- Milanzi arrested in Zomba
by Gedion Munthali, 04 November 2005 - 06:10:55
Police in Zomba Thursday morning arrested Mangochi Malombe MP Maxwell Milanzi on allegations he contested parliamentary elections last year when he stood barred by the laws of Malawi for being an ex-convict.
Police spokesman Willie Mwaluka confirmed the development Thursday afternoon, saying Milanzi would be charged at Zomba Magistrate Court Friday, for giving false information to a person employed in the public service contrary to Section 122 of the Penal Code.
"It is true we have arrested him. He was arrested by police in Zomba. He is suspected of giving false information related to the 2004 parliamentary elections," said Mwaluka.
He declined to give details when asked if Milanzi had been granted bail.
"I think I should not answer that question because the arrest has just been effected this [Thursday] morning. What I can say is that he will appear in court tomorrow [Friday]," said the police publicist.
A police officer said Milanzi was picked from his house in Zomba Newlines at about 9 am.
"We would have arrested him yesterday [Wednesday], but we did not find him in his constituency. When we went there we were told he stays in Zomba," said the officer.
He said Milanzi was questioned after his arrest by a criminal investigations officer from Lilongwe.
"Milanzi refused to give a statement. He said he would exercise his right to remain silent," said the police officer.
Milanzi was picked immediately after the arrest of Balaka North MP Lucius Banda (UDF), who is alleged to have presented to the Malawi Electoral Commission a forged Malawi Schools Certificate of Education (MSCE) to participate in the 2004 parliamentary elections.
According to Mwaluka, the arrest was effected following a complaint from Malawi Examinations Board (Maneb) about certificate anomaly.
Milanzi and Banda were at Zomba Police Station around 3 pm on Thursday.
Both are also facing suits at the High Court in Lilongwe seeking their disqualification as MPs on same grounds of their arrest.
They are also involved in the impeachment process of President Bingu wa Mutharika.
Banda initiated the process of putting in place procedures for impeaching the President and Vice President. Milanzi presented a motion to indict and impeach Mutharika.
Meanwhile, UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu did not appear at the Police Headquarters in Lilongwe on Thursday where he was expected to give his statement and later appear before the Lilongwe Magistrate Court because it was a public holiday. He will appear today at 9 am.
Mpasu is alleged to have committed offences related to a Fieldyork notebook scandal about 11 years ago when he was Minister of Education.
No sense in Milanzi, Lucius arrests * Chilumpha
by Emmanuel Muwamba, 04 November 2005 - 06:09:42
Vice President Cassim Chilumpha Thursday condemned the arrest of Balaka North MP Lucius Banda and Mangochi Malombe MP Maxwell Milanzi, saying no sensible person can applaud the arrest of the two.
He said he believes the two have been arrested because of the "noble" job they did in the last sitting of Parliament.
The two MPs are involved in the impeachment process of President Bingu wa Mutharika.
Banda initiated the process of putting in place procedures for impeaching the President and the Vice President. Milanzi presented a motion to indict and impeach Mutharika.
Chilumpha, who was guest of honour at Eid ul-Fitr celebrations at Sakata ground in Zomba, wondered if there is a difference between the present government and that of Kamuzu Banda.
"What is wrong with us Malawians? We clap hands because an MP is arrested for doing a noble job. God save the country," said Chilumpha.
He also wondered why people are applauding the harassment of UDF Chairman Bakili Muluzi and injunctions against Parliament.
The Veep said people should persevere in line with the teachings of Islam, adding that "we will not leave it like that, they are looking at today's issues but we will not respond immediately because we want the country to move forward."
Chilumpha also challenged the nation to discuss the food crisis the country is going through, saying "it is only when we cry together that others will know Malawians are hungry."
Chairman of the Muslim Association of Malawi (Mam) Yusuf Kanyamula praised Muluzi for helping Muslim youths know the teachings of the Qur'an through his contribution to the translation of the Holy Book into Chichewa.
He also condemned President Bingu wa Mutharika for dumping UDF, saying it is first degree corruption.
Kanyamula said Muslims will not tolerate the harassment of Muluzi.
In his address, Muluzi praised Muslims for observing the 30-day fasting, noting that it was through perseverance that they did it.
Mam secretary general Sheikh Imran Shareef Mohammed asked Chilumpha to put some Muslims in charge of relief maize distribution, noting that Mam has been sidelined in the exercise despite several written calls to the OPC.
"When we go to receive relief maize they (NGOs) ask us to bargain with our beliefs," claimed Shareef Mohammed.
Masaf spends K700 million on rural roads
by Nation Reporter, 04 November 2005 - 07:21:05
The Malawi Social Action Fund (Masaf) says it has spent K700 million on a special programme on improving access roads to the remotest areas in preparation for the maize and food distribution exercise.
Masaf Development Communication Specialist Hudson Kubwalo said on Wednesday that more than 300,000 households took part in the public works, which covered the whole country.
Kubwalo said through the programme, implemented by the district assemblies, one individual per household was employed for 10 days at a daily rate of K200.
"These people worked on improving roads to their communities in readiness for government's maize and fertilizer distribution," he said.
Kubwalo added that the project ensured that the targeted needy households had some cash to buy a bag of subsidised fertilizer or maize.
In his remarks, Chairman of the Chiwamba-Ngozi Road project in Dedza, Charles Idrissa said people in his area used to walk for 20 to 40 kilometres to buy a bag of fertilizer or maize.
"Now, as you can see, trucks will come down the mountains to deliver maize and fertilizer," said Idrissa.
He said government will have no excuse for failing to deliver fertilizer and maize in the areas where villagers have worked on the roads.
About 4.6 million Malawians are believed to be in dire need of food this year and it is feared that distribution of maize will slow down when the rains start next month.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that it may be difficult for food to reach the most needy due to poor road conditions.
WFP's Deputy Executive Director Sheila Sisulu who was in the country recently said there was a lot to be done before December.
Govt to arrest Muluzi, claims Kamlepo
by Edwin Nyirongo, 04 November 2005 - 06:14:07
Malawi Democratic Party president Kamlepo Kaluwa on Thursday claimed government is planning to arrest former president Bakili Muluzi today [Friday] and release him on Monday in connection with the K1.4 billion donor money he is alleged to have banked into his personal account.
But Information Minister Patricia Kaliati has played down the claim, saying Kaluwa is saying all this because he has nothing to do. The Police have also said they are not aware of the move.
Said Kalua: "He [Muluzi] is going to be arrested on Friday at around 2 pm and will be driven slowly to Lilongwe where he will arrive at 7 pm and spend the weekend at Maula Prison.
"Muluzi will be released on Monday and then President Bingu wa Mutharika will declare that he has forgiven him in the name of reconciliation," speculated Kaluwa.
He said the cell Muluzi is going to spend the weekend in started to be worked on Monday and that it is ready.
Asked where he got the information, the MDP president claimed he has strong contacts at Police Headquarters in Lilongwe.
"You see, because I am a fearless person who speaks out openly, the people there come to me with information with the hope that I will make it public," boasted Kaluwa.
He also said police are being ferried from different places so that they should mount roadblocks in preparation for the arrest.
"You remember I said Lucius would be arrested on Wednesday but no one took it seriously and even Capital FM removed the information from the interview I had with them. But see how the story has come to be true," he claimed.
In her comment, Kaliati said: "This man is a pathological liar and should not be trusted. If he has nothing to do, he should just apply for a Mardef loan and do some business. If he can't, then he should register in my constituency and he will get the loan."
Kaliati said as government, they have nothing to do with the former president and if the issue is about K1.4 billion then it is up to the ACB whose activities, she claimed, government does not interfere with.
Police spokesperson Willies Mwaluka said he was not aware of the impending arrest.
ACB director Gustave Kaliwo's phone went unanswered.
KU people spending nights to buy fertiliser
by George Ntonya, 04 November 2005 - 06:11:58
Tens of people are spending nights at the Smallholder Farmers Fertilizer Revolving Fund (SFFRF) shop in Kasungu where buying of the subsidised commodity has become a feat.
"I have been here for two nights and I am not sure whether I will be able to buy the fertiliser today," said Loveness Banda a few days ago. "There is always a scramble for the fertiliser and instead of two bags, people are allowed to buy only one bag," she added.
She claimed to have travelled about 10 kilometres on foot to buy the fertiliser.
"I know of some people who have been here for up to four nights and have not bought the fertiliser yet," said Alfred Zuwawo. "There is a lot of fertiliser in the warehouse but people are buying it at a slow pace because of the screening process to avoid selling it to vendors."
Another man said he had been at the depot for three nights trying to buy two bags of fertiliser, but because he had to use part of the money for meals he could only afford a single bag.
"When I was coming I didn't know I was going to spend three nights so I did not take extra money for food," he said.
A few days ago the District Commissioner Kizwell Dakamau had to cut short a visit of some activities being implemented under what is called Integrated Child Labour Elimination Project (Iclep) to help SFFRF and Admarc officers control the crowd at the depot.
Dakamau was supposed to travel with officials from Creative Centre for Community Mobilisation (Creccom), Total Land Care (TLC) and Together Ensuring Children's Security * implementers of Iclep and others to Dwangwa in Kasungu and Ngala in Dowa to assess the progress made in the fight against child labour.
"I am sorry that I cannot proceed with you to Ngala because of the situation [at the fertilizer depot]," the DC said after visiting an irrigation project at Dwangwa.
This year, government has subsidised fertiliser for people wishing to grow maize and burley tobacco. Maize growers are allowed to buy a maximum of two bags while tobacco farmers can buy up to three bags.
US calls for probe of Zanzibar elections
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
04 November 2005 02:27
The United States has called for a thorough investigation of alleged irregularities in polls that led, amid opposition claims of fraud, to this week's re-election of President Amani Abeid Karume of the offshore Tanzanian state of Zanzibar.
"We remain troubled by the irregularities and reserve judgement on the freedom and fairness of the elections in Zanzibar until their impact on the outcome is clarified," the US embassy in Zanzibar said in a statement released late on Thursday.
The US embassy did not send a representative to Karume's swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday, which was also boycotted by opposition candidate Seif Sharif Hamad, who insists he won.
European Union embassies have also called for investigations into the alleged irregularities, such as the orchestration of widespread illegal voting for Karume and his long-ruling Revolutionary Party (CCM).
Detailed election results should be published "to foster greater confidence among the electorate in Zanzibar", the US statement said.
According to official results, Karume won 53,2% of the vote against 46,1% for Hamad, who heads the Civic United Front.
The Zanzibar government shrugged off the request, issuing a statement denouncing the embassy's claim of election fraud and suggesting that US officials may have been influenced by CUF party members.
"It is surprising that only observers from the US National Democratic Institute doubt the results of the elections. This clearly reflects that [the institute's] opinion was predetermined by personal feelings and stories of opposition leaders," Zanzibar's government spokesperson Ali Mwinyikai said in a statement.
Polling monitors from the National Democratic Institute pointed out several areas of concern, not the least of which was the use of "excessive force" by police during riotous demonstrations.
Rival groups of supporters clashed at several places in Stone Town, the historic centre of the Zanzibar city, during Sunday's elections, leaving one dead and more than 50 injured.
"Problems related to the permanent voters' register, election-day violence and, in some instances, the excessive use of force by security personnel may have undermined citizens' confidence in the electoral process and could have impaired the integrity of the vote in some polling stations," the National Democratic Institute said in a report issued on Tuesday.
However, the group stressed that there had been marked improvements over previous polls and that the results could still be valid if allegations of fraud are fully investigated and addressed. -- Sapa-AFP
Zimbabwe MDC faction slams leader
Rifts within Zimbabwe's main opposition party have deepened ahead of a crisis meeting called for Saturday.
Some Movement for Democratic Change officials say their leader acted unconstitutionally and dictatorially in calling an extraordinary meeting.
Morgan Tsvangirai denies this. The MDC has been divided over whether to contest Senate polls later this month.
However, both factions have now agreed that the row over the Senate has served to reveal longer-standing differences.
A statement by MDC deputy secretary Gift Chimanikire accuses Mr Tsvangirai of acting like a "dictator in the making" in calling a meeting of the National Council - the party's policy-making body.
Opposition's uphill battle
Mr Chimanikire is one of five top party officials who favour participation in the Senate elections, while Mr Tsvangirai has called for a boycott.
"In yet another move to usurp and violate the constitution of the party, Tsvangirai has called a meeting of the National Council for this Saturday (5 November)," Mr Chimanikire's statement read.
"He does not have the powers to unilaterally convene such a meeting," the statement argued.
"Having spent the past three weeks attempting to bribe and coerce members of the National Council, Tsvangirai now hopes to 'persuade' the National Council to reverse its decision on the Senate elections."
Mr Tsvangirai's spokesman, William Bango, told BBC News website that the party's last congress, in 2000, had specifically mandated Mr Tsvangirai to report to the National Council.
"So if he calls for a meeting of the National Council to save the party from collapse, how can he be said to be acting unconstitutionally? He is the only party member who reports to the National Council - the secretariat reports to Mr Tsvangirai," Mr Bango said.
He said he expected most council members to attend the meeting called for Saturday to resolve the current differences.
"What is coming up now shows very clearly that the Senate debate is only a setting for a more serious problem," Mr Bango said.
He added that some in the party were unhappy with Mr Tsvangirai's decision earlier to consult with other party office bearers individually rather than as a group.
Mr Chimanikire also said that "a gang of youths closely associated with Tsvangirai" had attacked and intimidated party officials in July this year.
But Mr Bango said the youths in question had been suspended from the party once the matter came to the leader's attention.
The MDC, founded in 1999, has presented the strongest ever challenge to President Robert Mugabe's government.
Mr Tsvangirai has accused state agents of trying to sow division within the party in order to weaken the opposition.
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