- Malawi: Access to Land a Problem for Rural Poor
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
October 18, 2004
Posted to the web October 18, 2004
As Malawi attempts to consolidate gains in agricultural production after three years of drought, experts have highlighted access to land and the preservation of biodiversity as key to future food security.
International NGO Oxfam has warned that a lack of access to arable land had contributed to food shortages and was also heightening tensions, with land-hungry communities increasingly encroaching on forests and tea estates.
Early last week a land dispute erupted in the Chimaliro traditional area in Thyolo district in the Southern region of the country.
In 2001 the government bought land from the Makande Tea Estate, on which it settled 350 landless families from other parts of Thyolo district. This did not please some Chimaliro residents, who felt they should have been the first to benefit from a redistribution of land in their home area.
A series of negotiations with district authorities broke down, culminating in the illegal occupation of the disputed land by some Chimaliro residents. Police said they arrested 15 people, who were subsequently charged with "encroachment".
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Food Security, Malawi has 9.4 million hectares of land, of which about 31 percent is suitable for the country's rain-fed agriculture, 31 percent is marginal land and 37 percent is unfit for cultivation.
Malawi's 11.5 million people are largely dependent on agriculture. It is estimated that up to 2 million small-scale farming families hold between 1.8 and 2 million hectares of land, but 72 percent of them actually cultivate less than one hectare per family. On average, individual households have less than 0.5 hectares of land - not enough to feed a family.
Oxfam programme officer George Chinseu, who is responsible for agriculture, fisheries, forests and food security in Thyolo and Mulanje districts, told IRIN that most people in the area could not produce sufficient food because they did not have enough land.
"When you go around Thyolo and Mulanje districts, one can easily see the seriousness of the land shortage for the people. Many people have between 0.3 hectares and 0.5 hectares of land per household," Chinseu said. "From 0.3 hectares of land you do not expect to have enough food to feed the whole family," adding that "the land on which they grow crops is exhausted".
"They cannot afford chemical fertiliser, and most of the food that they harvest just keeps them [going] for a period of two or three months, after which they start ... ganyu [piecework] on [commercial] estates, so they can survive," he said.
But recent reports indicate that, due to dry spells in parts of Malawi, piecework has become more difficult to find. "We are encouraging farmers to use composite manure ... on the little land they have. Those with livestock are encouraged to make organic manure," Chinseu explained.
Oxfam has been promoting livestock and beekeeping projects, as these activities could provide incomes for vulnerable families and enable them to purchase basic commodities.
By contrast, in the midst of land hunger, Southern Malawi is home to the country's commercial tea estates.
The National Coordinator of the Malawi Economic Justice and Network (MEJN), Collins Magalasi, said: "Most of the districts in the Southern region of the country are covered by big estates. It is not surprising to see people encroaching on these estates."
A report released by the National Statistical Office (NSO) in 2003 showed that over a million people had no land for agriculture, and that fewer than 23,000 owned over six hectares per household.
"Malawi being a predominantly rural population, possession of agricultural land by households may in part explain why poor households with no reliable source of income or land are [often] not food secure," noted NSO statistician Peter Ndilowe.
At a World Food Day event last week, Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha said the country's increasing population was putting pressure on its natural resources.
Malawi has suffered a high level of deforestation - 2.8 percent per year, the highest in the region - and has recently begun intensive reforestation programmes.
"As a country we need to protect our biodiversity if we are to ensure food security in our homes," Chilumpha said.
He added that "while we embrace new varieties of crops and animals, Malawians should not abandon local varieties, because of their resistance to diseases and pests".
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) representative Louise Setshwaelo also called for preservation of the country's biodiversity.
"Malawi, as many of the countries in this region, has a considerable amount of biodiversity in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Lake Malawi is well known, and recognised worldwide, for its large biodiversity," she said. This biodiversity was now "under threat".
As a result, many rural families could not find a sufficient variety of nutritious food in their local markets, "or they are simply too poor to purchase them. Because of this, they must make the best use of indigenous plant varieties and animal breeds".
Malawi: Six Percent Growth Rate Essential
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
October 21, 2004
Posted to the web October 21, 2004
Malawi needs to achieve an annual growth rate of at least six percent over the next decade to reduce poverty, President Bingu wa Mutharika said this week. The country's growth rate is currently below four percent.
To reach the required level of expansion, the government was "determined to create the necessary conditions for effective private sector participation in macroeconomic growth, through fundamental policy reforms to improve economic and political governance," Mutharika told a function to commemorate 44 years of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in the country.
The Malawian government would also improve accountability and transparency through the "zero-tolerance option on corruption," but the fight against corruption, underdevelopment and poverty would require huge amounts of resources, said Mutharika, and called on the US government for support.
He also made reference to Malawi's accession to the African Peer Review Mechanism of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, which "means that we are ready to test our governance system through international evaluation principles... In doing so, we hope to regain the confidence of and support for our vision to transform Malawi into an industrial country."
Malawi failed to qualify this year for the first round of the US government's financial assistance package to poor countries, known as the Millennium Challenge Account, because of shortcomings in fiscal and financial management.
The US Charge d'Affaires, David Gilmour, said: "USAID's overall goal in Malawi is to reduce poverty and increase food security through broad-based, market-led economic growth," adding that his government was committed to helping countries that respected the rule of law and created jobs for its people.
Zim's MDC queries 'fictitious' voters' roll
22 October 2004 12:14
Zimbabwe opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has expressed fears that Zanu-PF could have started rigging next year's election using the latest "fictitious" voters' roll.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Thursday said the voters' roll shows significant reductions or marginal increases of registered voters in urban constituencies between 2000 and 2004, as well as dramatic increases in rural areas.
As a result, Harare and Bulawayo could lose seats during the ongoing delimitation exercise, he said. The two biggest cities, which are controlled by the MDC, lost constituencies during the demarcation of boundaries in 2000.
The voters' roll shows that in May 2000, Bulawayo had a total of 357 281 registered voters and eight constituencies, but now it has 339 101 voters. This indicates a loss of 18 180 voters.
With the number of registered voters estimated at 5,6-million nationwide, on average each of the 120 constituencies should have 47 000 voters.
Bulawayo is therefore likely to have seven seats, instead of eight.
The city is controlled by the MDC. Zanu-PF does not have even a council ward in Bulawayo.
Harare had 795 059 registered voters in 2000 and now has 831 935, an increase of 36 876. During delimitation, however, Harare -- which has 19 seats -- could lose one or two constituencies.
Tsvangirai said this is surprising given that the 2002 population census showed a population increase, particularly in Harare. He said the present voters' roll should be audited to prevent electoral fraud.
"This confirms our view that the voters' roll is deeply flawed and is used to commit electoral fraud," he said.
"There has been political violence and intimidation but the manipulation of the voters' roll has been the most common instrument of vote-rigging."
While registered voters decreased in urban constituencies, they dramatically increased in rural provinces. The MDC won nearly all urban seats in 2000 and liquidated Zanu-PF. The ruling party was banished to the rural areas.
Manicaland, which is largely rural, has registered the highest increase of registered voters. It had 577 398 voters in 2000 but now has 684 155, an increase of 106 757. The province, which has 14 constituencies, might gain one seat.
Zanu-PF currently has six MPs. The MDC has seven and Zanu (Ndonga) has one. However, Zanu-PF is hoping to retain most of its former rural seats.
Mashonaland Central, Zanu-PF's purported stronghold, has gained significantly. It had 418 277 registered voters in 2000 but now has 490 222. Mashonaland East had 506 817 voters in 2000 and now has 605 390; Mashonaland West had 502 964 voters and now has 593 021.
Voters increased in Masvingo from 593 778 to 676 686, in Matabeleland North from 317 405 to 341 228, in Matabeleland South from 319 015 to 340 709 and in Midlands from 658 422 to 746 046.
This means that Matabeleland South might lose a seat, and Mashonaland West could gain one during the drawing up of constituency boundaries.
The MDC has also expressed concern about the composition of the Delimitation Commission, sworn in by President Robert Mugabe last month. It said the commission is dominated by Zanu-PF functionaries and could be used for gerrymandering.
"In these circumstances, I demand an immediate independent audit of the voters' roll to rectify the grave anomalies prior to the delimitation work," Tsvangirai said. "I have instructed my legal team to consider legal action on the issue." -- Zimbabwe Independent
Zim 'in better shape than many'
22 October 2004 13:05
Zimbabwe is still in better shape than many African countries, President Robert Mugabe has said.
Mugabe was quoted on state television meeting Victor Angelo, the head of the United Nations Development Programme office in Zimbabwe.
Angelo bade farewell to Mugabe late on Thursday after four years in the troubled Southern African country, during which he coordinated one of the largest international humanitarian aid operations to Zimbabwe in a decade.
Zimbabwe experienced acute food shortages between 2001 and last year, blamed on drought and a controversial land reform exercise that drove away thousands of large-scale, white commercial farmers from their land.
"There are obviously things that we must do, economic problems that confront us, but when I look at our position vis-à-vis the position of other African countries which have not had sanctions or any problems at all, we are way ahead of them," Mugabe said.
He commended Angelo, who has been accused by the state media of meddling in Zimbabwe's politics, taking sides with white farmers and exaggarating the country's humanitarian needs.
"Despite what some people are saying, after all has been said and done, we look at the totality of the work that has been done, it is quite positive," Mugabe said.
The Sunday Mail claimed last month that Angelo had been recalled because the UN was unhappy at the way he had "tarnished" the image of the world body in Zimbabwe.
Angelo, who has been promoted to UN assistant secretary general in charge of peacekeeping in Sierra Leone, said his major achievement during the four years in Harare was to secure aid at a time Zimbabwe was blacklisted by major international donors.
"The major achievement is that we managed to mobilise quite a large amount of financial resources at a time when the resources were not coming in the direction of Zimbabwe ... particularly the repsonse to the humanitarian situation," Angelo was quoted as saying on state television. -- Sapa-AFP
Little to celebrate in Zambia after 40 years independence
Dickson Jere | Lusaka
21 October 2004 12:27
Forty years after independence, Zambians are poorer, their country having missed an opportunity to boost its economy with its rich copper reserves.
When the southern African country broke free from British colonial rule in 1964, its economy was on a par with that of South Korea and ranked second to South Africa in the region.
"Zambia at independence represented one of Africa's best hopes," said Alexander Chikwanda, a former finance minister in the post-independence government.
While its economy was about the size of that of South Korea in the mid-60s, Zambia's GDP is now, at $4-billion, less than one percent of South Korea's output, said Chikwanda.
Zambia celebrates 40 years of independence on Sunday but with close to 64% of its 10-million people living on less than one dollar a day, there is little to cheer about in terms of economic gains.
"We are today poorer than we were at independence," says Gilbert Temba of the newly formed Citizen's Forum, which is trying to reverse the country's poverty trends.
"What is disturbing about the high levels of poverty, disease, hunger and general deprivation among our people is that they are not a result of lack of human and natural resources or civil wars, but rather of political and economic mismanagement," Temba says.
Zambia inherited a strong economy at independence although it was heavily dependent on mining as one of the world's leading copper producers.
The economy went into a tailspin in the mid-1970s following a sharp decline in copper prices, soaring oil prices and significant internal economic mismanagement, according to the World Bank.
Thinking that the downturn was temporary, Zambia borrowed heavily, sinking deeper and deeper into debt without embarking on any economic restructuring.
The country is now struggling to pay a staggering debt of about $6,5-billion dollars (5,3-billion euros) owed to various foreign creditors.
Social crisis has left an estimated 600 000 orphans -- mostly living on the streets -- without access to education and healthcare.
Zambia's economy needs to grow by at least five percent annually for it to be resuscitated, according to experts.
Finance Minister Ngandu Magande says the country is on track to reach that goal because it has consistently recorded four percent economic growth for the last five years.
"This is the longest period of sustained economic growth since independence," Magande says.
Zambia is working with the World Bank to try to diversify its economy from copper mining to agriculture and tourism.
"We have made significant gains from tourism and agriculture ever since we started the diversification of our economy," says Magande.
The government has also developed an ambitious programme dubbed "Vision 2025" aimed at setting long-term goals of taking Zambia back to the level it was in 1964. - Sapa-AFP
Landmark Zim bridge 'old and dangerous'
21 October 2004 11:40
The Victoria Falls bridge, one of Zimbabwe's most famous landmarks, is old and possibly dangerous, railway officials said on Thursday.
The bridge, which opened in 1905, was designed to last 100 years. Now officials say it carries 170% more weight than it was designed to carry 100 years ago, despite its age.
"There are excessive vibrations being felt whenever a heavy truck transverses the bridge," says an official railway report.
A National Railways of Zimbabwe official said a load limit of 30 tonnes is now being imposed -- for the first time in 15 years.
"A structural analysis of the bridge is currently under way on the basis of which action to either reconstruct or reinforce it will be taken."
The bridge, which spans the Zambezi gorge just below the world's mightiest waterfall, carries a railway line, a road and a footpath.
It is also a popular tourist venue and the sight of one of the world's highest bungee jumps.
The bridge carries heavy traffic between Zimbabwe and neighbouring Zambia. -- 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