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  • Christine Chumbler
    Malawi is Fastest Urbanizing Country in the World, UN Says UN News Service (New York) July 8, 2004 Posted to the web July 8, 2004 Malawi s rate of urbanization
    Message 1 of 1046 , Jul 12, 2004
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      Malawi is Fastest Urbanizing Country in the World, UN Says

      UN News Service (New York)

      July 8, 2004
      Posted to the web July 8, 2004


      Malawi's rate of urbanization is the fastest in the world and the landlocked southern African country will need heavy investment in its harsh rural areas to stop the rapid migration to towns, the United Nations settlements agency said today.

      Even though the country is agriculture-dependent, by 2015 about 44 per cent of the projected 11 million population will live in urban centres. Three-quarters of urban Malawians now live in the major cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba, the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) said.


      In the capital, Blantyre, 71 per cent of residents live in squalid unplanned settlements, according to the agency.

      "The influx of people from rural areas to urban centres is directly linked to the increasingly harsh conditions many families are experiencing in the outlying areas of the country," UN-Habitat said.

      Villagers in rural Malawi have been severely affected by drought and resulting food shortages in recent years, according to the World Bank.

      Meanwhile, a 1996 World Bank report, "Liveable Cities for the 21st Century," says some cities have developed simple, affordable solutions to the problems of furnishing basic services. They have been able to provide clean water within a short walking distance of homes, simple sanitation, passable roadways and drainage.

      *****

      Malawi: WFP Gearing Up to Deliver Food Aid From Next Month

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      July 8, 2004
      Posted to the web July 9, 2004

      Johannesburg

      The World Food Programme (WFP) is planning to deliver emergency food aid in Malawi from next month, following another poor harvest in the drought-prone south of the country.

      "The interventions are a combination of food-for-work and targeted food distributions that will target 250,000 people initially," WFP spokesperson Abdelgadir Hamid told IRIN. WFP expects the number of beneficiaries to rise to over a million by January/February next year.

      Malawi requires 2.2 million mt of maize annually, but crop assessments by the National Statistics Office has put the anticipated maize harvest at 1.73 million mt - 13 percent less than last year's 1.98 million mt. A multi-agency Vulnerability Assessment Committee has estimated that 1.3 to 1.7 million Malawians would be in need of food.

      WFP has about 55,000 mt in stock to begin its distribution programme. The National Food Reserve Agency has also issued a tender for the purchase of 28,000 mt of maize to replenish the strategic grain reserve. Zambia, which was expecting a bumper crop, has already expressed an interest in supplying Malawi. The European Union was also expected to provide another 28,000 mt of maize for distribution.

      Most parts of the southern region received inadequate rains, the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS-NET) said in a report earlier this year. It pointed out that the situation was critical in Nsanje, and parts of Machinga and Mangochi districts, which received cumulative rainfall under 25 percent of normal during the October to December period.

      Late rains also affected the growing season in some parts of the central and northern regions.

      "Until the next harvest season, which begins in April next year, rural households will need food assistance - the numbers however could increase or decrease based on [food] prices, the availability and accessibility of maize," Hamid said.

      Under a school feeding scheme, WFP has been supporting 203,000 children in 249 schools located in 10 food insecure districts. "If we have the resources, we hope to target another 50,000 pupils by next year," Hamid said.

      WFP has also been providing food aid to 133,000 Malawians living with HIV/AIDS in the districts that recorded poor harvests.

      *****

      July 12, 2004
      An Exodus of African Nurses Puts Infants and the Ill in Peril
      By CELIA W. DUGGER

      LILONGWE, Malawi * Six
      women suddenly went into the final, agonized minutes of childbirth.
      Hlalapi Kunkeyani was the only nurse. There were no doctors.


      Panicky cries rent the fetid air of the ward, a cavernous space jammed
      with 20 women laboring in beds, on benches, even on the concrete floor.
      Mrs. Kunkeyani worked with intense concentration, her face glowing with
      sweat, but she was overwhelmed.


      Four of the babies arrived in a rush without her to ease their passage
      into the world. She found one trapped between his mother's legs with
      the umbilical cord wrapped around his chest. The face of another was
      smeared with his mother's feces. Yet a third lay still on his mother's
      breast, desperate to breathe. The nurse swiftly suctioned his tiny
      mouth until at last he gulped a breath.


      Mrs. Kunkeyani, 36, is the stalwart nurse in charge of this capital
      city's main labor ward, where 10 overworked nurse midwives deliver more
      than 10,000 babies a year. But soon, she will vanish from this
      impoverished nation, joining thousands of African nurses streaming away
      from their AIDS-haunted continent for rich countries, primarily
      Britain.


      "My friends are telling me there's work there, there's money there,"
      said Mrs. Kunkeyani, who will soon make in a day's overtime in Britain
      what she earns in a month in Malawi. "They're telling me I'm wasting my
      time here."


      The nursing staffs of public health systems across the poor countries
      of Africa * grossly insufficient to begin with * are being battered by
      numerous factors that include attrition and AIDS. But none are creating
      greater anxiety in Africa than the growing flight of nurses discouraged
      by low pay and grueling conditions.


      The result of the nursing crisis * the neglect of the sick * is starkly
      apparent here on the dilapidated wards of Lilongwe Central Hospital,
      where a single nurse often looks after 50 or more desperately ill
      people. What is equally visible is the boon to Britain, where Lilongwe
      Central's former nurses minister to the elderly in the carpeted lounges
      of nursing homes and to patients in hushed private hospital rooms.


      It is the poor subsidizing the rich, since African governments paid to
      educate many of the health care workers who are leaving.


      In May, African countries banded together at the annual assembly of the
      World Health Organization to urge developed nations to compensate them
      for their lost investment. After an intense debate, the assembled
      countries resolved to search for ways to lessen the damage of what they
      called increasing rates of emigration.


      The brain drain of health professionals from Africa, and, more broadly,
      the severe staffing shortages, will be an issue at the 15th
      International AIDS Conference in Bangkok. Physicians for Human Rights,
      a Boston-based nonprofit group that shared the Nobel Peace Prize in
      1997, will be releasing a report on the topic and proposing steps to
      avert a deepening of the human resources crisis.


      At Lilongwe Central, an 830-bed hospital, there are supposed to be 532
      nurses. Only 183 are left. That is about half as many as there were
      just six years ago. And only 30 of those are registered nurses, the
      highly skilled cadre that is most sought abroad.


      The hospital's director, Dr. Damson Kathyola, a peasant's son educated
      at University College London, seems to feel an almost physical pain
      when he describes trying to run a major medical institution that is
      hemorrhaging nurses.


      "Unbearable," he said, leaning his head back and squeezing his eyes
      shut. "Unbearable."


      In Malawi, afflicted with one of Africa's most severe nursing
      shortages, almost two-thirds of the nursing jobs in the public health
      system are vacant. More registered nurses have left to work abroad in
      the past four years than the 336 who remain in the public hospitals and
      clinics that serve most of the country's 11.6 million people, according
      to Malawi's Nurses and Midwives Council.


      Many of these English-speaking nurses have flocked to Britain, which is
      confronting its own acute shortage of nurses to care for an aging
      population. Its central nursing register shows that the number of
      nurses being certified from Malawi, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana,
      Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana * all former British colonies *
      has soared since 1999.


      African nurses are also migrating, though in smaller numbers, to the
      United States and New Zealand, with trickles to Australia and Canada.
      There are now more than 3,100 registered nurses from Africa in the
      United States, according to a national survey of nurses by the
      Department of Health and Human Services.


      As projections show the shortfall of nurses in the United States
      ballooning to 800,000 by 2020, the pressure to recruit abroad is likely
      to grow.


      "The U.K.'s experience could be a harbinger of what we'll see in the
      U.S.," said Julie Sochalski, associate professor of nursing at the
      University of Pennsylvania.


      But Africa's nurses are not just moving overseas. They are also
      quitting government service for better-paying jobs in their own
      countries at private hospitals and foreign-financed nonprofit groups
      and research institutions.


      Thousands more have left the profession or are simply dying, especially
      in southern Africa, where rates of H.I.V. infection are highest. In
      Malawi, a quarter of public health workers, including nurses, will be
      dead, mostly of AIDS and tuberculosis, by 2009, according to a study of
      worker death rates in 40 hospitals here. Drugs for people with AIDS
      have been unaffordable up to now.


      The bottom line: sub-Saharan Africa's low-income countries need to more
      than double their nursing work forces, adding at least 620,000 nurses
      to grapple with severe health emergencies, according to estimates
      developed for the Joint Learning Initiative, a network of more than 100
      scholars and analysts studying human resources for health and
      coordinated from Harvard University.


      The nursing crisis is intensifying just as billions of dollars in
      foreign aid is beginning to pour into Africa to provide life-saving
      drugs to millions of people afflicted with AIDS and tuberculosis.


      The money includes the first installment on a total of $15 billion
      promised by President Bush and $2 billion from the Global Fund to Fight
      AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.


      The shortage of nurses compromises the ability of countries to use this
      money effectively, and the money itself is likely to aggravate the
      nursing shortage in public hospitals. A substantial portion will be
      channeled to nonprofit groups that are likely to hire away yet more
      nurses at higher pay.


      As the world focuses its resources on AIDS, the risk is that more women
      giving birth and more children needing hospital care for easily
      treatable conditions like respiratory infections and diarrhea will die,
      experts say.


      "I think it will destroy the whole system," Dr. Kathyola said.


      One Nurse and 26 Babies To spend a few weeks roaming the wards of
      Lilongwe Central is to see the human cost of the nursing shortage.


      Late one night on the nursery for sick and premature newborns, the sole
      nurse on duty stepped away * and 26 babies, packed two and three to a
      bassinet, were on their own.


      In one crib, a tiny baby girl, blue and dead, lay next to her sister,
      eyes open, tiny fists clenched, mouth yawning.


      Earlier, on the day shift, Tereza Kachingwe, a rotund, kindly nurse,
      had steadfastly stood by the premature babies, trying to keep them
      alive. But the hospital had run out of the thinnest tubes needed to
      suction such miniature throats.


      "If this tube was smaller, I could go deeper into the trachea," she
      said ruefully, as she easily held one of the featherweight newborns in
      her palm, sweeping the tube back and forth in the infant's mouth.


      Mrs. Kachingwe looked around at the many other babies who needed her
      attention, then turned back to the tiniest ones barely clinging to
      life. "Today, I'm stranded," she sighed.


      On another day in the gynecological ward, Tandu Mbvundula was the only
      nurse tending 51 patients, dispensing pills and a bare minimum of
      words. Unsmiling, she pushed a medicine cart into a room so packed with
      patients that some lay on the concrete floor in the darkened spaces
      beneath the beds.


      She rolled up to Mary Kaliyati, a mother of five whose uterus had
      ruptured giving birth in a mission hospital. Mrs. Kaliyati was
      transferred to Lilongwe Central. After surgery to remove her uterus,
      she had developed an infection.


      The nurse explained that the hospital was out of its most potent
      antibiotic, so she had given Mrs. Kaliyati a weaker combination. The
      first round had failed. The woman was still feverish. So the nurse was
      giving her a second round of the same weaker antibiotics.

      *****

      Zambia, Malawi to Discuss Power Link

      The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

      July 10, 2004
      Posted to the web July 12, 2004


      MINISTERS of Energy and representatives of power companies from Zambia and Malawi will next week meet to discuss the linking of Chama district in the Eastern Province to the Malawian grid.

      Energy Permanent Secretary Geoffrey Mukala said in an interview in Lusaka yesterday that the two countries would have a high-level meeting on the connection of Chama to the Malawian grid which was cheaper than linking the border district to the Zambian line.


      Mr Mukala said the move was aimed at saving ZESCO from incurring huge costs to run diesel generators which had outlived their lifespan.

      "As you know diesel generators in Chama have been limping, a situation that has angered several residents, especially civil servants," he said.

      He said the connection of Chama to Malawi would cover a distance of between 30 to 45 kilometres and would cost K1.2 billion.

      He said the officials would also discuss the issue of tariffs so that the Malawian power company Eskom could charge ZESCO lower tariffs as the case was in Lundazi which was also connected to the Malawian grid.

      Mr Mukala said the development was an attempt to open up Chama district which had a lot of potential in agriculture, particularly in the production of rice.

      He also said that the ministry was looking for money to connect various rural districts to the national grid so that development was equally distributed for the benefit of the country.

      Early this year civil servants in Chama threatened to beat up the area district commissioner over a prolonged blackout after the two generators broke down.
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22 8:06 AM
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        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Chihana operated on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

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

        *****

        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Mussa hails new driving licence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *****

        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu

         

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

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

         

        *****

        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

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

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

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

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

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

        Opposition protests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        Crackdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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