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  • Christine Chumbler
    [Apologies for the spam joke sent to the ujeni. I was as surprised as anyone to see that I had sent that out. Grr.] Malawi: Girls Clubs Spearhead Gender
    Message 1 of 1046 , Nov 1, 2004
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      [Apologies for the spam "joke" sent to the ujeni. I was as surprised as
      anyone to see that I had sent that out. Grr.]

      Malawi: Girls Clubs Spearhead Gender Equality

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      October 29, 2004
      Posted to the web October 29, 2004

      Llongwe

      When 20-year-old Maureen Kumwenda formed an all-girls club in the local
      township of Area 18 in Malawi's capital, Lilongwe, she faced a lot of
      resistance from her community.

      She was accused of being a "prostitute" and spreading HIV/AIDS because
      the club provided information on the disease and sexual reproductive
      health.

      "People used to complain and try to discourage us; parents would not
      allow their children to become involved," she told PlusNews.

      In Malawi's patriarchal society, "girls face more issues than boys,"
      admitted Wilfred Lichapa, an official in the ministry of youth.

      Young women are expected to marry as early as 14 years of age,
      particularly in rural areas, and most school dropouts in the country are
      girls.

      They are also encouraged to be submissive. "When they try to be
      assertive, they are asked, 'why are you trying to be a boy?'" Lichapa
      added.

      To make matters worse, their biological make-up makes young women
      particularly vulnerable to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

      These factors, combined with low participation in "youth development
      efforts", such as clubs and peer education campaigns, prompted the UN
      Population Fund (UNFPA) and the youth ministry to target girls as part
      of the Southern African Youth (SAY) initiative funded by the United
      Nations Foundation, which sponsors youth projects in seven AIDS-affected
      countries in southern Africa.

      Under the SAY project, girls are provided with vocational training in
      sewing, knitting, electronics and computers as well as support to form
      clubs, like the Area 18 All Girls Alliance (AGA) founded by Maureen and
      her friends. Youth-friendly clinics offering family planning and
      counselling are also part of the project.

      Like many young girls in the country, Maureen did not have enough money
      to complete her schooling. She lives with her older sister, a retired
      civil servant who is the sole breadwinner in a family of 10.

      But she recently completed her certificate course in information
      technology, and hopes to open a small workshop fixing computers to help
      her sister and relatives.

      This might be difficult as her course was largely theoretical. To
      practice on a computer, Maureen would have to travel to the ministry of
      youth offices in town and request the use of their equipment.

      Molophy Nkhwezule has been more fortunate. After her vocational
      training in knitting ended earlier this year she bought the knitting
      machine she used during training and has established her own business,
      which she runs from the porch of her parent's house. She uses her
      earnings to help her parents pay for her siblings' school fees.

      Nkhwezule is also a founding member of an AIDS TOTO (Say No to AIDS)
      club in her community and conducts awareness campaigns encouraging young
      girls to "stand on their own and not expect men to always give them
      things."

      Back at Area 18 all girls' club, Maureen agreed. "With these skills, a
      girl can do something - now we can be more assertive; now people will
      take us seriously and realise that 'no' means 'no!'"

      The club promotes abstinence and does not distribute condoms. "If a
      girl has made a mistake of having sex, we tell her she can have what is
      called a second virginity," she added.

      Although there are only 23 registered members, the club meets three
      times a week at the local health centre, has regular visitors and
      conducts outreach activities in neighbouring communities.

      It is Monday afternoon and the girls are at the centre, preparing to
      visit Ngoma township. A group of young men are sitting at the other end
      of the shady waiting area, and are soon joined by a small crowd of both
      men and women.

      This is the Area 18 Youth Attention group, but the inequality between
      the sexes, with the young men dominating the group and dictating the
      group's activities, is what Maureen and the rest of the members of the
      all girls' club are trying to avoid.

      Gift Njoloma, chairman of the mixed group, acknowledges the
      inequalities, but argues that girls-only clubs would achieve limited
      success.

      "They cannot afford to sideline guys - it is difficult to influence
      change without the involvement of men," he warned.

      UNFPA Programme Officer Perneline Dahl admitted that "the relationship
      between boys and girls still needs to be looked at [in the project]".
      Nevertheless, the role of young men had been emphasised during
      awareness-raising efforts in the community, said Lichapa.

      Meanwhile, the skills the young girls are acquiring will go a long way
      towards challenging the country's prevailing stereotypes of women, and
      perhaps give them some confidence in their ability to act independently
      of men.

      Apart from the obvious economic benefits, the project "affects and
      influences their whole lives and spills over to sex," said Dahl. "These
      girls are now empowered and know their worth."

      *****

      Malawi: Senior UN Official Assess Government Aids Drug Roll Out

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      October 29, 2004
      Posted to the web October 29, 2004

      Johannesburg

      The UN special envoy for AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, began a tour of
      Malawi this week to assess the government's rollout of free anti-AIDS
      drugs.

      Agence France Presse quoted Mary Shaba, the permanent secretary for
      nutrition and HIV/AIDS in the health ministry, as saying: "The visit
      will help us scale up the antiretroviral treatment, because the
      programme is lacking drugs and we have shortages of personnel,
      especially nurses."

      Since its launch earlier this year, the programme has reached 8,000
      people and aims to treat 40,000 by 2005.

      The Global AIDS Fund has pledged US $3 million to boost the treatment
      plan.

      *****

      Malawi: Ex-Minister Arrested Over Sale of State Grain

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      October 28, 2004
      Posted to the web October 28, 2004

      Lilongwe

      In an ongoing crackdown on corruption, Friday Jumbe, Malawi's former
      finance minister, was arrested on Wednesday in connection with the sale
      of maize from the country's strategic grain reserves during widespread
      food shortages.

      Jumbe was arrested at Blantyre's Chileka airport, where he was due to
      board a flight to South Africa. He has become the fifth senior member of
      the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) to be arrested in new President
      Bingu wa Mutharika's anti-corruption crusade.

      Both the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the police confirmed
      the arrest. Authorities said Jumbe, who is currently a member of
      parliament, was arrested in connection with the alleged mismanagement of
      state grain marketer ADMARC, during his tenure as general manager.

      Almost 160,000 mt of grain were sold from the strategic grain reserves
      in August 2000, of which 60,000 mt were exported to Kenya, at a time
      when it was becoming clear that Malawi would suffer serious food
      shortages due to drought.

      In 2001/02 more than 3 million Malawians needed food aid. Although
      observers blamed the food crisis on two years of severe drought, the
      government also came under fire for selling off most of its emergency
      grain stock.

      In August a presidential commission of inquiry, established by former
      president Bakili Muluzi, presented its report to Mutharika.

      The commission's brief was to "inquire into the management and or the
      alleged mismanagement of the Strategic Grain Reserves (SGRs) in the
      1999/2000 season, and the construction of [Jumbe's] Superior Hotel in
      Blantyre".

      It is alleged that Jumbe profited illegally from the sale of the
      reserve grain and used these funds to build a hotel. Jumbe has denied
      these charges. "I am innocent and my conscience is clear," he said.

      During the inquiry Jumbe claimed that he built the hotel using bank
      loans. However, the commission said it could not find evidence to back
      his claim and the case was handed over to the DPP.

      Authorities would not confirm what charges Jumbe would face when he
      appeared in court.


      *****

      Mozambican youth pool their resources

      01 November 2004 09:53

      advertisementMozambique's central province of Zambezia boasts rolling
      tea estates, vast coconut plantations, cashew farms and one of Africa's
      few good river ports, yet it has one of the country's worst social and
      economic indicators.

      In a province once dubbed the breadbasket of the country, most of the
      3,4-million inhabitants live in abject poverty, eking out an existence
      through subsistence agriculture or working in informal markets.

      The National Institute of Statistics found that in 2001 three-quarters
      of the population lived an hour's walk from the nearest health unit; the
      majority of families had no access to piped water, toilets or
      electricity; and very few people completed primary school -- many
      adolescents, especially girls, dropped out because of early marriages
      and pregnancies.

      Today, HIV/Aids is having a devastating impact on this already fragile
      province. There are few testing facilities and the provincial capital
      has recorded one of the country's highest prevalence rates, with 25% of
      pregnant women HIV positive.

      In 1999 the United Nations launched a joint UN project to support the
      provincial HIV/Aids operational plan, the first project of its kind
      involving agencies such as the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) UN Children's
      Fund (UNicef) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The initiative is
      supported by the UN Foundation.

      A key challenge is to address HIV/Aids activities in the context of
      widespread poverty. UNDP, through implementing partner NGO Care
      International, this year supported a microfinance project.

      Twenty-two-year-old Albano Joao is one of the beneficiaries. He is
      among a group of six young men, all involved in different occupations,
      who have learned how to pool their resources, save and provide loans to
      individual members.

      Each member contributes 50 000 meticais (about $2) every two weeks to a
      savings fund. At the end of two months, the group has enough to lend one
      member 1-million meticais (about $49) and put aside another 200 000
      meticais ($9,78) for emergencies.

      Joao borrowed a million meticais earlier this year and, like all the
      other members, managed to pay back his loan within 30 days.

      He was able to kick-start his business by buying maize wholesale from
      the central town of Mocuba and selling it for a small profit in his
      local seaside village of Supinho, in Nicoadala district. He now makes
      the trip to Mocuba four times a month and hopes to build on his recent
      success.

      "At the moment, with the small profit I make I'm just able to feed me
      and my wife, but not much more. It is better than before the project, as
      then I was never sure whether I would have enough money to eat that
      day," said Joao.

      During training workshops and regular visits, Care officials also take
      the opportunity to educate project members about HIV/Aids.

      "I don't know too much about Aids," says Joao. "But I know that it is
      important to use condoms, and you must only use them one time and then
      throw [them] away."

      So far the microfinance project has 1 600 beneficiaries in 277 groups.

      Care International also conducts training in book keeping and managing
      group conflict, said Angelo Amano, the coordinator of the project. Less
      than five percent of loans have not been paid back within the 30-day
      period.

      Amano argues that the project is more sustainable than micro-credit
      projects, in which international NGOs simply lend beneficiaries money.

      "This project empowers the group members. We are just facilitating,
      whereas the community itself is assuming ownership of the project." -
      Irin

      *****

      Zimbabwe MP to contest jail term

      A Zimbabwean opposition MP who was jailed for assaulting a minister in
      parliament is to seek a legal review of his one-year sentence, his
      lawyer said.
      The sentence against Roy Bennett was decided by a parliamentary vote.
      He later apologised to fellow MPs.

      His lawyer said the vote had gone along party lines and so was unfair.


      Bennett attacked Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa in May, after the
      minister said his ancestors were thieves and murderers.

      "If the High Court judge agrees that there was bias... then the court
      can re-constitute its own sentence, what it considers as just and fair,"
      said lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa.

      Two opposition MPs burst into tears as Bennett was led away to start
      his one-year sentence with hard labour on Thursday.

      He was arrested in the morning trying to leave the country before the
      hearing.

      'Attack on dignity'

      Bennett, one of three white MPs said he reacted to racist abuse.

      But Paul Mangwana, who headed the parliamentary committee investigating
      the scuffle, said Mr Bennett - a member of the opposition Movement for
      Democratic Change - had committed "the worst attack on the dignity of
      the parliament."

      "The majority (of the committee) voted for a custodial sentence of 15
      months, with three months suspended on condition of good behaviour," he
      said.

      "The sentence should send a clear message that parliament should not be
      used as a boxing arena," he added.

      Parliament voted on the committee's recommendation on Thursday, and
      passed it by 53 votes to 42.

      Bennett stared ahead as he heard the verdict, apparently stunned.

      Apology

      Under Zimbabwean law, parliament has the authority to impose prison
      sentences on MPs.

      But the opposition said it was the first time it had ever done so.

      Bennett was arrested on Thursday morning as he tried to catch a flight
      to South Africa.

      But his lawyer Arnold Tsunga denied that he was trying to flee the
      country.

      "He was going to South Africa for a meeting. He was supposed to be back
      at 1300 [1100 GMT]," he told the AFP news agency.

      "If he wanted to run away, he would have run away a long time ago," he
      said.


      After parliament voted to send him to jail, Bennett was brought into
      the chamber, where he delivered a 35-minute speech.

      "I'm extremely sorry for the disturbances that I caused to this house.
      I apologise to you Mr Speaker, I apologise to Honourable Chinamasa," he
      said.

      His farm in the eastern district of Chimanimani has been occupied by
      ruling party militants. Two of his workers have been killed and many
      beaten and raped.

      He had to go into hiding after the parliamentary brawl, as ruling party
      militants marched through the streets of the capital, Harare.
    • 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, 2006
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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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