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  • Christine Chumbler
    Broken sewer, plant to cost Assembly millions by Emmanuel Muwamba, 30 September 2005 - 06:59:22 Blantyre City Assembly officials on Tuesday told Deputy Local
    Message 1 of 1046 , Sep 30, 2005
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      Broken sewer, plant to cost Assembly millions
      by Emmanuel Muwamba, 30 September 2005 - 06:59:22
      Blantyre City Assembly officials on Tuesday told Deputy Local Government Minister Ernest Malenga that the assembly need K180 million to repair a broken sewer pipe at Chirimba Industrial Area and a treatment plant at Chileka.
      Malenga learnt this when he visited the damaged sewer pipe which is discharging effluents into a nearby stream in Chirimba posing danger to the environment.
      The treatment plant stopped functioning in the late 1990s, according to assembly officials.
      Blantyre City Assembly Chief Executive Sophie Kalimba told the deputy minister that the treatment plant was built by government long time ago but the government did not provide accommodation unit as the assembly did at Zingwangwa.
      At the Chileka treatment plant, a motor and other parts were stolen long time ago and brick moulders have encroached the assembly land.
      Kalimba said with the encroachment the assembly needs to come in quickly to define its boundaries before the situation worsens.
      She, however, said the assembly submitted its proposal to government to help it fund the renovations of the treatment plant and the broken sewer but Director of Local Government Stuart Ligomeka said the assembly's three-paged proposal was too shallow to lure donors fund the K180 million project.
      Kalimba concurred with the director that the assembly did not carry out detailed study on what parts are missing adding that the assembly will involve a consultant to do the assessment.
      In June this year it was reported that government fined the assembly K200,000 for polluting the environment.


      Mzuzu property auction flops
      by Edwin Nyirongo, 30 September 2005 - 06:55:01
      The Mzuzu City Assembly has only managed to realise K5.6 million out of K60 million property owners owe the assembly in city rates arrears.
      Last month the assembly threatened to sell 223 properties by auction after the owners failed to pay city rates despite notices flighted in the press.
      The assembly organised the public auction through Kesale Auctioneers and Estate Agents and law firm Racane and Associates on September 1 and 2 this year in an effort to recover the money.
      The properties under the hammer were mostly shops, houses, offices, motels, workshops, garages, maize mills, studios and schools.
      The assembly's senior accountants assistant responsible for revenue, Burton Kainga, said only nine properties were sold and that some of them have been redeemed by the owners.
      "About 5.6 million kwacha has been realised. Four million of it has come from the estate owners who have redeemed their properties," he said.
      He said those redeeming their properties were charged the cost of administering the auction.
      Kainga said the defaulting owners still possess their properties until another auction is conducted in October.
      Kainga said the assembly's failure to enforce city rates bye-laws could be described as a weakness on its part but was quick to say the assembly also aims at maintaining good relationship with the property owners.
      "The law requires [us] taking them to court but we were lenient to them because we wanted to maintain a good relationship with them and at the same time encourage them to pay the money. But that could be the reasons why they did not take us seriously," he said.
      He also said some owners were threatening to take unspecified action if anybody dared buy their property, which discouraged some would-be buyers from participating in the auction.
      One of the well known properties sold is Kaka Motel, which has gone to Chenda Hotel management.
      The auction was also marred by what Local Government Minister George Chaponda said when he visited the city assemblies last month.
      Chaponda called for dialogue with the city property owners, saying this could be the only amicable solution to the problem.
      But assembly chief executive Samson Chirwa said the idea to auction the properties was the last solution after negotiations and persuasions had failed.
      Kainga said the money locked up in rates affects the assembly's operations, including services required by the very same residents.


      Malaria major cause of maternal deaths
      by Olivia Kumwenda, 30 September 2005 - 06:56:47
      Malaria is contributing significantly to the increasing rate of maternal deaths in the country, Secretary for Health and Population Services Wesley Sangala said on Thursday.
      Sangala said this in Blantyre when he officially opened the Malaria in Pregnancy in East and Southern Africa (Mipesa) 5th Annual General Meeting.
      Mipesa is a coalition of malaria and reproductive health programmes which aims at preventing malaria among pregnant women.
      Sangala said the maternal death rate in the 1990s was 620 per 100,000 live births but as of now the number has increased.
      "The most recent UNFPA 2004 Report projects the maternal death rate at around 1,800 per 100,000 live births and malaria is contributing significantly to this as well as to neonatal mortality," he said.
      He added that malaria was also a leading cause of outpatient visits and inpatient admissions and contributes to 30 percent of deaths among the population.
      "Although everyone in Malawi is at risk of getting malaria, under-five children and pregnant mothers are the high at risk groups," he said.
      Mipesa Chairperson Mirriam Chipumo said Malawi was not the only country in Africa facing such a challenge.
      "Malawi is not alone. Zambia, where I come from, also has the same problem. What we need to do now is to look at this as a developmental issue because it is affecting our achievement of the Millennium Development Goals," said Chipumo.
      Among others things, the meeting would share best practices and learn from each others mutual success and failures.
      Countries in Mipesa include Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
      Also present at the meeting are observers from Rwanda, Namibia and Zimbabwe and representatives from World Health Organisation and Unicef.


      Zambia leader rejects HIV order

      Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has rejected suggestions by doctors that presidential candidates reveal their HIV status before elections.
      Presidential and parliamentary elections are due in Zambia next year.

      The Zambia Medical Association (ZMA) said last week that presidential candidates should be tested for HIV.

      The ZMA claims the virus could have an impact on their ability to hold office. But Mr Mwanawasa said he would not publicise his medical records.

      "Who told them that if I was diagnosed with HIV I would die tomorrow. I would live longer than those who look normal," Mr Mwanawasa said in a television interview .

      ZMA's president Peter Mwaba said last week: "Why should you have somebody who has to be on a certain drug to work as president? HIV and Aids have a lot of mental connotations."

      President Mwanawasa said that such a proposal could breach medical ethics surrounding patient confidentiality.

      "If I said for doctors to practise they should undergo an HIV test otherwise they can contaminate patients, will it not be discriminatory?", the president said.

      "I have no problem with undergoing an HIV test but it is going to be democratic. I do not expect this to come from doctors," he added.

      Opposition party leaders have however supported the calls for HIV testing and said additional medical tests should be also included.

      HIV testing in Zambia is currently voluntary and patients are not required to reveal their status nor should they be discriminated against.

      HIV activists and non-governmental organisations have also been calling on Zambian leaders to undergo public HIV testing in order to encourage ordinary citizens who shun the test.

      Several opposition leaders have already declared their intention to take the HIV test and disclose the results publicly

      Aids has devastated the country, with one in five adult Zambians thought to be HIV positive.


      Farm evictions all over again

      Godwin Gandu | Harare

      30 September 2005 06:59

      Five years on: The militia, police and army have taken over from the war vets to seize 'those farms that escaped the net'. (Photograph: AP/Marion Herud)
      A new wave of land invasions has rocked Zimbabwe, with at least five farmers being forced off their proper-ties in the past week. Armed militiamen, accompanied by the police, army and the Central Intelligence Organisation, have been behind a spate of evictions in the Manicaland district.

      Among those uprooted is David Wilding-Davies of the Ashanti farm who scooped the 2004 Coffee Grower of the Year Award for both quality and price. "I'm sorry I can't talk to you, it's too difficult for me," he told the Mail & Guardian.

      The only doctor in Chipenge town is also leaving after she and her husband were evicted from their farm, Destiny. Petra Baum Gatner told ZimOnline that she was forced to discharge sick patients and close down her Chipinge Trust Clinic because she had to leave the area. Fifteen workers, who had helped run the clinic for the past seven years, have also been left jobless.

      In one incident, a group of armed men stormed the Brackenrich tea and coffee farm in Chipinge, 500km east of Harare, just before midnight on Tuesday. The distraught 68-year-old farm owner, Gideon Mostert, and his wife were forced to round up their belongings and vacate the land.

      The police barred neighbours from entering the premises. At around 4.30am the couple were escorted off the grounds, leaving behind farming equipment and goods worth over R1-million. "I'm old, but will have to try and get another job. My wife is traumatised but trying to cope. My life's savings are on the farm. It's all I had," Mostert lamented as he sat in the cottage of a friend who has offered him accommodation.

      "What is heart-wrenching is that I had just started harvesting my coffee when all this happened," Mostert told the M&G on Wednesday. "Now they will get all that and the proceeds that will follow." On the farm are 20ha tea, 25ha coffee and a 50ha gum-tree plantation.

      The latest land grabs sparked outrage from Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono. "Whoever is doing it is not doing it in the interests of the country, or even foreign currency generation. I don't care who is doing it. It must stop," fumed Gono, who is desperate to procure forex to settle the country's debt with the International Monetary Fund and raise reserves for imports.

      But the government seemingly does not share Gono's concerns. Last week, Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa warned that "there will be a mopping up exercise with those farms that escaped the net". Following the signing into law of constitutional amendments, which, among others, deny farmers legal recourse for seized land, Chinamasa said the Registrar of Deeds is now "obligated to immediately cancel all title deeds in respect of agricultural land that becomes state property".

      Deputy Minister of Finance David Chapfika also indicated this week that the government would have to renege -- for now -- on its promise to pay compensation for farm develop-ments because the amount of money required was too much.

      Despite receiving legal fees, estimated to be about R12-million, to contest the acquisition of farms since 2000, law firms can't do anything for their clients after the recent constitutional changes effectively invalidated their claims. They are now considering taking the matter up with the International Court of Justice at The Hague. More than 4 000 white commercial farmers, some 200 being South African nationals, had lodged papers with the administrative courts.

      Chris Botha (not his real name), who was evicted from his farm in Mashonaland West, said he and other farmers are lodging in flats in Harare. "We are farmers, there is nothing else we can do. We are not willing to leave; we prefer to be part of the economic recovery programme and continue farming," said Botha.


      'Those invading farms are now criminals'

      Harare, Zimbabwe

      30 September 2005 11:08

      The governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has called for a halt to farm invasions, describing those who try to seize land as "criminals", a newspaper reported on Friday.

      "The invasions are totally unacceptable and should be stopped forthwith by whoever is doing it," Governor Gideon Gono told the privately owned weekly Zimbabwe Independent.

      "Those invading farms are now criminals," he said.

      Gono's comments come in the wake of at least two land seizures in the small town of Chipinge in south-eastern Zimbabwe last week.

      In one case, Canadian coffee-farm owner Dave Wilding-Davies said he was leaving his farm after his farm manager was assaulted by a gun-toting mob.

      Zimbabwe has since 2000 seized about 4 000 farms and redistributed them to landless blacks under its land-reform programme, which it said is aimed at redressing colonial imbalances when white farmers owned most of the country's arable land.

      A controversial constitutional amendment approved by President Robert Mugabe earlier this month allows the state to assume ownership of farms immediately after a property has been listed for expropriation, making it impossible for white farmers to seek legal redress.

      Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa said last week that about 4 000 farms now belong to the state as a result of the constitutional amendment.

      "Thereafter, there will be a mopping-up exercise with those farms which escaped the net being accounted and gazetted for acquisition," Chinamasa added.

      Minister of State Security and Lands Reform Didymus Mutasa has also said that land reform will continue until all farms have been acquired by the state.

      "Naturally we are going to acquire all land in Zimbabwe, make no mistake about that. After we have done that, we are going to allocate that land to everybody, irrespective of their race," Mutasa said.

      Fewer than 500 white farmers remain in Zimbabwe, where agriculture once accounted for 40% of the economy. -- Sapa-AFP
    • Christine Chumbler
      ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by
      Message 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006
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        ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17

        The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by government to look for another contractor instead of China Hunan Construction to construct of the long awaited Karonga/Chitipa road.

        China Hunan from Mainland China won the bid which was approved by the ADB but government later wanted to award the contract to a Portuguese firm, Mota Engil, the second lowest bidder, claiming China Hunan's bid was unrealistically low and that the company had very little experience in Africa.

        Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe confirmed on Sunday the ADB rejected the proposal at a meeting held between the bank and Malawi government in Tunisia last week.

        The Malawi government wanted the Tunisia meeting to authorise it to get another contractor for the road, said Gondwe.

        "They did not allow us to look for another contractor because of their regulations. But we are about to get another alternative for Karonga/Chitipa and I would be surprised if it does not start before end June," said Gondwe.

        The minister explained that the bank insisted that regardless of the unrealistic cost estimates, China Hunan should be allowed to go ahead with the construction.

        But Gondwe could not give further details about the alternatives, arguing there are still a few loose ends to tighten up before disclosing it.

        The problem with China Hunan, according to Gondwe, is that it would require more money to meet the total cost of the project.

        This paper reported last week that government met Taiwanese representatives where they offered to fund the road if the ADB continued to reject its favoured contractor, Mota Engil.

        Gondwe could neither confirm nor deny the reports on the Taiwanese offer, saying government was looking at a number of ways to handle the issue.

        According to Gondwe, the China Hunan's bid was 24 percent lower than the consulting engineers' estimates of K7.9 billion and 34 percent below the second lowest bidder.

        President Bingu wa Mutharika laid a foundation stone for the construction of the road this year ahead of a crucial byelection in Chitipa in December last year.

        The President's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Chitipa Wenya constituency by-election that fell vacant following the collapse and subsequent death of Speaker of Parliament Rodwell Munyenyembe who belonged to the UDF.

        Last week, police and the District Commissioner (DC) for Chitipa stopped a rally that was aimed at soliciting people's views about development projects in the district.

        The meeting, which was reportedly organised by Concerned Citizens of Chitipa, was among other things also supposed to tackle the controversial Karonga/Chitipa road.

        The project failed to start off in 2000 when a contract for an initial loan of US$17 million and US$15 million from the Taiwanese government was signed, with some quarters claiming the Bakili Muluzi administration diverted the money to another road.


        Chihana operated on

        by Edwin Nyirongo, 22 May 2006 - 06:32:31

        Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana, who is in South Africa receiving treatment, had a brain operation on Friday at Garden City Clinic, family and party officials confirmed on Sunday.

        Aford national chairman Chipimpha Mughogho said he was told by the family members that Chihana had a successful operation on Friday and was put in an intensive care unit.

        Mughogho said Chihana, who initially complained of headache, was found with a brain tumour which South African doctors removed.

        Mzimba West MP Loveness Gondwe said Aford boss condition was stable.

        "Hon. Chihana had a major operation and after that he was put in the intensive care unit but his condition is stable. I do not know where he was operated on but it had something to do with the skull," she said.

        Deputy Information Minister John Bande referred the matter to the Health Minister Hetherwick Ntaba who was reported to be in Geneva, Switzerland.

        Aford publicity secretary Norman Nyirenda said when Chihana's situation got worse, the family alerted the Office of the President and Cabinet who took him to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.

        "The doctors at Mwaiwathu advised that he should be sent to South Africa and they even identified the doctor for him," he said.

        He said the costs are being met by the Malawi government, contradicting his earlier statement that his boss covered the cost.

        Mughogho is now in charge of the party.

        Gondwe will be a busy person when Parliament starts meeting on June 6 as she is the only Aford MP remaining.


        Pillane proposes presidential age limit

        by Emmanuel Muwamba , 22 May 2006 - 06:34:13

        A member of the DPP National Governing Council Abdul Pillane on Saturday urged members of political parties and the civil society to put an upper age limit in the Constitution for presidential candidates.

        Pillane was addressing members of political parties and civil society in Liwonde during a two-day follow up workshop to the National Conference on the Review of Constitution held in March in Lilongwe.

        "My view is that (an upper) age limit should be at 75. We have to give a chance to younger people to lead because in circumstance, when you age you become forgetful especially when sickly," said Pillane. "Overall, chances should be given to young people."

        But UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala, whose party members agitated for the age limit during presentations, played the issue down.

        "I feel there is no logic to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates. If someone is 90 or 80 I don't know how that can influence the electorate not to vote for someone who is younger, I don't see any logic behind that," said Makwangwala.

        MCP participants at the workshop also vehemently objected to the proposal.

        MCP vice president Nicholas Dausi in an interview said: "There is no constitution in Africa which stipulates an upper age limit. So it would be strange in Malawi to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates."

        MDP President Kamlepo Kalua also opposed the need to have an upper age limit.

        "If we have personalities in mind that we want to discriminate against then it is unfortunate. The constitution we want to build is a guiding document for future generations and it should not bar certain individuals on the basis of grudges," he said.

        The Malawi Law Constitution Issues Paper of March 2006 says several submissions that were received put an upper presidential age limit in the Constitution.

        "It is argued that it is common sense that mental knowledge faculties tend to fail with age. As regards what the actual age limit should be the submissions are far from being agreed. The range is from 60 years to 80 years," read submissions in the Issues Paper.

        On whether MPs should double as ministers, Kalua said this should be the case.

        Makwangwala also said it is not right for MPs to serve as ministers because the Legislature, another arm of government, is reduced while the Executive branch is beefed up from another arm of government.

        "There is no separation of powers when MPs double as ministers," said Makwangwala.

        But Pillane said there is no problem for MPs to work as ministers as well, saying MPs are elected by the President.

        "One can serve both posts. There have been no problems before for people to double," said Pillane.

        The Centre for Multiparty Democracy funded the workshop through the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.

        The objective was to come up with a collective position on the Issues Paper which will be presented to the Special Law Commission that will be constituted soon.


        Mussa hails new driving licence

        by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:58:52

        Transport and Public Works Minister Henry Mussa last week said the design of the Malawi-Sadc driving licence would guard against forgery and ensure that only skilled and legitimate drivers of particular vehicles are licensed.

        Mussa was speaking at the official launch of the licences in Lilongwe where he announced that traffic police would from July enforce speed limits and sober driving using Breathalysers which his ministry is in the process of procuring.

        The minister said financial constraints are the reason for the delay in procuring the equipment but assured that by July they would be available.

        "With the new equipment, the days of those who believe in the thrill of drink and driving are numbered," warned Mussa.

        Mussa added that with the new licence, government is optimistic that the country's roads would be safe.

        Acting Director of Road Traffic James Chirwa said the features that distinguish the new from the old licences are the Malawi national flag and a ghost image of the driver's photograph, among others.

        Those with old licences, according to Chirwa, are expected to get the new ones after the expiry of the former.


        UDF demands investigation on Kasambara

        by Rabecca Theu, 22 May 2006 - 06:30:46

        The United Democratic Front (UDF) has asked government to investigate Ralph Kasambara on allegations of abuse of office while he was attorney general.

        UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu told the press Sunday that the party is neither amused or saddened by the removal of the former AG but asked government to institute investigations on Kasambara.

        "Beyond the removal of the Attorney General, we now urge President Mutharika to institute investigation against Mr Kasambara into allegations that have made rounds in the public domain during the recent past. These include: Mrs Helen Singh and SS Rent-a-Car; SGS and ITS saga; ...........the use of Malawi Police Service in the arrest of three Chronicle journalists and the handling of Mrs Rubina Kawonga," said Mpasu.

        Mpasu also accused Kasambara of awarding government contracts to Lawson and Company where he was a senior partner.

        "We urge government to thoroughly investigate the former AG. We also ask government to cautiously select the new AG ," said Mpasu, who was accompanied by the party's Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala, leader of the party in Parliament George Mtafu, chief whip Leonard Mangulama and a member of the executive Hophmally Makande.

        But Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said UDF should give offer its advice to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB).

        "They should advise bodies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau to conduct the investigations and why are they saying this now? Is it because Kasambara has been fired? This is not a personal issue. If they have other pressing issues they should just say so. These arguments should have come up earlier on when the said cases were happening," she said.

        Kasambara asked UDF to proceed with the mission of urging government to investigate him.

        "They can do their job. Everyone has a right to lobby for anything they want in the country. UDF has a right to do that, let them go ahead," he said.

        Kasambara was relieved of his duties as AG by the President last week. Government has not given reasons behind the removal.


        Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land

        The Times of Zambia (Ndola)

        May 18, 2006

        Posted to the web May 19, 2006

        Andrew Lungu


        MALAWIANS who have encroached on both the 'no-man's' and part of the Zambian land at the Mwami border in Eastern Province have plucked out some beacons that were used in the demarcation of the border.

        The Malawians are now using the beacons as stools in their newly-established villages on Zambian land.

        Eastern Province Minister, Boniface Nkhata, said in Chipata yesterday that if the situation was not controlled urgently, Zambia would lose huge tracts of land to Malawians migrating into Zambian in large numbers.

        A check at the Zambia-Malawi border showed a number of beacons had been vandalised and new structures constructed on the 'no man's' land and a large portion of Zambian land.

        Mr Nkhata said the trend extended to many parts of the province bordering the two countries.

        "A large portion of Zambian land has been taken up by the Malawians starting from the Chama boundary up to the Mwami border.

        "The weighbridge at the Mwami border was initially in Zambia from the time both countries gained independence from Britain, but now the bridge is on Malawian soil," Mr Nkhata said.

        The minister, who is former Chama District Commissioner, said there was similar encroachment in Lundazi and Chama districts where Zambia shares a boundary with Malawi.

        He said a Malawian farmer identified as Mr Mfune had cultivated 71.5 hectares on Zambian land and employed about 265 Malawian workers.

        "Khombe Farm in Chama district in Kanyerere's area, along the Muyombe road which leads to Northern Province where this Malawian farmer has cultivated a vast land is on the Zambian territory," he said.

        Workers on the farm admitted that they were farming on Zambian soil but could not go back to Malawi because the land in that country was inadequate for cultivation.

        Mr Nkhata appealed to the ministry of Lands to urgently release money for the demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border to avoid further land disputes between the two countries.

        Meanwhile, the Immigration Department in Livingstone has arrested a couple and another man, all Zimbabweans, for working in Zambia without permits.

        They were arrested at Gwembe village yesterday where they worked for Into Africa, a tour operating company that provides bush dinners and breakfast.

        According to the Immigration Department in Livingstone, the trio entered Zambia through the Victoria Falls border as visitors but decided to work for the company illegally.

        Last week, immigration officers arrested 10 Zimbabwean traders and six Ethiopians for entering and staying in Zambia illegally.

        The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.

        The Ethiopians were arrested at Konje Guest House when they ran out of money to proceed to Botswana.



        Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests

        Harare, Zimbabwe

        22 May 2006 11:51

        Zimbabwe's biggest labour federation on Saturday threatened to call massive demonstrations against the government over poor salaries and worsening living conditions for workers in the country.

        The threats are ratcheting up pressure against President Robert Mugabe's government after similar threats by the biggest opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), about two months ago.

        Speaking at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) conference on Saturday, the labour body's president, Lovemore Matombo, said the powerful union wants the government to award workers salaries that match the country's ever-rising inflation.

        "I can assure you we will stage massive demonstrations to force them [employers] to award workers minimum salaries that tally with the poverty datum line," said Matombo.

        Matombo did not say when exactly the ZCTU would order workers to strike.

        Opposition protests

        Meanwhile, the MDC on Sunday said it will push ahead with plans for anti-government protests, saying victory in a key by-election at the weekend was a "sign the electorate supported its policies", including democratic mass resistance.

        A spokesperson of the main faction of the splintered MDC, Nelson Chamisa, said victory over Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and a rival MDC faction in a Saturday by-election in Harare's Budiriro constituency is a sign Zimbabweans still have confidence in party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his policies.

        Tsvangirai, the founding leader of the MDC, heads the main rump of the opposition party whose candidate, Emmanuel Chisvuure, polled 7 949 votes to win the Budiriro House of Assembly seat.

        Gabriel Chaibva of the other faction of the MDC, led by prominent academic Arthur Mutambara, garnered 504 votes while Zanu-PF's Jeremiah Bvirindi polled 3 961 votes.

        "This election showed that the electorate still has confidence in the MDC [Tsvangirai-led] leadership and its policies," Chamisa told independent news service ZimOnline.

        He added: "We will now move to consolidate our position * we still believe in mass protests. Until we have attained our goals we see no reason why we should abandon [plans for protests]."

        Tsvangirai has threatened to call mass protests this winter against Mugabe and his government. He says the mass protests, whose date he is still to name, are meant to force Mugabe to relinquish power to a government of national unity to be tasked to write a new and democratic Constitution that would ensure free and fair elections held under international supervision.

        Mugabe and his government, who had hoped for victory in Budiriro to show they were recapturing urban support from a splintered MDC, have not taken idly the opposition's threats to call mass protests, with the veteran president warning Tsvangirai he would be "dicing with death" if he ever attempted to instigate a Ukraine-style popular revolt in Zimbabwe.


        In a fresh crackdown against dissension, the police last week arrested several church and civic leaders for organising public prayers and marches to mark last year's controversial home-demolition exercise by the government.

        The police also banned the marches and prayers, fearing they could easily turn into mass protests against Mugabe and his government.

        However, the marches went ahead in the second-largest city of Bulawayo after organisers had obtained a court order barring the police from stopping the march.

        Political analysts say although Zimbabweans have largely been cowed by Mugabe's tactics of routinely deploying riot police and the military to crush street protests, worsening hunger and poverty are fanning public anger that Tsvangirai -- with proper planning and organisation -- could easily manipulate.

        Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe six-year old economic crisis that has seen inflation breaching the 1 000% barrier. Last year, the World Bank said Zimbabwe's economic crisis was unprecedented for a country not at war.

        The MDC and major Western governments blame Mugabe for wrecking the country's economy, which was one of the strongest in Africa at independence from Britain 26 years ago.

        Mugabe denies the charge blaming the crisis on sabotage by Britain and her allies after he seized white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks six years ago.

        The Harare authorities recently hiked salaries for civil servants, with the lowest-paid soldier now earning about Z$27-million while the lowest-paid school teacher now takes home about Z$33-million.

        But the salaries are still way below the poverty datum line, which the government's Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says now stands at a staggering Z$42-million a month for an average family of six.

        The Zimbabwe government often accuses the ZCTU, a strong ally of the MDC, of pushing a political agenda to remove Mugabe from power.

        Meanwhile, Matombo and Lucia Matibenga retained their posts as president and first vice-president respectively during the ZCTU congress that ended on Saturday. -- ZimOnline

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