- Politics-Malawi: Inching Towards That 30 Percent Target
Inter Press Service (Johannesburg)
June 26, 2004
Posted to the web June 28, 2004
Slowly but surely, Malawi's women are making their presence felt in the
country's traditionally male-dominated political arena.
Twenty-seven women managed to secure seats in the 193-member
legislature during the recent general elections, held May 20. This may
not appear a considerable figure, but it marks an important increase
over the achievements of the 1999 poll - in which only 17 women were
elected. In the 1994 vote, 10 women became legislators.
For Gertrude Mkandawire, a new opposition member of parliament (MP) for
Mzimba Solola, a constituency in the far north of Malawi, winning the
May 20 election was a triumph over customs that militate against women.
The single mother of two belongs to the Ngoni tribe, which she
describes as having little tolerance for women who aspire to leadership
positions. The men in her community required some persuading before they
would allow her to contest the poll.
"It took a lot of courage because although I was accepted to contest,
the men did not leave me to go it alone until I beat them at their own
game in the actual poll," Mkandawire told IPS.
But, as undeniable as the accomplishments of Mkandawire and other
female MPs are, they haven't helped Malawi achieve the critical target
of having 30 percent of parliamentary seats occupied by women, by 2005.
This target was set by the 14-member Southern African Development
Community (SADC) during a 1997 summit held in the Malawian commercial
"As individuals, it feels good to have won, but deep inside our hearts
we feel women who contested could have done better," said Angela
Zachepa, 22, and the youngest woman MP in the country's history.
To achieve the 30 per cent threshold, 58 women would have needed to be
elected in the May poll. In the SADC region, only South Africa,
Mauritius and Mozambique have reached the target.
"In general, we'd want to applaud the forward movement (concerning the
election of women) while registering our concern that Malawi, the home
of the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development, has not honoured its
part of the deal," Colleen Lowe Morna, Executive Director of Gender
Links, told IPS from Johannesburg.
This South African-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) focuses on
eliminating discrimination against women in media organisations, and in
the media's portrayal of women.
"As to why Malawi did not achieve the 30 percent target, this is due to
the fact that the issue was given insufficient attention right to the
very end. It required commitment at a political level, and then a lot of
tangible strategies," says Morna.
These views are echoed by others. As IPS reported in February this
year, a survey by the Pan-African Civic Educators Network, an NGO,
showed that political parties in Malawi gave little support to women who
contested party primaries to earn a place on the ballot sheet.
The Gender Electoral Support Network, a coalition of women's
organisations, also took aim at the ruling United Democratic Front
(UDF), accusing it of giving more campaign funds to men who were
contesting the primaries. The feeling amongst many activists was that a
women's place was still perceived, largely, to be in the home.
The intransigence of political parties prompted many aspiring women MPs
to run as independents. Ironically, several of those who won have since
been lured back to the UDF, which found itself without a parliamentary
majority after the May vote. Marjorie Ngaunje is one who wasn't
convinced to cross the floor.
"The battle is still on, because the post-election challenges are many
and (will constitute) the real measure of our mettle as women leaders,"
Ngaunje told IPS. She has vowed to remain an independent voice in the
Like his predecessor, Bakili Muluzi, President Bingu wa Mutharika has
pledged to find ways of increasing women's representation in
decision-making bodies in Malawi.
"I will make sure that the number of women be increased in various
positions. I am not satisfied with the 30 per cent because, still, women
will be underrepresented," he told journalists Wednesday, Jun. 23, in
the capital Lilongwe.
The press conference was called to dismiss reports that government
intended to prevent women from wearing trousers and figure-hugging
skirts. The reports had evoked memories of the ban on trousers and
mini-skirts that was introduced by former dictator Hastings Banda.
Emma Kaliya, Chairwoman of the Gender Coordination Network, said she
would wait to see whether Mutharika intended to match his words with
actions - and address the numerous challenges facing Malawian women.
"Women, despite making up 52 per cent of the total population, remain
the poorest. This is making it difficult for them to rise to the
challenges facing the country," she told IPS.
Muluzi had pledged to lobby for a constitutional amendment that would
allow Malawi's president to appoint women to parliament. However, he
retired from government without fulfilling the promise.
Local and international election observers have expressed several
concerns about aspects of the May elections, including the monopolising
of state media by the UDF. After the vote, the UDF joined forces with
its former foes, the Republican Party, the National Democratic Alliance
and others, to gain a parliamentary majority.
Malawi: Empowerment of Girls Key to Tackling HIV
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
June 25, 2004
Posted to the web June 25, 2004
Last year 19-year-old Mercy Msiskashe was forced to drop out of school
because her family could not afford to pay the fees.
"Some of my family members encouraged me to find a boyfriend and then
get married. They even went to my parents, telling them that the only
thing left for me was to look for a partner," she told IRIN.
But a meeting organised by Malawi's ministry of youth, sports and
culture encouraged her to seek alternative ways of continuing her
"I learnt a lot from that meeting. I made a decision that I should look
for a technical training course. Most of my friends rushed into
marriages - some have kids that they cannot support, while others,
because of the need to have money, died of AIDS," she added.
Msiskashe is now one of six young women attending a year-long tailoring
course at Jenga Training Centre in the northern Rumphi district.
Improving the vocational skills of Malawi's youth has become a critical
defence in preventing the spread of HIV, particularly among young
Humanitarian agencies have attributed the rise in the infection rate of
young women to a lack of educational and vocational opportunities.
In an effort to raise HIV/AIDS awareness among them and improve their
life skills, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Children's Fund
(UNICEF) and the authorities have teamed up to assist young people.
"The UN agencies are supporting two youth projects to encourage the
participation of girls in social activities through clubs. The projects
also empower young girls by providing vocational training where they
learn carpentry, tailoring and motor vehicle mechanics," UNFPA programme
assistant Daniel Msonda explained.
The interagency effort, funded by the UN Foundation under the banner of
the Southern Africa Youth Initiative on AIDS (SAY), aims to ensure that
adolescent girls have the same rights and opportunities as boys. "Giving
them seed money or soft loans to start their own businesses is one way
of achieving the objectives of fighting AIDS among our girls," Msonda
The money received from UNICEF could be issued as revolving loans, to
enable young women to start their own small-scale businesses such as
fish farming, chicken rearing or tailoring.
The projects also aim to raise HIV/AIDS awareness among girls, of which
a key component is training peer educators in local communities.
"After being trained, these peer educators go back to the communities
and tell the other youths where they could get information on HIV/AIDS
and sexually transmitted diseases. They also help in the distribution of
condoms," Msonda said.
Wilfred Lichapa, who oversees the project in the department of youth,
told IRIN: "We want more of these girls to do technical jobs. They
should also have access to sexual reproductive health and family
The projects have already elicited a positive response from the youth.
"We have achieved almost 75 percent of what we intended to do. There
has been a reduction in pregnancies and the HIV infection rate since the
projects started," Lichepa said.
'Former imperialists' won't be monitoring Zim poll
25 June 2004 14:37
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Thursday said he would not allow
"former imperialists" to monitor parliamentary elections in his country
next year, a declaration which drew a sympathetic response from a summit
of 79 poor and developing countries.
Mugabe blasted British Prime Minister Tony Blair for questioning the
state of human rights, freedom and democracy in its former colony and
said that is why he would only invite monitors from Africa and
"Eleven years I spent in prison fighting for democracy, for one man,
one vote and for us now to hear a voice from London saying there is no
democracy, no freedom, no human rights observed in Zimbabwe is very
offensive and repulsive," Mugabe said.
He said such statements from "narrow-minded little Blair" had made
Harare decide "that our elections, whenever they are held, must be
supervised by people of our region, people of Africa, people in the
"We will invite all of you but we will not allow esrtwhile imperialists
to come and judge our election," he said to sustained applause at the
concluding session of a summit of the African, Caribbean and Pacific
group of nations in the Mozambican capital Maputo.
Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano told a news conference after the
end of the summit that Mugabe's message had elicited a lot of sympathy.
Chissano said Mugabe had "taken advantage of the situation to clarify
his position... many heard that message favourably and with a great deal
Mugabe, who threw out European Union observers before the 2002
presidential elections after accusing them of meddling, is under
sanctions from the EU.
In February, EU interior and justice ministers adopted without debate
an extended list of 95 Zimbabwean officials -- including Mugabe -- who
are banned from entering EU countries and a freeze on their assets.
The EU sanctions, which have entered a third year, also include an
embargo on supplies of arms and military equipment to Zimbabwe.
The United States has imposed similar restrictions against the southern
Chissano said the ACP would try and mend fences between Zimbabwe, the
European Union and the United States.
"We will do all in our power to see that Europe and the United States
resume their good relations with Zimbabwe," he said.
"We now need to seek ways and means of assisting Zimbabwe and restoring
good relations between Zimbabwe ... and the rest of the world as a
whole." - Sapa-AFP
UN: 5m Zimbabweans will need food aid
25 June 2004 12:41
Nearly five-million rural Zimbabweans will need food aid over the next
year, the United Nations and international aid groups said on Thursday,
despite claims by the government that no one in the country needs food
At least 2,3-million rural Zimbabweans need food aid because they have
not been able to grow enough food and cannot afford to buy what they
need, the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee, a group of UN
agencies and international aid groups, said in a report.
The rural hungry are just the latest group of Zimbabweans that the
committee says needs food aid. At the end of last year, the committee
predicted that 2,5-million urban Zimbabweans will need food aid in the
final months of this year and in early 2005 because of deepening poverty
in the southern African country's towns and
Humanitarian officials said the two assessments mean a total of about
five-million of Zimbabwe's 12,5-million people will have to be given
food over the next year.
UN crop forecasters estimate Zimbabwe will produce only half its food
needs of about two-million tons of grain and cereals this year, despite
the government's insistence that there will be a bumper harvest with a
"These populations will remain food insecure if extensive food
assistance is not provided during the current marketing season" before
the harvests early next year, the report said.
But even if the food was available, most of the hungry could not afford
to buy it.
Zimbabwe was once a regional breadbasket. But the often-violent seizure
of thousands of white-owned farms for redistribution to black
Zimbabweans, combined with erratic rains, have crippled the nation's
agriculture-based economy since 2000.
To avert a famine last year, The UN World Food Programme was feeding
nearly six-million people at the height of the country's lean season.
The WFP is currently feeding about 650 000 a month. - Sapa-AP
Forcing democracy in Zimbabwe
By Alastair Leithead
BBC correspondent on the Zimbabwean border
Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is a man who is tired,
Worn down by intimidation and constant court appearances for treason
charges laid upon him by a repressive government, he seems to lack the
energy of old.
Treason charges prevent him from leaving the country and lobbying
abroad, but he is determined to keep fighting.
His party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has begun its
campaign ahead of the March 2005 parliamentary elections, but it wants
and needs electoral reform first.
"If the MDC goes... [into the next elections] under the current
electoral act, they will be wiped out through rigging, through
manipulation, through all kinds of methods," believes John Makumbe, a
political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe.
But he says they are far from finished.
"The party has weathered the storm. They have remained together and are
in a stage of consolidation."
Last year the party announced its "final push" and mass action was
planned to protest at President Robert Mugabe's authoritarian grip on
But the police cracked down hard and the demonstrations fizzled out.
So there is a dilemma facing the party over whether it should continue
to participate in elections if they are not democratic, or withdraw from
the process and concentrate efforts elsewhere.
"There are arguments for and against participation, but if you
participate under flawed conditions you are legitimising the process,
but if you don't participate you make yourself irrelevant. They are both
very strong arguments," says Mr Tsvangirai.
"We will prepare for the elections but a possible decision not to
participate may be taken at a later stage," he adds.
There are growing voices of dissent growing impatient with the MDC's
Max Mkandla is president of Zimbabwe Liberators' Peace Initiative, a
group he calls "the real war veterans" as opposed to the groups invading
farms at the behest of the government.
"You can not preach peace where there is not peace. Plan A is the only
answer and in the Plan A, the bullet is the only way forward to replace
the government of the day," he says.
It is an extreme view, and the strength and loyalty of the police and
military makes any non-democratic route dangerous.
And some wonder how keen people will be to risk death on the streets
when they barely have the strength to feed themselves.
But Mr Makumbe believes mass action is the answer.
"I think the answer as to what's next is to go back to basics. Go back
to mass action, but it needs the people of Zimbabwe to suffer a lot more
before they are ripe for mobilisation."
While the MDC ponders a big decision, the ruling Zanu-PF party seems
fraught by its own problems of infighting as a power struggle threatens
to envelop the organisation.
"Zanu-PF is not in the best of shapes and is in danger of crumbling as
a result of the fissures that have occurred due to the succession
problem," says Brian Kagoro, chair of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition,
an organisation representing civic groups.
"I think the final solution is for Mugabe to go. He is the main
stumbling block. Even for Zanu he has become a liability.
He is stuck in a rhetoric that is unhelpful for his party and the
future of this country. He has allowed chaos to prevail even within his
A Harare-based economist, John Robertson, suggests the collapsing
economy could play its part, with internal pressure for change mounting
from the young movers and shakers, simply because "there is nothing left
So the spiralling economy could bring the government down, as could
party infighting or international pressure, but a democratic solution in
next year's elections seems, right now, the least likely outcome.
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