- Malawi: School-Feeding Programme Helps the Whole Family
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
October 6, 2005
Posted to the web October 6, 2005
Mpudu Mulende scrapes every last bit of the nutritious soya porridge from his plate. There is no food at home, and this one meal a day he gets at school is all the six-year old can rely on.
His parents were lucky: his school is one of 249 in drought-hit southern Malawi that are part of a UN World Food Programme (WFP) initiative that keeps 200,000 children in class by feeding them.
There is a further incentive for parents to keep their children in school, despite the pressure to pull them out to help a struggling household: 18 consecutive days of attendance each month earns a home ration of 12.5 kg of maize-meal, the staple food.
"While our enrolment figures have gone up, the enrolment figures in the neighbouring schools not under the programme have dropped," noted Mulende's headmaster, Lloyd Mashoni.
Malawi's subsistence farmers, who struggle to make ends meet at the best of times, have suffered the worst drought in a decade, compounded by the late delivery of subsidised seeds and fertiliser. Close to five million people will be in need of food aid between now and March next year.
"We can see the impact of the failure of the maize crops around us - parents are asking us for more food. They have resorted to eating cassava - even the banana crop has not done well," said Mashoni.
His school near Tekerani village, about 98 km from Malawi's commercial capital, Blantyre, lies in the hilly Thyolo district, which is among the seven worst-affected districts in the country. There is no maize available in the local markets - only tomatoes, green bananas and mangoes.
Mashoni's school has started a kitchen garden with the help of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation to support the upkeep of the school and its poorest pupils.
"We sold some of our produce - tomatoes, cabbage, maize and mustard seed - which has helped us buy sports uniforms for our students; the rest we gave to needy students," said deputy head Patricia Dzumbira.
Ruth Master, another six-year-old, skips along to join the growing queue of children waiting for their daily bowl of soya porridge. "Many ask for more, but we cannot give them more; we have to feed them tomorrow as well - we have limited resources," said Mashoni.
With the help of volunteering parents, the school prepares six 25 kg bags of soya blend every day. Last year it had an almost 100 percent pass rate for its Grade 8 exams. As Mashoni observed, "With some food in this situation of drought, at least these children have a chance."
9 Bills On the Cards
The Chronicle Newspaper (Lilongwe)
October 4, 2005
Posted to the web October 4, 2005
Government has come up with two bills that propose changes to the Penal Code to match with the present justice system and also changes in the operations of the Malawi Police Service ahead of Parliament meeting on October 11, 2005.
Leader of government business in Parliament, Henry Chimunthu Banda disclosed recently government is bringing Penal Code amendment and police bills to the House.
Chimunthu Banda said the two bills are among nine bills that government will bring in Parliament for debate.
Parliament is expected to start sitting from October 11, for three weeks where among other business, it will discuss the bills.
Parliament is also expected to discuss the money laundering, constitutional amendment and fines convention bills.
Chimunthu Banda said under the fines convention bills, government is seeking Parliament's authority to convert all fines for offenders that were in the colonial currency, the pound sterling to Malawi kwacha.
He said government expects that Members of Parliament, including those from opposition would support the nine bills, saying they are of national importance. "Most of these bills are carry-overs. I do not see any of the bills being rejected on partisan reasons because they are for the interest of the nation," he said.
Chimunthu Banda said the bills have undergone a full scrutiny in various parliamentary committees of the House.
Leader of Opposition John Tembo said he has seen some of the bills.
He however said he could not disclose whether his party would support the bills or not.
Tembo said the Business committee would meet soon before the House meets to finalise the agenda of the sitting.
The government is in minority in Parliament, a situation experts say makes it difficult for government to push through important bills in the House.
During the Budget sitting in June, Parliament rejected a speech by President Bingu wa Mutharika arguing it was empty.
RP fires Gwanda
by Mabvuto Banda, 07 October 2005 - 05:52:43
The Republican Party (RP) has sacked its National Chairman Gwanda Chakuamba barely a month after his appointment, following his dismissal as President Bingu wa Mutharika's party veep.
A letter signed by RP President Stanley Masauli, party secretary general Good Kayira and director of political affairs Mbekeani says that the Central Executive Council (CEC) has decided to remove Chakuamba because his "actions are divisive."
"It is with deep regret to note that your actions since rejoining the party have been divisive and far from constructive. On the basis of these observations, the CEC at its emergency meeting decided to abrogate forthwith the earlier decision to offer you the honorary position of national chairman," reads the letter in part.
In an interview on Thursday Masauli said the letter was communicated to Chakuamba in the morning and "we have not yet heard his response."
Chakuamba could not be reached for comment. His personal assistant Grace Mhango said he could not be reached because he was in Nsanje.
But Chakuamba's press officer Silas Kanjere accused the CEC of failing to inform Chakuamba about their intentions, let alone invite him to the meeting.
"It's with deep regret that the committee has decided to remove Chakaumba and abrogated the rules of natural justice which demand fairness. It is also regrettable that they decided to remove him when even their positions have not been ratified by a convention," said Kanjere.
Masauli said the committee did not see any need to invite Chakuamba because his position was honorary.
Chakuamba, who said he resigned from active politics after he lost the May presidential polls only to come back as minister of agriculture and later irrigation minister, is a spent force, according to an analyst.
"This reveals his true character as a political opportunist and that does not inspire the public, which makes him a spent force," said Rafiq Hajat, adding that "he should go back to his promise of retiring and becoming an evangelist."
Police warns parties on rallies
by Nation Reporter, 07 October 2005 - 06:17:43
The Malawi Police Service has warned political parties against holding rallies without seeking permission from the law enforcers saying the tendency is illegal.
Police Public Relations Officer Willie Mwaluka said in a statement Thursday the police have issued the reminder to the parties after being "dismayed" that some political parties only seek assistance from police after meeting problems.
"The law requires that the police must be informed of any intention to hold a public rally. Furthermore, it should be made clear that the purpose for seeking permission is to enable the security providers to be aware of the actual place and time of the rally for planning purposes," he said.
Mwaluka said the police do not want to be dragged back into a situation where they would operate under undemocratic ways which compromise their professional management approach.
"We strongly advise all political parties to follow the democratic standards in seeking permission before they conduct rallies," he said.
UK donates 15 million GBP for food aid
by Zainah Liwanda, 07 October 2005 - 06:03:16
Britain has given Malawi 15.2 million pound sterling grant to help curb the current food shortage that has hit the country.
Speaking at an official signing ceremony in Lilongwe on Thursday, visiting UK International Development Minister Gareth Thomas pledged his country's continued support for food sufficiency in Malawi.
"We are determined to do more to reduce the scale of this crisis. Dealing with the current food shortage is very important, but it's equally important to deal with the long term problems of annual food shortage to prevent a repeat event," said Thomas.
He said the food assistance brings the total amount of aid to Malawi to 65 million pounds, which he said is one of his country's largest aid programmes in Africa.
The minister hailed Malawi for acting decisively as soon as it was clear that there would be poor harvest.
Malawi Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe, who signed on behalf of government, commended the British government for rescuing the country from a deep crisis, which was mainly caused by a severe drought.
He said it is not only financial support that is needed at this critical time, but also ideas on how to overcome the crisis, adding that a team of UK visiting officials and Malawi government had identified ways of dealing with the disaster.
Gondwe noted that the relationship between Malawi and Britain, which dates back to colonial days, has grown stronger over the years, especially in terms of financial assistance.
"We need support in a very big way and you have come at a point when we need you most. We are as if we are starting the country again in a number of ways, and therefore we need friends like you, not only for money, but ideas as well. Technical assistance is required in order that we start again because if we don't, the mediocre performance of our economy will continue," said Gondwe.
A statement from the British High Commission says the funding was originally announced in two tranches. The first tranche amounting to 10.2 million pounds was provided since June to buy 70,000 tonnes of maize to contribute towards feeding 2.7 million people affected by the hunger crisis.
The second tranche amounting to 5 million pounds was announced on September 13 and is expected to be used to secure 60,000 tonnes of maize from South Africa and also assist the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) in feeding 3,500 severely malnourished under-five children.
The statement says part of the second tranche would be used to reduce the need for food aid in future.
Apart form discussing the food shortage, Thomas and his colleague Rosie Winterton, UK Minister of State for Health Services, tackled British Department for International Development's (DFID's) 100 million pounds support to Malawi's health sector reform package.
Zambia fuel crisis minister fired
Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has sacked Energy Minister George Mpombo amid a fuel shortage that has crippled the key copper mining industry.
Lack of fuel has also halted public transport and led to the suspension of food supplies in some areas.
Fuel shortages began after technical problems forced the closure last month of Zambia's main oil refinery.
The country's largest copper mine says its operations may be suspended if the fuel situation does not improve.
Mr Mwanawasa travelled on Thursday to inspect the Indeni Oil Refinery in the Copper Belt, 300 km north of Lusaka.
The refinery has been closed since last month, and repair work is reportedly behind schedule.
During his visit to the Copper Belt, the president announced the energy minister had been sacked from his cabinet seat.
"I have removed Honourable Mpombo from his position," Mr Mwanawasa told journalists in Ndola.
Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), Zambia's largest copper mining company, says key operations at its mines may be suspended if the fuel situation in the country does not improve.
Among the key areas of operation include a smelter and furnace which process copper ore before it is exported to other countries.
The company uses a substantial quantity of diesel in its daily operations and has not had fresh supplies delivered to the company because of the shortage the country is experiencing.
KCM is currently rationing fuel at its mines, with operations scaled down to about 50% to keep the mine operational.
Other copper mines have equally been affected by the fuel shortage and have also cut back their operations.
The BBC's Musonda Chibamba in Lusaka says Zambia depends heavily on copper mining exports for its foreign exchange earnings, and any problems in the sector could have countrywide effects.
The copper mines employ the largest number of workers in the country
The companies are concerned that the shortage of diesel also prevent them from transporting miners to their places of work, which would also affect production.
KCM announced that it had sent a delegation to South Africa to try and source the petroleum products it desperately.
Government has announced that would allow oil marketing companies to directly import finished products in order to end the crisis, until maintenance works at the Indeni refinery are complete.
Military Revolt in Zimbabwe
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Business Day (Johannesburg)
October 6, 2005
Posted to the web October 6, 2005
THE Zimbabwean army and air force have been hit by protests over the government's failure to increase their salaries as well as chronic food shortages at their barracks.
Military sources said this week soldiers were increasingly unsettled by government's refusal to increase their salaries and provide adequate food supplies to the 40000-strong army.
Disgruntled armed forces pose a serious threat to President Robert Mugabe's regime, which depends on the state security apparatus -- the army, the air force and the intelligence service -- for its survival.
Mugabe last week urged the armed forces to remain vigilant to deal with what he termed a "vicious imperialist onslaught".
The situation has been worsened by public servants' worsening bureaucratic inefficiency.
Sluggish performance by poorly paid and demoralised public servants has aggravated the economic crisis.
Sources said army commanders have in the past two weeks been battling to assure soldiers the situation would be attended to as soon as possible.
It is said some troops have been detained at 2 Brigade barracks in Harare in connection with "indiscipline" related to agitation for salary increases. Sources said the soldiers were expected to be court-marshalled.
Senior army commanders have been telling soldiers to channel their grievances through proper structures instead of engaging in "unruly campaigning" which could easily be interpreted as "mutiny".
Sources said a senior army commander told troops on September 13 at Cranborne barracks in Harare there would be no pay rise until January.
A few days later a senior military intelligence officer told troops at the Presidential Guard HQ in Dzivarasekwa in Harare the issue would be addressed, but no improvements were forthcoming.
Sources said "dozens" of soldiers had been prevented from leaving the army in protest over the current problems. Instead, they said, troops were being sent on forced leave in a bid, prompted by food shortages, to reduce numbers at the barracks.
Army spokesman Lt Col Aggrey Wushe has denied soldiers were going on leave due to food shortages, saying they had accrued leave days during the Democratic Republic of Congo war between 1998 and 2002.
The army also denied there was unrest within its ranks.
"We have food to feed them until the next financial year. We can keep them in the barracks but the days they accrued will be forfeited," Wushe said.
"We are saying, 'take them now or they will get forfeited'."
Army commanders are traditionally loyal to Mugabe and generals occupy the upper echelons of parastatals and government posts.
Mugabe has militarised government bureaucracy by deploying former soldiers to perform civilian duties.
A few years ago, a leaked memo by former British High Commissioner to Zimbabwe, Peter Longworth, addressed to the Prime Minister Tony Blair's office, said Downing Street thought there was no real threat of a military coup against Mugabe's regime despite the prevailing political and economic crisis.
The social and economic conditions have, however, dramatically worsened since then.
In the run-up to the disputed 2002 presidential election, army generals announced they would not accept an elected president without liberation struggle credentials -- a reference to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
The army was heavily involved in the controversial election, which was won by Mugabe.
A leaked memo written by army commanders, urging their structures to be ready for the 2002 election, was widely taken as evidence of military influence on the poll.
Arms and Military Affairs
Food, Agriculture and Rural Issues
Some civilian programmes, such as the land reform programme and the rebuilding exercise that followed the demolition of shanties and informal markets, were also carried out by the army.
Zimbabwe needs to import more grain to feed at least 2,2-million people who cannot fend for themselves until the new harvest next April, the state-owned Herald newspaper reported yesterday.
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