- Zambia-Malawi Border Demarcation is Not for Antagonism - Mkondiwa
The Post (Lusaka)
May 18, 2005
Posted to the web May 18, 2005
THE demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border is not meant to bring antagonism and displacement, Malawi's Secretary for Lands, Housing and Survey George Mkondiwa has observed.
And lands minister Judith Kapijimpanga said demarcation was important to enhance security and better governance of the two countries.
In an interview after the official opening of the joint committee of officials on the Zambia-Malawi border yesterday, Mkondiwa said the demarcation was meant to bring order to the border.
"The intention is not to cause displacement and antagonism but to ensure we have a line that people will respect," Mkondiwa said.
He said it was important that people were identified because people along the border in the two countries had resorted to encroachment.
"Others would come and cultivate here in Zambia and people on the other side would say that is Malawian soil, and others would say the national park is ours and there were a lot of accusations of people poaching from the national parks, mining illegally and all that," he said.
Mkondiwa expressed optimism that the demarcation would be complete in two years with the support of collaborators and donors. He said the Malawian government had made headway in seeking financial assistance from Britain.
Mkondiwa said 200 kilometres had been demarcated, which left 604 kilometres to be assigned.
He said Malawi had released 90 million Malawian kwacha (approximately K3.8 billion) for the exercise in the country's budget, an increase from last year's budget of 25 million (approximately K1 billion).
Mkondiwa observed that sensitisation of the people along the border to the issue was vital to make them understand the essence of demarcation.
"In some instances the border is cutting across the whole village but we have set out how this will be managed," Mkondiwa said.
And lands minister Kapijimpanga has re-emphasised the need to complete the demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border despite financial constraints.
Officially opening the Zambia-Malawi border demarcation meeting, Kapijimpanga said this would greatly assist law enforcement agencies in their operations and promote better governance.
She said the purpose of the meeting between officials from the two countries was to review and approve joint sensitisation materials, which have been pre-tested by a joint survey team.
Mugabe rejects notorious NGO Bill
19 May 2005 11:44
advertisementPresident Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has refused to sign a controversial new law that would have barred foreign rights groups from operating in the country, a newspaper said on Thursday.
The NGO Bill, which also outlawed local groups from receiving outside funds, was passed by Parliament last year after marathon debate and fierce opposition resistance.
The Bill had to be signed by the president before it became law.
"The NGO Bill was sent to the president for assent and he did not do so because of one or two issues he wanted to be addressed," Minister of Social Welfare Nicholas Goche told the state-controlled Herald newspaper.
The minister did not say what the issues were.
The proposed law, which drew widespread criticism from rights groups around the world, barred the registration of foreign NGOs if their work was purely for the promotion and protection of human rights.
Several human rights groups in Zimbabwe have since 2000 been chronicling alleged abuses by Mugabe's government.
Critics said the law would be used to shut down perceived opponents, just as a controversial press law passed in 2002 was used to shut down four independent newspapers critical of the government.
Parliament is set to resume next month, with Mugabe's Zanu-PF holding a majority of 78 seats to 41 for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
UN envoy arrives in Zimbabwe
Meanwhile, reports Michael Hartnack, United Nations envoy Joaquim Chissano arrived in Zimbabwe for talks with Mugabe on Thursday as the country plunged deeper into economic crisis, with mass arrests of black-market traders, long lines for gasoline and stampedes for scarce food like sugar.
Chissano, the former president of Mozambique, is due to hold discussions with Mugabe on proposed UN reforms, according to Zimbabwe state radio.
However, the meeting is also expected to touch on growing food shortages in Zimbabwe, which used to be the bread basket of Southern Africa. With an estimated five million Zimbabweans now acknowledged to be in urgent need of food aid, World Food Programme chief James Morris is due to visit the country next week.
Before March 31 parliamentary elections, Mugabe insisted that the country had a "bumper harvest" of maize and would be self-sufficient in food. But shortly after the poll -- won by the ruling Zanu-PF party with a huge majority amid allegations of the use of food as a political weapon to secure votes -- the government said it would have to import 1,2-million tonnes of maize.
Stampede for sugar
Reports from the western city of Bulawayo said two women with babies on their backs were injured on Wednesday when hundreds of shoppers stampeded for a limited supply of sugar, not seen in stores for many weeks.
Long lines also formed for bread, wheat flour and maize meal, the staple diet of Zimbabwe's 11,6-million people.
At a Harare filling station owned by a government minister, motorists who had waited two days for gasoline, sleeping in their cars, were disappointed when stocks ran out after preference was given to a last-minute "VIP" line of limousines and off-road vehicles, and uniformed soldiers in private cars.
The resulting near-riot caused gridlock on a major arterial road. Drivers of fuel-starved minibuses, which form the backbone of the capital's public transport system, were outraged but backed down in the face of threats by troops.
Ever since 1998 food riots, which killed seven people, uniformed security force members have claimed preference in lines for all scarce staples.
Police said 800 street vendors, including sellers of black-market fuel, were rounded up on Wednesday in a blitz on downtown Harare.
Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono was scheduled to make a two-hour statement on economic policy later on Thursday.
State radio said devaluation from the present official rate of Z$6 200 to the dollar is expected to feature prominently.
Gasoline, officially Z$3 420 per litre, is selling on the black market for up to Z$20 000 and a large price hike is expected.
Luxon Zembe, president of the Zimbabwe National Chambers of Commerce, led business leaders urging the government to introduce "a more realistic exchange rate to make exports earning vital foreign currency more competitive".
In a reference to the country's growing isolation, Zembe also called for "more measures to address international relations in order to attract investment and lines of credit".
Gono is known to want restored links with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), while Mugabe favours a "look East" policy, replacing Western trade links with an attempt to capture China's growing prosperity.
Zimbabwe's economic crisis has escalated since 1998 to 2000, when Mugabe forfeited World Bank and IMF support over chronic financial mismanagement, lost a constitutional referendum, and began seizing 5 000 white-owned farms. -- Sapa-AP, Sapa-DPA
Tanzania ditches private water supplier
By Jon Cronin
BBC News business reporter
Tanzania says water supplies in its biggest city are deteriorating
Tanzania has pulled the plug on a British and German-run company supplying water to the country's commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.
Private utility City Water has been stripped of its 10-year contract to supply services in the country's biggest city.
Dar es Salaam's three million residents have increasingly had to cope with erratic supplies and water shortages, which have hit homes and businesses.
The government said a new company, known as Dar es Salaam Water and Sewerage Corporation, would be set up to take over the running of the city's services.
However, reports on Tuesday said City Water planned to challenge the government's decision to terminate its contract in court.
When the company was awarded the contract in 2003, there were hopes among supporters that Dar es Salaam's aging water supply network would be improved under private control.
This is yet another example of water privatisation failing to deliver clean water to poor communities
Peter Hardstaff, World Development Movement
Privatisation was a condition of Tanzania receiving debt relief from the World Bank. The East African nation is one of the world's poorest countries.
At the time, a pop song - backed by the UK Department for International Development - was used to promote the merits of water privatisation to Tanzanians.
The song's lyrics included: "Young plants need rain, businesses need investment. Our old industries are like dry crops and privatisation brings the rain."
However, Tanzania's water minister Edward Lowassa said the quality of water and sewage services had since declined, while much investment had failed to materialise.
"The water supply services in Dar es Salaam and in the neighbouring places have deteriorated rather than improved since this firm took over some two years ago," Mr Lowassa said last week.
City Water is owned by Britain's Biwater International, Gauff Ingenieure of Germany and Tanzanian investors Superdoll Trailer Manufacturers Limited. Biwater did not respond to requests for comments by press time.
Mr Lowassa met workers at City Water on Tuesday to discuss how the shake-up would affect their jobs.
Much of Dar es Salaam's water pipe network dates back to the 1950s.
Businesses in Dar es Salaam have struggled with poor water supplies
Under City Water's contract, the company was required to invest $8.5m (£4.6m) in the system during the first two years. Officials said only $4.1m had been invested so far.
The government's decision to ditch the company was seen by many Tanzanians as long overdue, according to the BBC's Noel Mwakugu, in Das es Salaam.
"Many people believe that it should have happened a long time ago. City Water has not been an effective company. The infrastructure is aging and the problems are not being addressed, yet services are being paid for," he said.
"Some restaurants have had to buy in truck loads of water just to maintain supplies. My landlord had to invest in a pump because the water pressure is very low."
UK campaign group World Development Movement welcomed Tanzania's decision to cancel City Water's contract.
The group's head of policy, Peter Hardstaff, called on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to stop their support for the privatisation of utilities in developing countries.
"This is yet another example of water privatisation failing to deliver clean water to poor communities," he said.
"Biwater's involvement in the Dar es Salaam contract is covered by the UK Export Credit Guarantee Department, so the UK taxpayer could end up footing the bill for the UK's disastrous policy of promoting water privatisation in developing countries."
A spokesman for development agency ActionAid said Tanzania's government had taken decisive action over the issue.
"We pointed out that there were problems with City Water some time ago," he said.
Biwater has operations in a number of countries in Africa, including South Africa, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. The company was unavailable for comment.
Once a bastion of African socialism under former leader Julius Nyerere, Tanzania has in more recent years embarked on a policy of privatising major industries.
The move has proved unpopular with some Tanzanians, who argue key business roles in the country are being occupied by foreigners
Trying to save Zimbabwe's healers
By Steve Vickers
BBC News, Harare
Although the value of African traditional medicine is becoming increasingly respected around the world, there are fears that the level of knowledge of the art is dwindling on the continent.
Africa is endowed with a host of herbs and plants that, properly used, can treat a huge range of ailments.
As more and more Africans adopt urban lifestyles, the interest and enthusiasm for traditional medicine seems to be declining, and many now prefer the pills of Western medicine.
I accompanied Ambuya Jessie Muzhange, an expert herbalist, to a bushy area on the outskirts of Harare.
Digging for roots and searching for different plants that have medicinal properties is an arduous task, requiring a great deal of skill.
Ambuya Muzhange, in her 70s, picked out leaves, branches and roots that most of us would not have even noticed were there.
Eight of her children are still alive, and only one of them has a reasonable level of knowledge of traditional medicine.
The art is passed on by walking in the bush with an expert on an almost daily basis, and most of her children live in the cities and are too busy for this.
"I've helped people with so many different diseases - backaches, nosebleeds, fertility problems, STDs, cancer, and even men who can't perform well in bed," said Ambuya Muzhange.
"With Aids-related ailments, if someone comes in the early stages I can help them."
"Most of my children find traditional medicine confusing, because it can be very difficult to distinguish the plants and to know their different uses."
Many Zimbabweans do appreciate the benefits of traditional medicine, particularly as it is far cheaper than visiting the doctor.
But there is no sign of medical schools incorporating the traditional approach to the Western-style medicine that they teach.
"The problem with traditional medicine is that there are no prescribed dosages," said Obey Mawire, a final year medical student in Harare.
"We don't know all of the side-effects, and it needs purification, but there could be new discoveries if we incorporate traditional with modern medicine."
"But I don't see a situation where I'll be using traditional medicine when I become a general practitioner."
But in the Western world, there is a growing interest in traditional medicine from Africa and the Far East.
As well as being a psychotherapist, Geraldine Kocroft is a fully-fledged traditional healer or n'anga.
She is currently working on a book documenting the benefits of traditional medicine.
"It's absolutely priceless, it really works, and God has given it to us, but unfortunately I feel it's a slowly dying art," she said.
"We're losing certain aspects of it, although we might gain some more."
Another reason for the decline is that it can be a secretive art, and knowledge is often not passed between herbalists and traditional healers.
"People tend not to want to share, sometimes they feel that they've been exploited."
A high level of skill is certainly needed to use the traditional medicines that the continent has been blessed with.
Who knows what remedies are yet to be discovered, if the dying art can be kept alive?
Traditional Zimbabwean remedies for common ailments:
Coughs and colds
Take leaves from a guava tree and rub them by hand to bring out the juices.
Put in boiling water and add lemon peel for flavour.
Leave to stand for 30-40 minutes.
Drink half a glass of the warm mixture three to four times a day, 30 minutes before food.
Continue taking for one week, by which time the cough or cold should have gone.
Take dry elephant dung from the bush.
If a nosebleed begins or if you feel one is about to start, burn a teaspoon-sized piece of the dung.
Inhale the smoke, taking deep breaths.
Take three or four grains of fresh maize and pound them.
Put the crushed maize on a clean cloth or handkerchief, tie it, and squeeze hard until juice comes out.
Put two drops of the juice in the infected ear.
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