- Malawi: Political Divisions Deepen
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
November 19, 2004
Posted to the web November 19, 2004
The fight against corruption led by President Bingu wa Mutharika is dividing the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), with some experts warning of a threat to Malawi's stability.
"The division within the UDF is causing a threat to our young democracy. The problem is that there are some big people in the party who think that we are still in the one-party system of government, where there is no separation of powers between the state and party," said Public Affairs Committee Chairman Father Boniface Tamani.
Tamani, whose religious organisation was highly critical of former president Bakili Muluzi's record on tackling graft, said, "any sensible Malawian will support the president on the stand he has taken to get rid of corrupt officials".
"The UDF accuse Bingu of not supporting the party [because of his anti-corruption drive, but] the president is just setting the record straight - he is distinguishing between state and party functions," Tamani added.
Muluzi, who handpicked Mutharika as the UDF's election candidate after his constitutionally limited two terms in office ended this year, has retained leadership of the UDF, which he helped to form.
Since Mutharika's May election victory, splits have emerged between Muluzi loyalists and their cabinet colleagues in Malawi's new broad-based government. At least five senior UDF figures are currently facing criminal charges, including former finance minister Friday Jumbe.
This week the bickering took a turn for the worse when UDF executive member Dumbo Lemani, together with John Chikakwiya, UDF governor for the Southern Region, alleged that the party had rigged the May elections that put Mutharika into power.
"Where were they all this time, to only now admit the results were rigged? These people are doing it for their own agenda," commented Tamani.
Political analyst Rafiq Hajat said, "We are at a crossroads. We are seeing a revolution based on parties, based on personality issues. When you personalise political issues, in the long run things disintegrate and this is what is happening in Malawi."
In an initiative to heal the divisions in the party, government spokesperson Ken Lipenga confirmed that Mutharika had written to Muluzi proposing a committee to sort out their differences. Muluzi, according to Lipenga, has accepted the proposal.
The UDF has been in power since multiparty elections were first held in 1994, after three decades of authoritarian rule under Hastings Kamazu Banda and his Malawi Congress Party.
Malawi: 'Price Famine' Looming, Warns Report
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
November 19, 2004
Posted to the web November 19, 2004
Malawi could be facing a "price famine" due to the impact of rising commodity prices on its vulnerable population, according to a report by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).
The report noted that "the last agricultural season's [production] shortfall will mean that more households than normal are dependent on purchasing food for a longer period of time"
But incomes have fallen due to last year's poor harvest, not only reducing household ability to purchase food, but also the ability of wealthier farmers to hire seasonal labour known as 'ganyu'. Seasonal labour "is an important source of income, especially for poor households, and increasingly for middle-income households".
Ganyu labourers are paid either in cash or food, or both.
Given "increased labour supplies and reduced effective demand, ganyu rates are likely to diminish over coming months, diminishing income opportunities for poorer and middle households. In light of this income problem, staple food prices are an even more important determinant of household access to food," FEWS NET explained.
ECHOES OF 2001
In 2001/02 more than 3 million Malawians needed food aid. Although observers blamed the crisis on two years of severe drought, the government also came under fire for selling off most of its emergency grain stock.
FEWS NET warned that the "situation this year could be described as more risky than in 2001, in the sense that the [state grain marketer] ADMARC price has been [increased], at a time when the local market maize prices are already higher than during the adjustment in August 2001".
The government has announced a 70 percent increase in ADMARC's maize price from Malawian Kwacha (MK) 10.00 (around US $0.09) per kilogram to MK 17.00 (about US $0.16) per kilogram.
"This kind of price hike is reminiscent of 2001, when a similar announcement triggered price hikes in the local markets that led to the 'price famine' of that year in Malawi, [as it is] referred to by many analysts. In 2001, the maize price increased by 240 percent in August ... to MK 17.00 per kilogram," FEWS NET said, warning that "we may see a repeat of the 2001 situation or even worse".
FEWS NET also criticised the timing of the ADMARC price adjustment.
"The ADMARC price has been adjusted upwards when most of the rural households depend on purchases, and it gets lowered when most of the farmers are selling their crop," the organisation said. "The problem ... [is] that the ADMARC consumer price ... is used as a bargaining tool by private traders [who] take advantage of the government-fixed high price to charge even higher prices for their maize."
A continued rise in prices may result in an increased number of people needing food aid.
Earlier this year the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee projected two possible scenarios regarding the impact maize prices could have on food security.
In the first scenario, maize prices were projected to peak between MK 20 per kilogram and MK 23 per kilogram, with in 1.3 million households needing food aid, FEWS NET said.
In the second scenario, maize prices were projected to range between MK 25 per kilogram and MK 29 per kilogram. "This would result in the worst-case scenario of 1.7 million households requiring food aid," FEWS NET noted.
The World Food Programme spokesman in Lilongwe, Antonella D'Aprille, told IRIN that between January and March 2005, WFP aimed to reach 1.1 million people through targeted food distributions, food-for-work activities and therapeutic feeding programmes.
Zim, Malawi Set to Sign Agreements
The Herald (Harare)
November 19, 2004
Posted to the web November 19, 2004
ZIMBABWE and Malawi are set to sign bilateral agreements that would promote trade and boost exports between the two countries.
Speaking at the Harare Chamber of Commerce annual dinner to honour businesspersons and companies that excelled during the year this week, Acting Malawian Ambassador Mr Bilisoni Itaye said Malawi and Zimbabwe have a very good relationship, which has a long history.
He said such a relationship should not be ruined but instead should be strengthened by signing bilateral issues that benefit both countries.
"We have signed a number of instruments with the Zimbabwean government. We are discussing on signing other agreements that would avoid high taxes."
"We are armed with a purpose to make our countries prosper. We have seen Malawi exporters benefiting from the auction system in Zimbabwe. I congratulate the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) for all their efforts to restore sanity in Zimbabwe's economic sector, which is also good news to Malawi," said Ambassador Itaye.
Mr Itaye, however, could not say when the bilateral agreements in question would be signed. He encouraged the business community to take advantage of existing trade between the two countries.
The latest signing between the two countries was made during the first week of November. The two countries signed a bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement to promote trade relations.
In July, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding as a result of a very strong relationship that has developed between these two countries.
"Business should explore such opportunities. I invite Zimbabwe to produce for the export market, Malawi would also do the same," said Mr Itaye.
Early this month, the Reserve Bank authorised allocation of foreign currency to settle outstanding payments to Malawian exporters. This followed a joint trade and customs committee meeting held between Zimbabwe and an eleven-man delegation from Malawi led by the country's Minister of Trade and Private sector Development Mrs Eunice Kazembe.
Zimbabwe and Malawi have since agreed to designate, cooking oil, eggs, chicken and granulated brown and white sugar as sensitive products. This was done to allow Malawian industries to build competitive capacity in these sectors.
The meeting resolved that instead of exporting finished products to Malawi in these sectors, Zimbabwe would export requisite raw materials in line with developmental dimensions that the two countries have agreed to embrace. Cement and dairy products were also designated as sensitive products
Meanwhile, Kingdom Financial Holdings was honoured for being the company with the best social responsibility programmes.
Zimbabwe Diamond was crowned the exporter of the year. Stanbic managing director Mrs Pindi Nyandoro and Lobels Bread managing director Burombo Mudumo won the business woman and business man of the year awards respectively.
Zimbabwe needs a 'regime change'
Michelle Hoffman | London
22 November 2004 11:02
Zimbabwe's main opposition leader took his campaign against President Robert Mugabe to Britain on Sunday, rallying expatriates and declaring their destitute southern African country ready for "regime change".
"We want regime change in Zimbabwe. But we want regime change by through the ballot, not the bullet," said Morgan Tsvangirai, the head of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
"They may beat us, they may kill us, they may burn our houses... [but] they can not take our independence away from us. The struggle we are waging against the regime... it's a justified struggle," he told a packed audience in the British capital.
Tsvangirai kicked off a European tour last week, the second foreign trip he has made since being acquitted of treason charges and his passport was returned to him one month ago.
Mugabe's regime has already warned the 52-year-old, a former weaver turned union leader and then politician, that he should not return to Zimbabwe if he has been calling on Western governments to keep up sanctions against the state.
"That would make him the state's enemy number one, and I don't think he would want to come back to the country," Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said on Wednesday after Tsvangirai's stopover in Sweden.
But in London the political rival to Mugabe sounded a defiant note, shouting "No apologies to Chinamasa!"
"I will be back home. It [Zimbabwe] is not the private property of Robert Mugabe," he added, to huge cheers from the crowd.
He brushed aside claims from Mugabe's camp that he was a "puppet" of former colonial power Britain, saying Zimbabwe's crisis was the making of the 80-year-old Mugabe, who led the country to independence in 1980 and has hung clung to power since.
"It is not a creation of [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair, it is not a creation of [US President George] Bush," he said, adding that accusations of his collusion with Western powers were signs of Mugabe's own guilt.
"They have to say it. They have nothing to offer the people of Zimbabwe. They've destroyed all we entrusted them with.... Zimbabwe has gone from a breadbasket to a basketcase."
European Union sanctions on Zimbabwe include a travel ban on Mugabe and his close associates, as well as a freeze on his EU-based assets.
A former agricultural exporter for the region, Zimbabwe's once-model economy has crashed, leading to spiralling inflation now topping 300%, with 70% unemployed according to official statistics and 80% of the population living below the poverty line.
Tsvangirai, who visited South Africa and several other African states on his first foreign trip following his acquittal last month, said regional leaders had come to a "sudden realisation" that Mugabe's regime had created the "crisis of starvation" there.
"If Africa is to regain its credibility, they had better start solving some of the national crises we face. Zimbabwe is certainly one of them," he said, indicating conflicts in Côte d'Ivoire and Sudan's Darfur region were others.
The MDC has boycotted all by-elections in Zimbabwe in a bid to pressure the government into passing electoral reforms ahead of polls next March.
In 2002, Tsvangirai, former Secretary General of the powerful Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, lost the presidential election to Mugabe. The election was deemed unfair by international rights groups, and the MDC is challenging the outcome in court.
Zimbabwe's Parliament is currently considering new legislation which would create an independent electoral commission and other changes in the election system.
MDC Secretary General Welshman Ncube called the current situation "wholly unacceptable", saying before the election commission had even been formed the registrar had already reapportioned voting districts based on "highly, highly flawed" voter rolls, and had taken three seats away from MDC-loyal constituencies.
"The election is already in the process of being rigged as we speak," he told the London audience.
The MDC leaders are expected to remain in Britain until Tuesday, before moving on to Germany, France and other Western European states. * Sapa-AFP
China raises stakes in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe's national airline is to start flying to the Chinese capital Beijing twice a week.
The plan, announced by Chinese media, comes as China is upping its influence in Zimbabwe's battered economy.
The latest stage of a long-standing relationship has seen floods of cheap goods imported from China, and big construction deals go to Chinese firms.
China is also ramping up its presence elsewhere in Africa, from construction in Botswana to oil in Sudan.
Air Zimbabwe is thought to have only two working long-haul aircraft, although it expects another two from China thanks to a deal signed earlier this year.
The Beijing flights will help service China's extensive investments in Zimbabwe, estimated by Zimbabwe's government to be worth US$600m but by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to be much higher.
China's relationship with Zimbabwe dates back to the liberation struggle of the 1970s, when troops were trained by Chinese advisers - as well as those from North Korea and elsewhere.
Once independence came in 1980, China continued a small but reliable economic interest in the country.
As aid dried up in the 1990s, the Chinese extended assistance, as well as funding military improvements.
But with Zimbabwe's economic isolation of the past four years - and its spiralling troubles, including 700% inflation and 70% unemployment - the relationship has strengthened.
As many as 9,000 Chinese are believed to be in Zimbabwe working on a wide range of projects.
In construction, the Chinese are understood to be working on hydro-electric and coal power stations, bridges, airports, and the reconstruction of Zimbabwe's most important border post at Beit Bridge with South Africa.
A Chinese consortium also has a management contract with Zisco, the state steel firm, while technology firm Huawei has a $440m contract to supply telecoms equipment.
In addition, the Zimbabwe government confirmed earlier this year it was buying $200m of military equipment from China - although a spokesman later denied it.
Zimbabwe's mineral wealth, which includes platinum, gold and diamonds, may also be a cause of China's heightened interest.
Chinese interests have become a staple feature of the burgeoning African oil industry.
In Sudan, the China National Petroleum Corporation owns 40% of the Greater Nile crude project, as well as signing long-term contracts with Nigeria and Angola.
In all, China-Africa trade is expected to top $20bn in 2004.
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