- UN Humanitarian Envoy Begins Weeklong Visit to Southern Africa in
UN News Service (New York)
June 15, 2004
Posted to the web June 15, 2004
The United Nations Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern
Africa is in Malawi today for the first leg of a weeklong mission to
review achievements in the region over the last three years and take
stock of its future aid requirements.
The fourth trip by James T. Morris, Executive Director of the UN World
Food Programme (WFP), to countries affected by the "triple threat" of
food insecurity, weakened capacity for governance and AIDS also comes at
a time when the $615 million UN Consolidated Appeal for southern Africa
remains seriously under-funded, with only $327 million in confirmed
donations so far.
Funds for non-food items, such as medicines, healthcare, education,
water and sanitation supplies, are desperately needed, with only 16 per
cent of resources needed for these items having been raised.
In addition to his stop in Malawi, Mr. Morris will meet with government
officials, donor representatives and aid agencies in Mozambique,
Swaziland and Namibia. He is not scheduled to visit Zimbabwe because
officials from that country's Government were unavailable for meetings.
Malnutrition hampering Zimbabwe's Aids battle
16 June 2004 10:56
Poverty and malnutrition are undermining Zimbabwe's battle against HIV
and Aids, about 700 delegates heard at a conference that opened in
Harare on Tuesday.
Doctors who have been examining the impact of anti-retroviral drugs
(ARVs) in Zimbabwe have found that the anti-Aids drugs are too expensive
in a country where some three-quarters of the population live in
"The issue of poverty ... is one of the factors limiting the access to
ARVs," said Phineas Makurira, who spoke on behalf of the doctors at the
first national conference on HIV and Aids to be held in the southern
"It is estimated that about 5 000 patients are currently on ARVs in
Zimbabwe, although this might be an underestimate," said health ministry
Aids expert Christine Chakanyuka.
They are a tiny fraction of the estimated 1,8-million Zimbabweans
living with HIV and Aids.
The three-day conference aims to come up with the best strategies and
practices for combatting Aids, which kills an estimated 3 000
Zimbabweans a week.
"I'm quite optimistic that this is not going to be a talking shop,"
Panganayi Dhliwayo, a member of the organising committee and health
ministry official, told a press conference.
He added that, contrary to what had been said about the high price of
drugs, many families in Zimbabwe could in fact afford the prices charged
for ARVs, the drugs that help to slow down the progression of HIV/Aids,
at some Zimbabwean clinics.
"At 150 000 dollars [$28] a month you don't even need free treatment,"
He attributed the price reduction to the local manufacture of generic
anti-retrovirals. "People are not aware that the cost of ARVs has come
down so much," he said.
Nutritionist Percy Chipepera told delegates meanwhile that recent
studies had shown that malnutrition in Zimbabwe was exacerbating the
condition of people with HIV/Aids.
"Malnutrition affects 90% of HIV/Aids patients (and) ... it is also
responsible for 60% to 80% of Aids deaths," he said.
Over the last three years Zimbabwe has experienced a serious food
shortage attributed to droughts and the chaotic land reforms that saw
the seizure of thousands of white-owned commercial farms handed over to
Farm workers are also becoming less productive due to HIV-induced
President Robert Mugabe's government plans to roll out free ARVs to
some 171 000 people by end of next year.
But the health ministry's Chakanyuka hinted that it may be unable to
meet that deadline, saying "we are limited by resources".
Another health official said attention should not be focussed on ARVs
"We need to provide a comprehensive package to manage HIV/Aids in the
country, not to just provide ARVs," Owen Mugurungi said.
With about one in four adults infected by HIV, Zimbabwe ranks among the
countries worst hit by the pandemic. An estimated 166 000 new HIV cases
were registered last year, according to Chakanyuka.
However, Zimbabwe's Aids statistics are not all gloomy, health official
Dhliwayo told reporters. He said now that HIV figures were beginning to
decline, Zimbabwe deserved a pat on the back.
"Now that it (HIV infection) has stabilised and is starting to go down,
I think we should congratulate ourselves and say that our efforts are
bearing fruit," Dhliwayo said. - Sapa-AFP
Zimbabwe arms deal raises eyebrows
Leon Engelbrecht | Johannesburg
15 June 2004 07:54
Defence analysts in Pretoria and London were scratching their heads at
a reported decision by Zimbabwe to buy 12 Chinese FC1 fighter jets, an
aircraft still under development.
Opposition Movement for Democratic Change MP Giles Mutsekwa said at the
weekend that the Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF) had secretly ordered 12 of
the fighters and about 100 military vehicles at a cost estimated at
The acquisition apparently bypassed the state procurement board. It was
not clear from the reports, since denied by the ruling Zanu-PF, where
the funding for the planes and vehicles would come from, as the ZDF's
budget allocation was only about Z$815-billion (about US$136-million,
R870-million), of which 69% is for remuneration and the rest for
The Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said, if true,
the reports made one wonder about the sustainability and affordability
of the aircraft.
"Looking at the present state of their economy and the value of their
monetary unit, one questions whether it is affordable or how they will
pay for it, if it is true," ISS defence analyst Len le Roux said.
He also questioned the requirement for the aircraft, saying parties to
the Southern African Development Community's Mutual Defence Pact had an
obligation to move towards buying similar or at least compatible
On the face of it, this was a purchase motivated by national rather
than regional needs -- and the exact national need was also not clear.
"One also has to question the sustainability of the purchase. It is one
thing to buy an aircraft, it is another to operate and maintain it," Le
Andrew Brookes, aerospace analyst at the London-based International
Institute for Strategic Studies said the FC1, called the "Fierce Dragon"
(Xiaolong) by the Chinese, would only be operational by 2006,
contradicting reports that the first six of the dozen aircraft ordered
would arrive in Zimbabwe last week.
"It is a potent, modern fighter. But we are not talking cutting-edge
technology here, rather last generation (Generation Three)
reverse-engineered technology. It's still very good, however.
"The question again is whether they could fly and maintain them. They
already have some good aircraft and could probably make the transition,"
"Quite a few African countries are currently buying modern aircraft.
Most, however, have to bring in expatriate Ukrainians to fly and
Brookes added that the Chinese and Pakistanis -- who were developing
the aircraft -- would also want nothing but hard currency for the deal.
The FC1, called the Joint Fighter 17 (JF-17) "Thunder" by Pakistan, is
a joint venture between the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation and
the Pakistani Aeronautical Complex.
It is scheduled to enter initial production in 2006 when 16 are to be
Russia's Mikoyan Aero-Science Production Group are providing assistance
in some design work as well as its RD-93 turbofan engine to power the
Three prototypes are currently flying.
The first FC-1 rolled out from the assembly line on May 31 last year
and made a 15-minute maiden flight on August 24.
Its manufacturers hope it will replace old second-generation fighters
such as the Northrop F-5 Tiger, the Dassault Mirage III/5, the Shenyang
J-6, the MiG-21/F-7 Fishbed, and the Nanchang Q-5 aircraft in air forces
around the world.
They are marketing it as a lightweight, single seat, single engine,
high-performance, multirole attack fighter aircraft featuring
fly-by-wire flight-control, beyond-vision-range combat capability and
much improved aerodynamic performance. It is being priced at
US$15-million (R96-million) apiece. - Sapa
Zim govt denies snubbing UN food official
16 June 2004 15:20
Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge on Wednesday denied that Zimbabwe was
snubbing a top UN official on a food assessment mission who was
scheduled to meet with government ministers this week.
Mudenge told a press conference that the government could not meet with
James Morris, the special UN envoy for humanitarian needs and head of
the UN World Food Programme (WFP), on Tuesday because it was holding its
weekly cabinet meeting.
"We were in cabinet the whole day. If Morris had come he would have met
nobody," said Mudenge.
Morris, who is the agency's executive director, is on a five-nation
tour of the region to assess food security. He travelled to Malawi on
Tuesday after the Zimbabwe leg of the trip was scrapped.
Aid agencies estimate that around five million Zimbabweans will require
emergency food aid this year, but the Zimbabwe government has said it
will not appeal for food aid because it expects a bumper harvest.
A crop and food assessment mission comprising UN and government
officials was cancelled last month when the government recalled its
Press reports in Harare speculated that the Zimbabwe government was
deliberately avoiding Morris, who has been to Zimbabwe at least twice in
the last three years at the height of chronic food shortages.
"You all read big things into small things," said Mudenge, adding that
the government planned to reschedule the meeting with Morris at a later
The calling off of Morris' visit occurred amid controversy over the
government's refusal to allow UN famine relief operations to continue
for the third year in a row this year, despite widespread forecasts that
crop output would again fall far below the volume needed to feed the
country's 12-million people.
"It's a deliberate snub," said a Western diplomat earlier in the week.
"Zimbabwe had agreed to the visit, and Morris was set down to see
Mugabe. Late last week, they changed their minds."
Last month, Mugabe said the UN was "foisting" food on the country. "We
are not hungry," he said. "We don't want to be choked."
Since 2002, the United Nations has helped avert massive starvation as
it delivered food to up to five million people at a time.
Zimbabwe was Africa's second biggest food producer, after South Africa,
until 2000 when the country's agricultural industry began to collapse as
a result of the illegal, violent state seizure of nearly all of the
highly productive farmland owned by white farmers. - Sapa-DPA, Sapa-AFP
Mugabe 'family affected by Aids'
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has told the country's first
conference on Aids that members of his own family had been affected by
He described HIV/Aids as "one of the greatest challenges facing our
nation" but said it was not insurmountable.
He said most people had been affected "and that includes the extended
family of ... the president himself".
Critics of his government say the issue has been overshadowed by
mounting economic and political problems.
According to official figures, almost a quarter of Zimbabwe's adult
population is infected with HIV - one of the highest rates in the world.
The number of HIV/Aids cases in Zimbabwe rose to about 1.8 million in
As many as 3,000 people die of Aids-related illnesses in the country
each week, say health officials.
The purpose of the conference is to enable officials, health workers
and community groups to draw up a strategy to fight the disease.
Delegates were told on the opening day of the conference, on Tuesday,
that poverty and malnutrition were major hurdles in the battle against
The UN, a co-sponsor of the event, said economic hardships had led
people, particularly women, to take sexual risks.
The government denies accusations it has lacked the political will to
deal effectively with the Aids crisis, first reported in the country 18
The government estimates some 5,000 patients now have access to
anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) .
"I wish to assure this conference that improving access to treatment is
one of the priorities of government," AFP news agency quoted President
Mugabe as saying.
He told delegates: "There is no doubt that HIV and Aids is one of the
greatest challenges facing our nation.
"However, it is not an insurmountable challenge. We can and we should
rise above this challenge, and win the fight."
He added: "There is hardly any community or family in our country that
has not been touched or affected by HIV/Aids and that includes the
extended family of ... the president himself".
G8 to boost development assistance to Africa
16 June 2004 10:39
African and developed countries are to devise a joint plan by next year
to transform broad commitment to the continent's development into
concrete action, the executive of Africa's growth plan said on Tuesday.
While all agreed that current levels of development aid were
insufficient to address African under-development, no clear commitments
were on the table, the chairperson of the secretariat of the New
Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), Wiseman Nkuhlu, said in
Such details would now be discussed by representatives of the Nepad
steering commitment and the Group of Eight industrialised nations (G8).
A plan to be devised from the talks is to be submitted to
decision-makers early next year, Nkuhlu told reporters in Pretoria.
It was expected to outline how much money was required to achieve
stated goals of addressing unemployment, poverty, hunger and disease.
Nkuhlu was briefing reporters in Pretoria on the outcome of talks
between six African leaders and the G8 at a summit in the United States
He expressed optimism about progress made in the discussions --
attended by President Thabo Mbeki and the leaders of Nigeria, Ghana,
Senegal, Algeria and Uganda.
Reducing African indebtedness and unequal world trade were among the
concerns raised by the leaders, Nkuhlu said.
Another worry highlighted was the lack of assistance for developing
countries to manufacture their own products from raw materials rather
than exporting capital and jobs to the developed world.
African leaders also asked for more representation on multi-lateral
bodies like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Nkuhlu said the G8 undertook to help resolve a logjam in free-trade
talks between Africa and the World Trade Organisation.
It also committed itself to providing financial and technical support
to Africa's peace and security plan, which comprises an overseeing
council, a standby peacekeeping force and a conflict early warning
A decision was taken, Nkuhlu said, for representatives of the G8, Nepad
and the African Union to work out a detailed and costed implementation
plan. "This is the sort of outcome we were looking for -- a concrete
The G8 committed itself to training the 70 000 people that would make
up the force, and to assist with equipment.
It agreed that the plan would remain an African one, despite assistance
from the developed world.
Nkuhlu said the G8 leaders were encouraged by the actions Africa had
been taking on peace and security. They were convinced Africa was
serious about dealing with conflicts.
Nkuhlu expressed concern about a lack of political will to direct
resources to Africa. The political will had also been lacking in African
leaders themselves, he added.
The continent had no right to demand money from the rest of the world,
but could insist on an equal playing field.
That is why Africa had to show through forums like the G8 that it was
serious about addressing its own problems -- eradicating conflicts and
creating conditions of stability, Nkuhlu said. - 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