- Malawi issues food crisis appeal
Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika has declared a national disaster over the food shortages which are threatening almost half the population.
In a radio and TV broadcast, the president said the crisis had worsened and the country needed more help.
UN estimates suggest about five million people will need aid after Malawi's worst harvest for more than a decade.
Mr Mutharika had been criticised for denying reports of deaths from hunger-related illnesses in Malawi.
Mr Mutharika said all 28 districts of Malawi were affected by shortages.
Malawi needed an extra 144,000 metric tons of food on top of 300,000 tons expected to be imported from South Africa, he said.
"The food crisis has escalated and we need more assistance," the Malawian leader said.
"We are facing a national disaster affecting the lives of our people."
The shortages are blamed on poor rains, a lack of seed and fertiliser during the planting season, and the effects of HIV and Aids.
Mr Mutharika's announcement follows increasing criticism from the opposition and church leaders, who urged him to do more to highlight the problem.
Correspondents say it comes as a dramatic turnaround for a president who three weeks ago said his government was in control.
Donors needed now
The president's declaration was welcomed by the UN World Food Programme.
A spokesman for the agency said it reflected the growing seriousness of the problem.
The hope now is that donors will be more generous in their response to a WFP appeal for $88m for Malawi, says the BBC's African affairs editor Grant Ferrett.
The deputy head of the agency, Sheila Sisulu, complained during a recent visit to the country that donations tended to be made only when images of large numbers of emaciated children began appearing on television screens around the world.
She said Malawi need not suffer the sort of severe hunger experienced earlier this year in the west African state of Niger, but warned that donors should come forward now.
It is not just Malawi which is threatened - across southern Africa, the UN estimates that 12 million people will need help in the coming year.
Kwacha drops against dollar
by Taonga Sabola, 17 October 2005 - 06:32:01
The Malawi kwacha registered a small drop against the country's major trading currencies the United States dollar and the South African rand in September while at the same time it appreciated against the British Pound and the Euro.
Financial investment firm Continental Discount House (CDH) says in its September 2005 Economic review the US dollar traded at an average middle rate of K124.1002 in September 2005 compared to K123.4109 in August.
It also weakened against the South African rand from K19.0115 in August 2005 to K19.6212 in September .
"On the other hand, Malawi kwacha strengthened against the British Pound and the Euro traded at middle rates of K220.3528 and K150.3503 from K151.7372 respectively," says CDH.
It says the depreciation of the kwacha against the dollar may be partly explained by "artificial" shortage of foreign exchange in the foreign exchange market.
Reserve Bank of Malawi Governor Victor Mbewe recently pegged the country's import cover at 2.6 months which is slightly lower than the required three months cover,
The financial securities firm says the local currency is expected to continue with marginal depreciation as the country approaches the lean period for foreign exchange.
"However, if the inflow of donor aid continues, the Malawi kwacha exchange rate against other currencies may stabilise somewhat in the issuing months," says CDH.
CDH also predicts a likely acceleration in the rate of headline inflation in October due to current maize price hikes. It also indicates that the headline inflation may be exacerbated by further spill-over effects from the recent fuel price adjustments.
Maize is currently being sold at an average price of K1,800 in most local markets with government yet to implement the proposed price hike which Agricultural Minister Uladi Mussa alluded to a couple of weeks ago.
The country's inflation rate was at 15.4 percent as of September 2005, according to National Statistical office.
"As inflationary pressure gets momentum, the monetary authorities may be forced to maintain the bank rate at the current 25 percent and may lead to stability of the rest of the money market rates," says CDH.
UDF plans demo for impeachment
by Penelope Kakhobwe, 17 October 2005 - 06:27:35
The UDF says it plans to hold demonstrations to encourage members of Parliament to support the impeachment of President Bingu wa Mutharika when the time comes.
UDF spokesperson Sam Mpasu said on Sunday "we want to encourage members of Parliament to follow their conscience and support the impeachment as it is their constitutional duty".
Mpasu said: "There have been demonstrations in the past to discourage MPs from discussing the impeachment procedures but we want to show MPs the support they have for the impeachment.
Mpasu, who described Malawi as a country that believes in the rule of law, said it was only right to remove the Mutharika as he had breached written laws of the Constitution.
"If you break the law in church, you get punished and anyone who breaks the law gets punished," he said.
The UDF recently came up with eight grounds for impeaching Mutharika which include abuse of official powers and failure to observe, preserve and uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.
Mpasu said the eight grounds were enough grounds for the impeachment of President Mutharika as he had broken several laws.
Mpasu gave an example the procedures of the appointment of Mary Nangwale as Inspector of Police, the fertiliser deals with 'fishy businessmen' as reasons for removal of Mutharika.
Mpasu said the party will inform the public when it is ready for the demonstrations.
Kaliati claims Bingu declared disaster in May
by Henry Chilobwe, 17 October 2005 - 06:14:06
Information Minister Patricia Kaliati insists President Bingu wa Mutharika declared Malawi a state of disaster way back in May soon after the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) warned that over 4.2 million Malawians are facing hunger.
Parliament on Thursday passed a resolution to force government declare Malawi a state of national disaster. Mutharika on Friday openly declared that Malawi is a state of disaster and requires emergency food aid.
Some politicians have described the declaration as a positive step made too late.
But Kaliati dismissed the claims on Sunday.
She said Bingu's gestures have always shown that he accepted there was serious food crisis threatening lives of many Malawians.
She said even after the budget session Mutharika called donors and other stakeholders and told them of the problem.
"That is why donors have been assisting us through food or cash donations. If he had not declared it then, for what purpose is the maize being distributed by World Food Programme?" wondered Kaliai.
She said Malawi donors have pumped in over 100 million US dollars for the purchase of maize because of the calls for aid that Mutharika has been making.
Kaliati explained that Mutharika's appeal for food aid at the 60th United Nation General Assembly that was held in New York last month and the initiative to establish the Feed the Nation Fund were also ways of declaring that Malawi was in a state of disaster.
"Maybe, the people wanted him to say it as he did on Friday but what I am saying is Malawi was declared a state of disaster way back, even before people started demanding that he does so," she said.
Bingu directives drain development budget
by Joseph Langa, 15 October 2005 - 09:21:15
The Mutharika administration has started making good the president's promises to buy buses for some schools and universities with the purchase of a minibus for Dedza Secondary School but the unbudgeted for expenditure might make the Controlling Officer for the Ministry of Education answer for flouting Public Finance Management Act, experts warn.
Director of Finance in the Ministry of Education Chris Kang'ombe said on Thursday the minibus worth about K10 million including comprehensive insurance cover was bought last week from HTD Limited and is now with Plant and Vehicle Hire Organisation (PVHO). He said the other minibuses will be bought in phases later.
Mutharika, an alumnus of Dedza Secondary School, promised the bus when he visited the school on September 6. The other institutions the president promised buses include Chancellor College, the Polytechnic, Bunda College of Agriculture, Kamuzu College of Nursing as well as Providence, Zomba Catholic, Blantyre, and Lilongwe Girls secondary schools.
Asked where funding for the buses, estimated at over K90 million, is coming from, Kang'ombe, who is also acting PS for Education, said the money was sourced by Ministry of Finance from "other votes". He said his ministry's job is to follow up on Presidential pledges, process and forward them to Treasury to find out whether they have the resources to buy them or not since the Ministry of Education budget has no allocation for the minibuses.
But Acting Secretary to the Treasury Patrick Kabambe, while confirming that Treasury released K10 million to the Ministry of Education for the purchase of the minibus, disputed that the money was sourced from other votes, saying it will be deducted from the development budget of the Ministry of Education.
Ministry of Education was allocated K2.6 billion in the 2005/2006 financial year for development projects, most of it earmarked for the building of new primary and secondary schools. In the electronic version of the approved budget estimates for the 2005/2006 financial year, there is no allocation for the purchase of minibuses for schools and colleges.
Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) acting Executive Director Mabvuto Bamusi said the reallocation of resources from the development budget to the purchasing of minibuses is illegal.
"This is gross abuse of the Public Finance Management Act and the budget as whole," said Bamusi, stressing that the act does not give room for political directives.
Bamusi said what has happened clearly shows that the budget is not being properly implemented and this is likely to reflect at the end of the financial year.
"Expenditure outside the approved budget, whether directed by the President or not, is not supposed to be encouraged because it affects development plans," said Bamusi.
Kang'ombe expressed surprise to learn that Treasury will deduct the money for the minibuses on his ministry's development budget allocation.
"That has not been communicated to us, that they will be using our budget to buy these things unless if that has been done behind our back," said Kang'ombe, adding that in as far as the ministry is concerned, the money never came from its budget.
But Kabambe said Treasury treated the expense as part of the activity for the ministry's development budget, saying it is up to the Ministry of Education to look at how best they can defer certain expenditures to accommodate the buying of the minibuses.
In his earlier interview on Wednesday, Kabambe said although ministries now have powers to buy anything without consulting Treasury, they are supposed to request for approval if they want to buy items outside the budget. Asked if the Ministry of Education sought the approval to reallocate funds for the purchase of the minibuses, he claimed not to have received any such request.
"If they indeed used the money to buy something outside the approved budget it becomes an audit query," he said, adding that it is against the Public Finance Management Act for a Controlling Officer to spend resources on something which is not in the budget.
Gwanda, Zikhale register NRP
by Mabvuto Banda, 15 October 2005 - 09:23:40
Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) stalwarts Gwanda Chakuamba and Ken Zikhale Ng'oma have registered a party called the New Republican Party (NRP) which will be launched next month.
NRP legal officer Dick Chidika said on Friday Chakuamba is the interim president and Ng'oma is deputy president for administrative and political affairs. Eston Kakhome is the vice president for social and economic affairs. Lawyer Rodrick Makono is the interim national chairman while Mzimba East MP Abbie Shawa is interim secretary general."
The new party first attempted to register last week as National Republican Party but the Registrar of Parties rejected the application on the grounds that NRP did not get permission to use the word "National" from the Office of the President and Cabinet.
"This is the reason why we decided to change the name to New Republican Party, a party whose mission is to embark on an agriculture revolution," he said.
Steve Malamba, MP for Nsanje Lalanje, is also in the committee.
Chakuamba's personal assistant Silas Kanjere said the colour of the new party is green and its symbol is one maize stalk with three maize cobs on it.
NRP becomes the third party to use green as its official colour after MCP and Republican Party (RP). Chakuamba has been president for the two parties.
The formation of NRP comes while the courts are yet to rule on the dispute over the de-registration of the RP, a party Chakuamba formed after he quit the MCP shortly before the 2004 general elections. After losing the presidential race in May, 2004, Chakuamba took RP to a coalition with UDF then later decided to dissolve RP and became vice president of DPP, a party he founded together with President Bingu wa Mutharika.
Last month Chakuamba returned to RP after leaving the DPP but was fired last week following accusations that he was bringing divisions in the party.
The RP is meanwhile fighting the de-registration in court.
RP president Stanley Masauli on Wednesday warned that his party would drag NRP to court if it is established that the new party has same ideals and symbols as RP.
Ng'oma, Bingu wa Mutharika's closest aide from their days in the United Party (UP) which disbanded after unsuccessfully contesting the 1999 general elections, last month resigned as director of campaign for DPP .
His resignation followed Mutharika's decision to demote him from the position of secretary general of the party. Chakuamba resigned from the party after he was sacked from cabinet.
Meanwhile, MPs that were sponsored by RP are split on their political allegiances.
In the Northern Region, Bazuka Mhango said he will decide after looking at the party's ideologies and manifesto while Good Kayira, Khumbo Chirwa, Pisho Nkhwazi, Richard Msowoya and Benjamin Banda indicated that they would not join Chakuamba's new party.
In the South, Malamba and Charles Luya are on record as pledging their support to Chakuamba's new party.
Gangs pillage potato farms near Harare
17 October 2005 11:35
As economic hardships and food shortages bite in Zimbabwe, thieves are mounting armed raids on potato farms near the capital Harare, the state-controlled Herald reported on Monday.
Thieves armed with axes, spears and slingshots in large groups of up to 80 people have assaulted guards, killed their dogs and stolen potatoes worth one billion Zimbabwe dollars ($38 000) from Stamford and Goodhope Farms over the past three months, it said.
"While a selected group will be fighting the guards, a larger group will be digging for the potatoes before getting away with their loot," the newspaper said.
"The latest raid was on Saturday night when two security guards were injured and two dogs killed in the skirmishes," the paper added.
The report said the stolen potatoes are sold in the capital Harare for up to Z$250 000 ($9,60) a sack.
Zimbabwe is in the grip of its worst economic crisis in 25 years of independence, with inflation close to 360% and spiralling poverty and shortages of basic commodities, including the staple maize meal.
President Robert Mugabe's government, which has so far refused to make an international appeal for food aid, claims it is importing sufficient quantities of maize meal to feed its 11,6-million people.
Last month Mugabe said in an interview on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly summit that while maize meal was in short supply due to drought, the country has "heaps of potatoes".
"We have heaps of potatoes but people are not potato eaters... they have rice but they're not as attracted [to that]," he was quoted as saying.
Zimbabwe was once dubbed the bread basket of southern Africa due to its bumper harvests of maize. However, following several years of drought and a controversial land reform programme launched five years ago that saw the seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks, harvests have plummeted.
In a separate article, the Herald reported that Mugabe told Zimbabweans in Rome, Italy where he is attending a Food and Agriculture Organisation meeting that the country would harvest only 250 000 tonnes of maize this year, out of a required amount of 1,8-million tonnes. - Sapa-DPA
Also, I've really been enjoying a webcam that Nat'l Geographic has set up near a water hole in Botswana. It's got streaming video and sound. There was a big herd of elephants there earlier this morning, for instance.
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