- Battle for Malawi's vote
By Aubrey Sumbuleta
BBC Africa Live, Blantyre
Only 10 years ago, Malawi boasted a vibrant economy manufacturing products such as cooking oil, soap, meat products, textiles and cigarettes.
But now Malawi imports most of its commodities.
Up to 10 big manufacturing companies have closed down, with the loss of more than 50,000 jobs.
The cost of living has sharply risen with a 50kg bag of maize flour going for nearly 1,000 kwacha ($10) compared to 100 kwacha when President Bakili Muluzi took power.
Nearly six million Malawians go to the polls next Tuesday to elect a successor to President Muluzi as his second five-year term comes to an end.
Most Malawians blame the poor performance of the country's economy on the outgoing government of President Muluzi.
The president told a campaign rally for his chosen successor, Bingu wa Mutharika of the United Democratic Front, that over his past 10 years as leader, his main job had been to ensure democracy stays in Malawi.
"Having established democracy in this country, Malawians now need an economist like Bingu wa Mutharika to revamp the economy," said President Muluzi.
Mr Mutharika is the former secretary for the regional economic bloc for south and eastern Africa - the Common Market For Eastern and Southern Africa - Comesa.
The UDF's candidate is up against former powerful minister Brown Mpinganjira who, along with some ministers, quit the ruling party two years ago to form the National Democratic Alliance - NDA.
Mr Mpinganjira says the country needs more investors if the economy is to turn around.
"I have already talked to several investors from outside Malawi who are interested to support my government if I am elected," he recently told a campaign rally.
Veteran politician Gwanda Chakuamba is leading a coalition of seven parties under the banner of Mgwirizano, which means unity in the local Chichewa language.
Others in the race include John Tembo representing the former ruling party, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) of the late President Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
Malawi's first vice President Justin Malewezi is the only independent candidate.
As the candidates criss-cross the country soliciting for votes, the election battle is also raging on the airwaves.
The ruling UDF is being accused of monopolising the state owned Malawi Broadcasting Corporation and Television Malawi.
Campaign slogans for the ruling party are aired every five to ten minutes.
Unable to challenge the UDF's grip on the state media, the opposition has turned to private radio stations.
A section of Malawians have taken the two public broadcasting stations to court for unfair coverage of the election campaigns.
But the ruling may come too late to help the opposition.
Malawi: Opposition Takes Legal Action Against Electoral Commission
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
May 11, 2004
Posted to the web May 11, 2004
Malawi's seven-party opposition coalition plans to take the country's electoral commission to court in a bid to extend the 18 May election date.
Charles Mhango, the lawyer representing the "Mgwirizano" (Unity) coalition, said the legal action had been launched as the period left for verification of the controversial voters' roll, prepared by the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), was "too short". The case is expected to be heard in the High Court on Wednesday.
Mgwirizano, led by Republican Party president Gwanda Chakuamba, has argued that the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections Act allows for 21 days between verification of the voters' roll and polling day. But just one week remains before Malawi's third multiparty election, and the registers are still to be released for public scrutiny.
The MEC earlier came under fire for its conduct of the voter registration process. It originally said 6.6 million Malawians, out of a population of 12 million, were entitled to vote but, with the help of a South African computer firm, last week revised that figure to 5.7 million.
Mhango said Mgwirizano would also challenge the MEC over its compilation of the voters' roll, and accused the commission of inefficiency.
Boniface Tamani, chairman of the Public Affairs Committee, an interfaith democracy monitoring group, told IRIN that "even though the opposition parties have very good grounds for taking the MEC to court", he was opposed to any extension of the voting date as this could increase the chances of rigging by the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF).
He pointed out that if the elections were postponed, some opposition parties would not have the resources to continue campaigning, and any postponement of the elections for more than seven days after the 18 May date would require parliament to be recalled - a move that would prove highly disruptive to the electoral process, as well as expensive.
The UDF has been in power since 1994 but, under the two-term rule, outgoing President Bakili Muluzi has been barred from standing for office. He has instead campaigned hard for his UDF successor, Bingu wa Mutharika, who is being challenged by four opposition presidential hopefuls.
Malawi: Maize Purchases to Counter Shortfall
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
May 11, 2004
Posted to the web May 11, 2004
Concerns that a recent drop in Malawi's national maize stocks could lead to a food crisis were "unfounded" as the government had made plans to replenish its Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR), a senior Malawian official said on Tuesday.
On Monday the Famine Early Warning Network (FEWS NET) reported that maize stocks had dropped by around 70 percent since last month, leaving only about 22,000 mt in the government's silos. "Actions must be taken now to replenish the SGR in order to prevent price hikes, which could result in a food crisis as bad as that of 2001/02, or even worse," FEWS NET said.
General Manager of the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA), Patric Makina, told IRIN the shortfall was partly caused by the release of maize from the SGR to humanitarian agencies for their aid operations.
In March the NFRA released about 17,000 mt of maize to the World Food Programme for food aid programmes. It also made around 30,000 mt of maize available to the parastatal Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (ADMARC) for sale at a subsidised price to the general public.
According to Makina, "Right now the NFRA has issued a tender to purchase about 28,000 mt maize, and we are confident that we will find that in local markets. There are also plans to purchase the remaining 32,000 mt ... to complete the amount of maize needed [60,000 mt], from neighbouring countries such as Zambia and South Africa."
Dr Harry Potter, livelihoods adviser to the UK's Department for International Development, told IRIN that "adequate mechanisms were in place to ensure that the 2001/2002 food crisis would not be repeated".
"The strategic grain reserves acts as a revolving account which means that the amount of maize at any given time can either go up or down. The national stocks are there for emergencies and should be used accordingly. So its quite normal right now that the amount [of maize in the SGR] does not reflect the 60,000 mt needed," he said
In 2002 almost 3.2 million Malawians faced acute food shortages. Although observers blamed the food crisis on two years of severe drought, the government also came under fire for selling off most of NFRA's emergency stock to finance its external debt.
The shortage of maize caused domestic prices to more than quadruple, leaving ordinary Malawians unable to afford their staple food.
According to the FEWS NET report, current maize prices continue to rise in many parts of the country, especially the southern region, which experienced a poor harvest.
"Two markets in the Lower Shire Valley, Nsanje and Chikwawa Districts, have recorded some of the highest local market prices of the year due to low winter maize production, which contributes over 30 percent of the area's total maize production. These high prices are especially unusual, because these two districts normally experience some of the lowest local market prices in the country at this time of the year, due to augmented supplies from the winter maize crop and inflows from Mozambique," the early warning network noted.
Makina noted that the national statistical office was expected to release its second round crop estimates later this week. These estimates, together with the recent vulnerability assessment committee findings, would provide "a clearer picture of how many people would need aid".
According to FEWS NET, preliminary findings indicate that the southern region is the worst affected area and the likelihood of households requiring external assistance was high.
Malawi rolls out free Aids drugs
Malawi has announced that it will provide free anti-retrovirals drugs to thousands of Aids sufferers.
Health Minister Yusuf Mwawa said he hoped to reach an extra 30,000 people over the next year under the $196m five-year programme.
Some 14% of Malawi's 11 million people have the Aids virus, HIV.
Critics have accused the government of electioneering, by announcing the programme just a week before the 18 May polls to choose a new president.
But Mr Mwawa dismissed the allegations, saying that the government could not stop functioning because of the election.
President Bakili Muluzi is not standing in the poll after failing in a bid to change the constitution to let him run for a third term in office.
Mr Muluzi's hand-picked successor in the UDF, Bingu wa Mutharika, is expected to face a strong challenge in the poll.
Mr Mwawa said that at present, just 6,000 people recieve the Aids drugs out of 150,000 who need them.
He said the free drugs programme "at long last will open doors of hope for those who have all too long been living with the despair infected by the HIV/Aids scourge."
Mr Mwawa said 50 sites throughout the country have been identified for the programme which is being funded by the Global HIV/Aids fund. He said the sites will include hospitals run by the Malawi Defence Force and the Malawi Police Service, two sectors seriously hit by the pandemic.
Bizwick Mwale, Executive Director of the National Aids Commission says that every year, some 80,000 Malawians die of Aids-related complications.
There are 70,000 new HIV infections a year and 70% of hospital admissions are Aids-related, he said.
"All sectors of the economy are affected."
AIDS IN MALAWI
14% of the population infected
80,000 deaths a year
70,000 new infections a year
70% of hospital admissions
Aids-hit nations 'face collapse'
By Imogen Foulkes
The long-term economic and social cost of Aids has been seriously under-estimated, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The WHO's recently-published World Health Report says some African countries could face economic collapse unless the Aids pandemic is controlled.
The report, 'Changing History', says much can be done to fight the disease.
It is the first time the publication has been devoted entirely to HIV, which has killed more than 20 million people.
The figures in the World Health Report are catastrophic.
Aids is the leading cause of death worldwide among 15 to 59-year-olds.
Each year, five million new people become infected with the HIV virus.
In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 25% of children will be Aids orphans by the year 2010.
Yet, the report contains a note of optimism - saying there is a chance now to really tackle the disease.
Doctor Peter Piot, head of the United Nations Aids Programme, says the reason is simple.
"For the first time in the history of this epidemic, there is serious money on the table," he says.
"We've moved from $200m going to Aids in developing countries when UNAids was founded about seven years ago to $4.5bn dollars last year ..."
The WHO and UNAids say treatment is what the money must be spent on.
In the United States and Europe, people with Aids are leading normal productive lives, thanks to anti-retroviral drugs.
In developing countries, an estimated six million people need those drugs. Only 400,000 are getting them, and Peter Piot says, a vaccine is still a long way off.
"There is not much optimism that we will have a vaccine in the next five years, so the only vaccine we have today is education, is the condom, is abstinence, fidelity. That is the only vaccine we have," he said.
But those things are dependent on human behaviour, and health professionals know that is not easy to change.
So the battle against Aids must focus on treatment and international support for countries with high rates of infection.
If the opportunity to act now is not seized, the WHO warns, some countries will lose so many people that they will face economic and social collapse.
The report is at http://www.who.int/whr/en/
Zimbabwe govt reports good harvest
12 May 2004 13:53
Zimbabwe's government on Wednesday said the grain harvest will reach more than 2,8-million tons this year, enough to meet the country's needs, but the opposition said the forecast was "absurd."
Agriculture Minister Joseph Made was quoted by the state-owned Herald newspaper as saying that the government's final crop assessment for the 2003 to 2004 season showed that "the total production will be 2 808 995 tons".
Zimbabwe, which has over the past three years relied heavily on food imports and handouts, announced on Tuesday that this year it will not require food aid from international donors and would not need food imports.
Of the 2,8-million tons, 2,4-million tons will be staple corn, which government says surpasses the national annual requirements of between 1,8-million and two million tons.
The opposition Movement for Democartic Change (MDC) described the government's crop prediction as "absurd".
"Their forecasts have been dismissed by aid agencies as a gross distortion of the reality on the ground," said MDC spokesperson Paul Temba Nyathi.
The MDC estimates that Zimbabwe may face a maize deficit of between 600 000 and 900 000 tons this year.
UN food agencies recently suspended a mission to assess crop and food supplies in the southern African country when local administrators interrupted their work.
The opposition said the ban was aimed at avoiding an exposure of the "inherent failings" of government's mismanaged land reforms.
Aid agencies blame the serious food shortages in the country over the past three years on consecutive droughts and President Robert Mugabe's government's controversial land reforms which displaced most of the large-scale commercial farmers from their farms.
They estimate that around five million people are facing famine in Zimbabwe. - Sapa-AFP
Zimbabwe revokes prospecting rights
12 May 2004 11:01
Zimbabwe has revoked 13 exclusive mining prospecting rights for three companies, including giants Rio Tinto and Anglo American, the government has announced.
According to the latest weekly government gazette, the cancelled rights had been granted between two and three years ago.
Although the gazette does not give details, the move comes just weeks after the central bank governor Gideon Gono urged the government to take action against under-utilised mining rights and claims.
In a monetary policy statement last month Gono said that "the country continues to perform under capacity in mining as a result of under-utilisation of some mining rights where potential investors keep mining claims for years without tangible operational plans".
Anglo American lost seven prospecting orders while Rio Tinto lost four. The remaining two were owned by a company called Krumlin.
Most mining giants in Zimbabwe have interests in gold, copper, nickel, asbestos, platinum, chrome and iron ore.
Last month state media reported that the government had repossessed 1 261 mining claims "to make way for serious investors".
Doug Verden, a senior executive with the Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe said there was nothing untoward about the government's move.
He said companies that hold an exclusive prospecting order are supposed to do something with it within a certain period of time, after which it reverts to the government.
"It's within the spirit and the letter of the law. I don't think we have any particular problem with that," he said.
Mineral production has sagged in recent years due to rising production costs, high labour costs and unfavourable government policies especially in regard to the foreign exchange rate for exporters.
A proposed amendment to the country's minerals laws is due to be tabled in parliament soon, which envisages giving "historically disadvantaged persons" a 49% stake in foreign and privately-owned mines.
Gold, which accounts for slightly over 50% of Zimbabwe's mineral exports, is one of the country's major foreign exchange earners.
A few years ago Zimbabwe had become the third largest gold producer in Africa after Ghana and South Africa.
The mining industry employs about 60 000 people. - Sapa
ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract
by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17
The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by government to look for another contractor instead of China Hunan Construction to construct of the long awaited Karonga/Chitipa road.
China Hunan from Mainland China won the bid which was approved by the ADB but government later wanted to award the contract to a Portuguese firm, Mota Engil, the second lowest bidder, claiming China Hunan's bid was unrealistically low and that the company had very little experience in Africa.
Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe confirmed on Sunday the ADB rejected the proposal at a meeting held between the bank and Malawi government in Tunisia last week.
The Malawi government wanted the Tunisia meeting to authorise it to get another contractor for the road, said Gondwe.
"They did not allow us to look for another contractor because of their regulations. But we are about to get another alternative for Karonga/Chitipa and I would be surprised if it does not start before end June," said Gondwe.
The minister explained that the bank insisted that regardless of the unrealistic cost estimates, China Hunan should be allowed to go ahead with the construction.
But Gondwe could not give further details about the alternatives, arguing there are still a few loose ends to tighten up before disclosing it.
The problem with China Hunan, according to Gondwe, is that it would require more money to meet the total cost of the project.
This paper reported last week that government met Taiwanese representatives where they offered to fund the road if the ADB continued to reject its favoured contractor, Mota Engil.
Gondwe could neither confirm nor deny the reports on the Taiwanese offer, saying government was looking at a number of ways to handle the issue.
According to Gondwe, the China Hunan's bid was 24 percent lower than the consulting engineers' estimates of K7.9 billion and 34 percent below the second lowest bidder.
President Bingu wa Mutharika laid a foundation stone for the construction of the road this year ahead of a crucial byelection in Chitipa in December last year.
The President's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Chitipa Wenya constituency by-election that fell vacant following the collapse and subsequent death of Speaker of Parliament Rodwell Munyenyembe who belonged to the UDF.
Last week, police and the District Commissioner (DC) for Chitipa stopped a rally that was aimed at soliciting people's views about development projects in the district.
The meeting, which was reportedly organised by Concerned Citizens of Chitipa, was among other things also supposed to tackle the controversial Karonga/Chitipa road.
The project failed to start off in 2000 when a contract for an initial loan of US$17 million and US$15 million from the Taiwanese government was signed, with some quarters claiming the Bakili Muluzi administration diverted the money to another road.
Chihana operated on
by Edwin Nyirongo, 22 May 2006 - 06:32:31
Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana, who is in South Africa receiving treatment, had a brain operation on Friday at Garden City Clinic, family and party officials confirmed on Sunday.
Aford national chairman Chipimpha Mughogho said he was told by the family members that Chihana had a successful operation on Friday and was put in an intensive care unit.
Mughogho said Chihana, who initially complained of headache, was found with a brain tumour which South African doctors removed.
Mzimba West MP Loveness Gondwe said Aford boss condition was stable.
"Hon. Chihana had a major operation and after that he was put in the intensive care unit but his condition is stable. I do not know where he was operated on but it had something to do with the skull," she said.
Deputy Information Minister John Bande referred the matter to the Health Minister Hetherwick Ntaba who was reported to be in Geneva, Switzerland.
Aford publicity secretary Norman Nyirenda said when Chihana's situation got worse, the family alerted the Office of the President and Cabinet who took him to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.
"The doctors at Mwaiwathu advised that he should be sent to South Africa and they even identified the doctor for him," he said.
He said the costs are being met by the Malawi government, contradicting his earlier statement that his boss covered the cost.
Mughogho is now in charge of the party.
Gondwe will be a busy person when Parliament starts meeting on June 6 as she is the only Aford MP remaining.
Pillane proposes presidential age limit
by Emmanuel Muwamba , 22 May 2006 - 06:34:13
A member of the DPP National Governing Council Abdul Pillane on Saturday urged members of political parties and the civil society to put an upper age limit in the Constitution for presidential candidates.
Pillane was addressing members of political parties and civil society in Liwonde during a two-day follow up workshop to the National Conference on the Review of Constitution held in March in Lilongwe.
"My view is that (an upper) age limit should be at 75. We have to give a chance to younger people to lead because in circumstance, when you age you become forgetful especially when sickly," said Pillane. "Overall, chances should be given to young people."
But UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala, whose party members agitated for the age limit during presentations, played the issue down.
"I feel there is no logic to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates. If someone is 90 or 80 I don't know how that can influence the electorate not to vote for someone who is younger, I don't see any logic behind that," said Makwangwala.
MCP participants at the workshop also vehemently objected to the proposal.
MCP vice president Nicholas Dausi in an interview said: "There is no constitution in Africa which stipulates an upper age limit. So it would be strange in Malawi to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates."
MDP President Kamlepo Kalua also opposed the need to have an upper age limit.
"If we have personalities in mind that we want to discriminate against then it is unfortunate. The constitution we want to build is a guiding document for future generations and it should not bar certain individuals on the basis of grudges," he said.
The Malawi Law Constitution Issues Paper of March 2006 says several submissions that were received put an upper presidential age limit in the Constitution.
"It is argued that it is common sense that mental knowledge faculties tend to fail with age. As regards what the actual age limit should be the submissions are far from being agreed. The range is from 60 years to 80 years," read submissions in the Issues Paper.
On whether MPs should double as ministers, Kalua said this should be the case.
Makwangwala also said it is not right for MPs to serve as ministers because the Legislature, another arm of government, is reduced while the Executive branch is beefed up from another arm of government.
"There is no separation of powers when MPs double as ministers," said Makwangwala.
But Pillane said there is no problem for MPs to work as ministers as well, saying MPs are elected by the President.
"One can serve both posts. There have been no problems before for people to double," said Pillane.
The Centre for Multiparty Democracy funded the workshop through the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.
The objective was to come up with a collective position on the Issues Paper which will be presented to the Special Law Commission that will be constituted soon.
Mussa hails new driving licence
by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:58:52
Transport and Public Works Minister Henry Mussa last week said the design of the Malawi-Sadc driving licence would guard against forgery and ensure that only skilled and legitimate drivers of particular vehicles are licensed.
Mussa was speaking at the official launch of the licences in Lilongwe where he announced that traffic police would from July enforce speed limits and sober driving using Breathalysers which his ministry is in the process of procuring.
The minister said financial constraints are the reason for the delay in procuring the equipment but assured that by July they would be available.
"With the new equipment, the days of those who believe in the thrill of drink and driving are numbered," warned Mussa.
Mussa added that with the new licence, government is optimistic that the country's roads would be safe.
Acting Director of Road Traffic James Chirwa said the features that distinguish the new from the old licences are the Malawi national flag and a ghost image of the driver's photograph, among others.
Those with old licences, according to Chirwa, are expected to get the new ones after the expiry of the former.
UDF demands investigation on Kasambara
by Rabecca Theu, 22 May 2006 - 06:30:46
The United Democratic Front (UDF) has asked government to investigate Ralph Kasambara on allegations of abuse of office while he was attorney general.
UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu told the press Sunday that the party is neither amused or saddened by the removal of the former AG but asked government to institute investigations on Kasambara.
"Beyond the removal of the Attorney General, we now urge President Mutharika to institute investigation against Mr Kasambara into allegations that have made rounds in the public domain during the recent past. These include: Mrs Helen Singh and SS Rent-a-Car; SGS and ITS saga; ...........the use of Malawi Police Service in the arrest of three Chronicle journalists and the handling of Mrs Rubina Kawonga," said Mpasu.
Mpasu also accused Kasambara of awarding government contracts to Lawson and Company where he was a senior partner.
"We urge government to thoroughly investigate the former AG. We also ask government to cautiously select the new AG ," said Mpasu, who was accompanied by the party's Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala, leader of the party in Parliament George Mtafu, chief whip Leonard Mangulama and a member of the executive Hophmally Makande.
But Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said UDF should give offer its advice to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB).
"They should advise bodies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau to conduct the investigations and why are they saying this now? Is it because Kasambara has been fired? This is not a personal issue. If they have other pressing issues they should just say so. These arguments should have come up earlier on when the said cases were happening," she said.
Kasambara asked UDF to proceed with the mission of urging government to investigate him.
"They can do their job. Everyone has a right to lobby for anything they want in the country. UDF has a right to do that, let them go ahead," he said.
Kasambara was relieved of his duties as AG by the President last week. Government has not given reasons behind the removal.
Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land
The Times of Zambia (Ndola)
May 18, 2006
Posted to the web May 19, 2006
MALAWIANS who have encroached on both the 'no-man's' and part of the Zambian land at the Mwami border in Eastern Province have plucked out some beacons that were used in the demarcation of the border.
The Malawians are now using the beacons as stools in their newly-established villages on Zambian land.
Eastern Province Minister, Boniface Nkhata, said in Chipata yesterday that if the situation was not controlled urgently, Zambia would lose huge tracts of land to Malawians migrating into Zambian in large numbers.
A check at the Zambia-Malawi border showed a number of beacons had been vandalised and new structures constructed on the 'no man's' land and a large portion of Zambian land.
Mr Nkhata said the trend extended to many parts of the province bordering the two countries.
"A large portion of Zambian land has been taken up by the Malawians starting from the Chama boundary up to the Mwami border.
"The weighbridge at the Mwami border was initially in Zambia from the time both countries gained independence from Britain, but now the bridge is on Malawian soil," Mr Nkhata said.
The minister, who is former Chama District Commissioner, said there was similar encroachment in Lundazi and Chama districts where Zambia shares a boundary with Malawi.
He said a Malawian farmer identified as Mr Mfune had cultivated 71.5 hectares on Zambian land and employed about 265 Malawian workers.
"Khombe Farm in Chama district in Kanyerere's area, along the Muyombe road which leads to Northern Province where this Malawian farmer has cultivated a vast land is on the Zambian territory," he said.
Workers on the farm admitted that they were farming on Zambian soil but could not go back to Malawi because the land in that country was inadequate for cultivation.
Mr Nkhata appealed to the ministry of Lands to urgently release money for the demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border to avoid further land disputes between the two countries.
Meanwhile, the Immigration Department in Livingstone has arrested a couple and another man, all Zimbabweans, for working in Zambia without permits.
They were arrested at Gwembe village yesterday where they worked for Into Africa, a tour operating company that provides bush dinners and breakfast.
According to the Immigration Department in Livingstone, the trio entered Zambia through the Victoria Falls border as visitors but decided to work for the company illegally.
Last week, immigration officers arrested 10 Zimbabwean traders and six Ethiopians for entering and staying in Zambia illegally.
The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.
The Ethiopians were arrested at Konje Guest House when they ran out of money to proceed to Botswana.
Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests
22 May 2006 11:51
Zimbabwe's biggest labour federation on Saturday threatened to call massive demonstrations against the government over poor salaries and worsening living conditions for workers in the country.
The threats are ratcheting up pressure against President Robert Mugabe's government after similar threats by the biggest opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), about two months ago.
Speaking at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) conference on Saturday, the labour body's president, Lovemore Matombo, said the powerful union wants the government to award workers salaries that match the country's ever-rising inflation.
"I can assure you we will stage massive demonstrations to force them [employers] to award workers minimum salaries that tally with the poverty datum line," said Matombo.
Matombo did not say when exactly the ZCTU would order workers to strike.
Meanwhile, the MDC on Sunday said it will push ahead with plans for anti-government protests, saying victory in a key by-election at the weekend was a "sign the electorate supported its policies", including democratic mass resistance.
A spokesperson of the main faction of the splintered MDC, Nelson Chamisa, said victory over Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and a rival MDC faction in a Saturday by-election in Harare's Budiriro constituency is a sign Zimbabweans still have confidence in party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his policies.
Tsvangirai, the founding leader of the MDC, heads the main rump of the opposition party whose candidate, Emmanuel Chisvuure, polled 7 949 votes to win the Budiriro House of Assembly seat.
Gabriel Chaibva of the other faction of the MDC, led by prominent academic Arthur Mutambara, garnered 504 votes while Zanu-PF's Jeremiah Bvirindi polled 3 961 votes.
"This election showed that the electorate still has confidence in the MDC [Tsvangirai-led] leadership and its policies," Chamisa told independent news service ZimOnline.
He added: "We will now move to consolidate our position * we still believe in mass protests. Until we have attained our goals we see no reason why we should abandon [plans for protests]."
Tsvangirai has threatened to call mass protests this winter against Mugabe and his government. He says the mass protests, whose date he is still to name, are meant to force Mugabe to relinquish power to a government of national unity to be tasked to write a new and democratic Constitution that would ensure free and fair elections held under international supervision.
Mugabe and his government, who had hoped for victory in Budiriro to show they were recapturing urban support from a splintered MDC, have not taken idly the opposition's threats to call mass protests, with the veteran president warning Tsvangirai he would be "dicing with death" if he ever attempted to instigate a Ukraine-style popular revolt in Zimbabwe.
In a fresh crackdown against dissension, the police last week arrested several church and civic leaders for organising public prayers and marches to mark last year's controversial home-demolition exercise by the government.
The police also banned the marches and prayers, fearing they could easily turn into mass protests against Mugabe and his government.
However, the marches went ahead in the second-largest city of Bulawayo after organisers had obtained a court order barring the police from stopping the march.
Political analysts say although Zimbabweans have largely been cowed by Mugabe's tactics of routinely deploying riot police and the military to crush street protests, worsening hunger and poverty are fanning public anger that Tsvangirai -- with proper planning and organisation -- could easily manipulate.
Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe six-year old economic crisis that has seen inflation breaching the 1 000% barrier. Last year, the World Bank said Zimbabwe's economic crisis was unprecedented for a country not at war.
The MDC and major Western governments blame Mugabe for wrecking the country's economy, which was one of the strongest in Africa at independence from Britain 26 years ago.
Mugabe denies the charge blaming the crisis on sabotage by Britain and her allies after he seized white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks six years ago.
The Harare authorities recently hiked salaries for civil servants, with the lowest-paid soldier now earning about Z$27-million while the lowest-paid school teacher now takes home about Z$33-million.
But the salaries are still way below the poverty datum line, which the government's Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says now stands at a staggering Z$42-million a month for an average family of six.
The Zimbabwe government often accuses the ZCTU, a strong ally of the MDC, of pushing a political agenda to remove Mugabe from power.
Meanwhile, Matombo and Lucia Matibenga retained their posts as president and first vice-president respectively during the ZCTU congress that ended on Saturday. -- ZimOnline