- Malawi's president could face impeachment
22 March 2005 01:13
A group of lawmakers in Malawi plan to launch a bid to impeach President Bingu wa Mutharika later this month, alleging that he violated the Constitution, a party spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Discussions to impeach the president were held last weekend at the residence of former president and United Democratic Front (UDF) leader Bakili Muluzi, who is engaged in an open feud with Mutharika.
More than 40 lawmakers in the 193-seat Parliament attended the meeting, according to UDF spokesperson Sam Mpasu.
"We have so far identified 10 violation areas" of the Constitution, said Mpasu.
Mpasu said Mutharika had violated the Constitution when he set up a $100-million loan fund for poor Malawians without parliamentary approval. The fund, whose contributors have never been disclosed, was one of the pillars of Mutharika's campaign during the 2004 presidential election in which he controversially won on the ticket of the UDF.
In a bitter dispute with Muluzi, Mutharika quit the UDF and cited political interference by the former president, who still wields a lot of power in the party.
Other violations that Mutharika is accused of include the appointment of a police chief without parliamentary approval.
Muluzi's party is also in talks with the main opposition party, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), to support the call for impeachment.
Mutharika, who is planning to launch a new political party, was quoted as telling local radio: "I don't think it is fair for the opposition to be planning to impeach me just because I want to give people loans.
"You can go to hell if you think I will stop to give my people loans," he said.
But the president won backing from Attorney General Raphael Kasambara who said "there is no evidence of serious allegations that the president violated the constitution". - Sapa-AFP
'Great voter apathy' in Zimbabwe
Ellen Hollemans and Sapa-AP | Johannesburg, South Africa
22 March 2005 01:45
South African civil society groups came back from Zimbabwe disillusioned about the state of democracy in the country, they said on Tuesday.
After meeting more than 20 organisations and attending public meetings and rallies, the six-member delegation decided that "only the most optimistic MDC [opposition Movement for Democratic Change] politicians" could hope for political change through free and fair elections, a statement from the group said.
At a press briefing in Johannesburg, Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) member Nicolas Dieltiens described some of the tactics the ruling Zanu-PF party is using to ensure that it remains in power after March 31.
These include: no voter education by anyone except the government-dominated electoral commission; only a handful of international observers; only announcing the approved Zimbabwean observers two days before the elections; and prevention of access to the voters' roll, which is rumoured to be highly inflated.
"There is an expectation of violence among the electorate. This expectation, together with the lack of confidence in the display of free election campaigning and experiences of previous elections lead to great voter apathy," said Dieltiens.
"This apathy would suggest that people would rather not vote than participate in elections they know will be undemocratic. The consensus emerging from our respondents was that the ruling party had only diverted its electoral strategy from violent intent to one in favour of more discreet coercion and manipulation of results," the delegation said in its report.
According to the delegation, the election campaign in the country cannot be described as democratic, because of the repressive laws in place in Zimbabwe.
These laws include the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the NGO Bill that is still pending.
"Under Posa, any meeting of three or more individuals that could feature discussion of a political nature cannot take place without the prior approval of the police within four days of the meeting," the delegation states.
According to the delegates, the AIPPA has resulted in the disappearance of an independent press in Zimbabwe.
"The only daily papers available in the country are government mouthpieces. Only one independent weekly newspaper remains."
"The voters' roll is inaccessible, not only to NGOs but also for participants in the elections," said Daniel Molokele of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.
"There are rumoured to be 800 000 to one million dead people on the voters' roll and these dead people will actually vote. Someone will make sure that all these names vote for Zanu-PF."
The group took a "strategic decision" not to meet any Zanu-PF representatives after the way a delegation from the Congress of South African Trade Unions was treated last month when it tried to enter the country, said Laurence Ntuli, also from the APF.
The group was invited by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and involved the APF, the Landless People's Movement and Jubilee South Africa.
Meanwhile, the planned visit by two United States congressional officials to assess plans for the election will be treated as "routine", despite Harare's refusal to accept US vote observers, the foreign affairs ministry said.
"We will obviously not take them as election observers since their country is not on the list of invited foreign observers," foreign affairs ministry spokesperson Parvelyn Musaka was quoted as saying in the state-run daily The Herald.
"Theirs would be taken as just a routine one since they have already been here" assessing the election climate," she said. "Zimbabwe and the US have not severed ties despite the strained relationship ..."
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has branded Zimbabwe one of the world's "outposts of tyranny".
Observers from the US, European Union and Commonwealth are among those not invited for the March 31 parliamentary elections, after condemning previous polls in 2000 and 2002.
A statement from the US embassy said Pearl-Alice March and Malik Chaka, who arrived on Sunday for a five-day visit, are responsible for advising the US House of Representatives International Relations Committee on African issues, and will be "assessing the status of the upcoming Zimbabwe election, current economic and health conditions as well as important bilateral issues between the US and Zimbabwe".
They plan to meet members of the government, Mugabe's Zanu-PF party and Morgan Tsvangirai's opposition MDC, said the statement.
A glimpse of normality
21 March 2005 01:59
Tsholotsho has become a symbolic battleground in the Zimbabwean elections with the ruling Zanu-PF, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and independent candidate Jonathan Moyo, former information minister, vying for the parliamentary seat in the March poll.
This otherwise sleepy town, 110km from Bulawayo, has impacted like no other on the country's political landscape. Tsholotsho was the location of a controversial meeting last November of the camp that supported Speaker of Parliament Emmerson Mnangagwa's failed bid for the Zanu-PF vice-presidency.
Six provincial chairpersons were suspended for attending the gathering, and Moyo, the town's favourite son, fell from Zanu-PF grace.
Tsholotsho's 45 000 registered voters, like others who hail from Matebeleland, traditionally support the opposition.
"They practise tactical voting," an NGO worker who preferred to remain anonymous told the Mail & Guardian. "They go for parties or candidates that will deliver. They are naturally hostile to Zanu-PF, but if you demonstrate you can bring development, you will get the nod.
"This time independent candidates have mushroomed. It will be important to see how they fare. If they win, the people will be slowly registering a protest vote against the opposition, which has to pull up its socks if it is to pose a serious challenge."
Tsholotsho bucks the trend of political intolerance that pervades the rest of the country, where interparty violence claimed about 200 lives during the 2000 parliamentary election campaign.
Beer halls and shops carry campaign posters of the ruling party and the opposition, and party supporters can don their colours without fear of reprisals.
"There is nothing to fear here," says Kimpton Sibanda of the MDC. "There hasn't been a single drop of blood that's been shed."
Cephas Ncube, a Zanu-PF supporter, says, "We are all relatives. There's no point fighting each other."
Mtoloki Sibanda is the MDC candidate and Musa Mathema represents the ruling party's effort to wrestle the seat from the opposition.
Despite his lack of party backing, Moyo remains popular in the area and is credited with establishing a grain marketing board depot, installing tower lights and setting up a football team, Tsholotsho Pirates FC.
The opposition has significant influence in the surrounding rural villages, however, where people bore the brunt of the violence in the 1980s when President Robert Mugabe unleashed the Korean-trained 5th brigade to quell "insurgents", killing at least 20 000 people. And this could prove to be Moyo's undoing * his allegiance to Mugabe. People in Matebeleland defected from Zanu-PF en masse after the death of Matebeleland father figure Joshua Nkomo.
Last Saturday, a defiant black bull with a wrinkled neck emerged and stood motionless under a tree, as the MDC candidate took to the podium. "It shows the ancestors approve off what we are doing," said Sibanda. "We are winning this constituency; what this bull has done is rare."
Still, it is the Moyo name that is most closely associated with the area.
Residents describe Moyo as the man who introduced the locals to cellphones.
"If you walk around the market place, you will find street kids talking on the cellphones," said a
resident who gave his name only as George. "If you go to Bulawayo, there are businessmen without cellphones. If Moyo is a thief, then he is a good thief because he shares his money with others. He is not stingy like those in Zanu-PF."
But even though the ruling party's campaign in the area has been fairly low-key, Tsholotsho registered the highest number of votes for Mugabe of the 21 Matabeleland provinces in the 2002 presidential race. Opponents dispute this statistic, charging irregularities, and claim that in a free and fair election, neither Moyo nor a Zanu-PF candidate would retain a seat anywhere in Matabeleland.
Vehicles with Gauteng number plates have become a status symbol and outnumber local cars. Hundreds of school dropouts jump the border in search of greener pastures in South Africa. Marriages have broken down as a result of the great trek south. Aids statistics have soared.
"There are simply no employment opportunities for [the youth] here," says Gibson Mathe, a trader at Tsholotsho business centre. "It is just a dry region only suitable for ranching, and we can't all be on the farms."
Nevertheless, Tsholotsho is full of life every evening * because of the tower lights. "That explains why Moyo is popular. Almost everyone adores him," says resident Patrick Mathuthu.
In Tsholotsho, Moyo glows as he struts around in his cowboy hat and campaign T-shirt. After addressing a meeting of his party supporters last Friday, he addressed journalists in the backroom of a bar. He avoided taking a swipe at Mugabe, whom he lists in his manifesto as one of Zimbabwe's five heroes, but he laid into Zanu-PF.
Moyo's performance will be a key indicator to understanding the psyche of the people of Matabeleland.
Tanzanians helping save turtles
By Tira Shubart
BBC News, Tanzania
Turtle-based tourism in Tanzania has been given a boost by a successful community-based conservation programme.
Turtles are endangered worldwide, but the five species of turtles found along the Tanzania coastline are now increasing in numbers.
An intensive education and awareness programme has enlisted local fishermen and villagers in the conservation programme.
Turtle nests are now protected and monitored in many parts of Tanzania.
The longest and best documented programme is on Mafia Island, recognised as a regionally important nesting ground for Green and Hawksbill turtles.
Communities living near traditional turtle nesting areas now record and protect turtle nests through local village monitors. The villagers are paid around $10 for each nest they discover and guard.
Village monitor Omari Abdulla is enthusiastic about his responsibilities.
During the nesting season he visits beaches where turtles have come to dig a nest and lay their eggs.
Once a nest is spotted, Mr Abdulla records its location, the number of eggs and ensured it is protected.
"We find tracks and then find the nest. When the turtles are coming out, we tell all the villagers and school children. It's about involving the whole community. And we see the numbers of turtles increasing."
Initiated in January 2001, the number of recorded nests on Mafia Island has more than doubled from 68 to more than 150 a year. And at least 30,000 successful hatchlings have been counted.
Poaching of turtles, once valued as a delicacy, has fallen by 90% on the island since the start of the turtle awareness programme.
Catharine Muir, Coordinator of the Tanzania Turtle & Dugong Conservation Programme, has seen dramatic changes over the years.
"When I first came to Mafia Island 10 years ago all one would see scattered along the beaches were turtle skulls, shells and meat. It was a really sad sight, a turtle mortuary," she said.
Fishermen are now encouraged to surrender the live turtle accidentally caught in nets. And they assist with the tagging and releasing of turtles for future records on migratory patterns.
School children living near marine reserves have joined in the conservation programme. Schools have participated in painting competitions to show turtles in their natural habitat.
And teachers take students on field trips to see turtle hatchlings scramble from their nests to the sea.
Identical programmes have been initiated in three other traditional nesting areas along Tanzania's 900 km coastline.
There are two large marine parks and a number of marine reserves in Tanzania which were established to encourage conservation measures to benefit both fishermen and marine resources.
In some coastal areas, new economic activities such as seaweed farming and handicrafts have been introduced to provide alternative income for fishing communities.
The marine conservation programmes have also benefited the critically endangered dugong, also known as the sea cow.
Dugongs were the basis of the mermaid myth in many seagoing societies, including Tanzania.
In Greek mythology mermaids were known as beautiful sirens that lured sailors to a shipwreck death with their sweet songs.
In fact dugongs are placid marine mammals which can grow to 3.5 meters long and feed on sea grass. Dugongs were thought to have become extinct in Tanzania, hunted for their meat and caught accidentally in fishing nets.
Now two small colonies of the mammals have been discovered along the 900 km Tanzanian coastline and they have been adopted as a flagship species.
When local fishermen spot dugongs, they now report sightings to local conservation officials.
Turtle-based tourism and ecotourism are expected to benefit from the conservation programme.
The biodiversity of the tropical coral reefs, home to 25% of all species in the ocean, profits from a healthy population of turtles.
For scuba divers and snorkelers, turtles are one of the most beloved marine animals.
As sightings of turtles become increasingly common, conservationists are hopeful that the turtle population may gain a strong hold in Tanzania.
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