which trainees are subjected have combined to reduce the attractiveness of the training programme -- and it is not clear whether the desired number of recruits is enlisting.
Nonetheless, the Solidarity Peace Trust estimates that by the end of 2002, about 9 000 young men and women had passed through training in the five main camps, which are mostly former army barracks. Up to 20 000 youths may have trained in less formal surroundings, often primitive camps at district level.
Following the implementation of controversial land reforms four years ago, Zimbabwe has suffered extreme hardships, including food shortages and triple-digit inflation. Earlier this month, it was reported that the European Union would extend the sanctions imposed on Mugabe and other notables in 2002 to protest against human rights abuses and alleged vote-rigging. -- IPS
Another Zimbabwe judge resigns
20 February 2004 11:55
A Zimbabwean High Court judge, Justice Moses Chinhengo, has resigned without giving reasons, becoming the second judge to leave the bench in a month, the state-owned Herald said on Friday.
"Regrettably for reasons entirely personal I have had to tender my resignation," Chinhengo was quoted by the Herald as writing in his resignation letter to President Robert Mugabe.
"I hope that in future I will be able to serve Zimbabwe in another capacity as the call of duty may demand," he said.
Appointed to the bench by Mugabe in 1996, Chinhengo is expected to leave his post at the end of the month.
Last month, judge Michael Majuru at the administrative court quit the judiciary for medical reasons and faxed his resignation from South Africa.
Majuru had recused himself from a case last year because he allegedly pre-empted a ruling in favour of the independent paper, The Daily News.
He had last November presided over one of the numerous cases involving the independent Daily News, a fierce critic of Mugabe's government, which has appealed several times against government orders that it be shut down.
At least eight judges from the High Court and Supreme Court have left the country's judiciary benches since 2001.
The former most senior judge, Supreme Court chief justice Anthony Gubbay was forced to retire in March 2001 after he handed down verdicts opposed to forcible seizures of white-owned land for redistribution to blacks under agrarian reforms, which were accelerated by Mugabe. - Sapa-AFP
Happy birthday Robert Mugabe
Angus Shaw | Harare
20 February 2004 08:45
President Robert Mugabe, one of Africa's most combative and enduring rulers, shows no sign of mellowing with age as he turns 80 on Saturday.
In the days before his birthday, Mugabe spoke mainly of war -- war against the alleged efforts of Britain and the United States to topple his regime, and war against "economic saboteurs" at home.
Mugabe's fighting talk was accompanied by deepening state repression. Last week, he signed a presidential decree authorising detention without bail for up to four weeks for political and economic offences.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change described the decree -- the latest in a growing arsenal of repressive laws -- as an undeclared state of emergency.
A slight, fidgety man, whose hands are never still, Mugabe is sub-Saharan Africa's fourth-longest ruling president after Togo's Gnassingbe Eyadema, Gabon's Omar Bongo and Angola's Eduardo dos Santos.
Hailed in the 1980s as one of the continent's great statesmen for his attempts to reconcile blacks and whites after more than a decade of fighting, he has since been condemned as a tyrant for rekindling racial hatreds and sacrificing his country's economy in a bid to cling to power.
Mugabe led black guerrillas in the campaign against the white-minority Rhodesian government, but sought to allay the fears of the country's tiny white minority when he became Zimbabwe's first black leader after independence from Britain in 1980.
Many whites, who had been told by their leaders that Mugabe planned to rape their women and shoot their men, decided to stay after he promised that "there is a place for you in the sun".
With the help of their commercial farms, Zimbabwe prospered and developed into a regional breadbasket. Mugabe worked to bolster the nation's health and education systems, making them among the best in Africa.
But the economy soured amid Zimbabwe's costly involvement in The Democratic Republic of Congo's five-year war and revelations of corruption. After voters rejected a constitutional referendum in 2000 that would have consolidated Mugabe's powers, ruling party officials accused white commercial farmers of bankrolling his opponents in the Movement for Democratic Change.
Mugabe ordered the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks, touching off more than three years of political violence that has claimed the lives of more than 200 people and hounded tens of thousands of mostly black opposition supporters from their homes.
The land seizures, coupled with erratic rains, have crippled the country's agriculture-based economy. Zimbabwe faces record inflation and unemployment, along with acute shortages of food, hard currency, gasoline and other imports.
Mugabe has repeatedly dismissed rumors that his health is failing and calls from within his own party to retire.
"The president is as fit as none of his detractors can ever hope to be in their lifetime," his spokesperson, George Charamba, said recently.
Mugabe was narrowly re-elected in 2002 in an election that independent observers said was marred by intimidation and vote rigging. He has since stepped up a crackdown against dissent, arresting opposition leaders and waging lengthy legal battles to shut down the country's only independent newspaper.
Political analysts say he is unlikely to leave office until he has secured another victory in next year's parliamentary vote and presidential elections in 2008, possibly for a successor of his choice.
In a bid to clean up his Zanu-PF party before the elections, Mugabe has announced a new drive to fight top-level corruption. Two senior ruling party officials were arrested earlier this year.
Analysts, however, dismiss the move as political cunning.
"It is all being stage-managed. He is not going to touch the really big guys, but punish only the ones he can afford to sacrifice," said John Makumbe, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe.
The two arrested officials had flaunted lavish lifestyles, buying mansions and expensive cars, as more than 70% of the population languished below the poverty line.
But Mugabe's closest and most powerful colleagues have been among the biggest beneficiaries of official graft, Makumbe said.
The party's Chinhoyi provincial chairman, Philip Chiyangwa, boasted in the fashion pages of the state Herald newspaper that he owned 500 suits, 800 pairs of shoes and thousands of silk ties -- all color-coordinated in a computerised wardrobe.
The anti-corruption drive has scared some companies and corporate executives into renewing their allegiance to the ruling party -- with several making large contributions to Zanu-PF coffers. - Sapa-AP
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