- Ten released in Malawi over treason plot
08 May 2006 01:56
Ten opposition leaders and businessmen detained last week in Malawi in connection with an alleged plot to assassinate President Bingu wa Mutharika have been released due to lack of evidence, police said on Monday.
"Police have not found sufficient evidence to prosecute them, but those truly connected to the case shall be arrested and face the law," police spokesperson Willie Mwaluka told Agence France-Presse.
Among those released at the weekend was Kamlepo Kalua, leader of the small opposition Malawi Democratic Party (MDP) and an outspoken critic of Mutharika.
Kalua said he was told by police that there was an "order from above" that they were to be set free. There were no conditions attached to their release and he did not sign a statement, he said.
The 10 opposition leaders and businessmen were released following investigations into an alleged plot hatched by Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha to assassinate Mutharika.
Chilumpha, who had been sacked by Mutharika in February but was reinstated following a court ruling, was arrested on April 29 and charged with treason and conspiracy to commit murder.
He is due to stand trial with two alleged accomplices, Yusuf Matumula, a prominent businessman, and Rashid Nembo, both of whom are close allies of former president Bakili Muluzi.
Mutharika, who was handpicked as Muluzi's successor in 2004, had a falling-out with the former president and has left the ruling party to form his own political group.
Chilumpha has been at loggerheads with the president since he criticised the arrests of two deputies suspected of being behind a drive to impeach the head of state in Parliament last year. The motion was withdrawn in January. -- Sapa-AFP
Disabled people regarded as cure for Aids*Minister
by Emmanuel Muwamba, 08 May 2006 - 07:55:12
Minister of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services Joyce Banda says she has noted with sadness that communities regard persons with disabilities as a cure for HIV and Aids.
Banda made the observation on Saturday at Seyama ground in Chigumula, Blantyre where the Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi (Fedoma) conducted a disability and HIV and Aids awareness building campaign.
"It is sad to note that most of the problems experienced by people with disabilities, their families and community, are to some extent a result of myths and retrogressive beliefs that are held about disability.
"It is a matter of great concern to see men having forced sexual intercourse with disabled girls or women with the hope that they will be cured from HIV and Aids," said Banda.
She said the disability and HIV and Aids campaign is important because it highlights challenges faced by people with disabilities in accessing public information on the pandemic.
The campaign also seeks to promote awareness of the HIV and Aids pandemic among the disabled by ensuring that they have equal access to public information on HIV and Aids and that they actively participate in HIV and Aids awareness programmes.
Banda said the campaign had come at a time when HIV and Aids continues to devastate the lives of many Malawians. She said it is estimated that 250 Malawians contract HIV, the virus that causes Aids, everyday.
The campaign was held under the theme "People with disabilities have a right to access HIV and Aids information."
Fedoma is running the campaign with financial assistance from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Gender Support Programme.
Fedoma executive director Mussa Chiwaula said information is rarely available in appropriate formats or adjusted to existing needs for disabled people.
"There is lack of information provided in sign language for the deaf and hearing-impaired people,' he said
One midwife caters for 1,500 pregnant women
by Juliet Chimwaga, 08 May 2006 - 07:54:09
Association of Malawian Midwives (AMAMI) President Lennie Kamwendo on Friday said there is a crisis in maternal care in the country to the extent that one midwife is responsible for the care of 1,500 pregnant women.
Kamwendo was speaking in Lilongwe during celebrations marking the International Day of Midwives.
The Day's theme was "The world needs midwives now more than ever."
Kamwendo said Malawi needs more midwives.
But Secretary for Health Wesley Sangala said government has embarked on a K2 million programme to train all nurses as midwives.
"You midwives are in a business of bringing life into the world so if we do not eradicate this burden on child-bearing there will be no life on earth," said Sangala adding: "That is why the biggest headache our ministry has now is to increase the numbers of competent care takers for our pregnant women."
He also said the reduction of the maternal deaths from 1,120 to 984 in every 100,000 pregnant women is good but not very significant.
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) programme officer Dorothy Lazaro said her organisation is also funding programmes through the Ministry of Health.
UNFPA funded the celebrations.
Police, DC stop rally on Chitipa road
by Edwin Nyirongo, 08 May 2006 - 07:45:12
Police and the District Commissioner (DC) in Chitipa have stopped a rally which was aimed at getting views from the people about development projects in the district, including the controversial Karonga-Chitipa Road.
But Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) of Mzuzu Diocese has condemned the action describing it as a continuation of the suppression of the people from the district.
The organisers of the rally, the Concerned Citizens of Chitipa, invited all political parties in the district, Members of Parliament and chiefs in order to have wider representation.
"The main purpose of the meeting was to have a common voice in the district concerning development, especially now when there is tension on the Karonga-Chitipa Road," said one of the organisers, Joseph Mulungu.
Mulungu conceded that the meeting was not authorised but insisted they are going to press for permission.
"We will be contacting a lawyer, probably Makoza Chirwa, so that he should help us get permission to gather for the benefit of the district," he said.
Mulungu claimed that the police were worried with the security saying the Karonga-Chitipa Road has created tension in the district and that the rally would complicate the situation.
He said the DC wrote them that he did not recognise their rally.
DC Charles Mwawembe confirmed to have written a letter to the concerned citizens over the proposed rally.
"They wrote me a letter saying they wanted to hold a rally here but I told them that their group was not registered and the meeting would be illegal," he said.
Asked why people could not be allowed to meet and discuss development in the district, Mwawembe, who was paraded by Lands and Housing Minister Bazuka Mhango and Deputy Irrigation and Water Development Minister Frank Mwenefumbo during the press briefing in Karonga over the road, claimed the assembly is the only recognised group to air views regarding development.
"We have the district assembly here where all key people including chiefs are represented. We can't have a parallel structure and talk about some developments in the district," he said.
But John Chawinga of CCJP called upon the police and the DC to give people of Chitipa a chance to discuss development.
He said threats are not welcome in the democratic world and warned that such actions would only escalate anger among the people of the district.
Chitipa Police officer-in-charge could not be reached for comment.
Muluzi's empire collapsing
by Henry Chilobwe, 07 May 2006 - 07:07:32
The vast economic and political empire that former President Bakili Muluzi built within 10 years of his rule is fast disintegrating hardly two years after he reluctantly walked out of Sanjika Palace.
It appears as if the centre of both his economic and political bases can no longer hold and things are falling apart for a man who in his hey days could have people of all shades of colours and status mingling around him whenever he coughed to signal attention.
At the pinnacle of his power and grip over the country, Muluzi, who just before the 2004 general elections was fondly referred to by his party followers * especially the ever joyful dancing women * as Atcheya (Chairman of his United Democratic Front party) was a multi-millionaire who travelled the entire country splashing wards of the precious kwacha with total abandon. Hundreds of people flocked to his public appearances in the hope of pocketing a chunk of the money he always threw around.
Muluzi was a businessman even before he ascended the presidency in 1994, but his companies were largely struggling to remain afloat. However, when he became president he soon turned into a renowned sugar baron, founded an investment and trade bank that never really saw the light of day, owned vast landed properties and partnered with several established entrepreneurs in various fields.
In short, during the 10 years of his rule his businesses interests and undertakings rapidly burgeoned and flourished such that other business magnates in the country were ready to partner with him.
Today the bliss his business enjoyed seems to be vanishing by the day. Time hardly passes without an organisation or individual businessperson surfacing to claim that the former president owes one huge amounts of money for transactions conducted when he ruled the country.
With more than a billion Kwacha debt burden on his neck, Muluzi soon found himself in a shadow of his own exploits. The rock-solid business empire that once flourished is fast turning into mere memoirs of the tycoon Muluzi had become in his heydays.
Towards the twilight of his reign Muluzi had embarked on an ambitious project to set up the Trade and Investment Bank, which had it succeeded might have assured him of a lucrative post-politics retirement life. The project died in its budding stages and it was booted out of Delamere House in Blantyre for failing to pay K8 million rentals.
Sheriffs descended on the bank on February 7 last year and seized computers and furniture, which were only worth thousands of kwacha. They auctioned these weeks later.
Soon after Muluzi relinquished power the trend continued with debtors swooping on him and resorting to court action to recover their money. On the heels of managers for Delamere House, six months later, was the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), which demanded MK111 million from Atcheya as duty for vehicles he imported between 1999 and 2004 but were released without any duty being paid on them.
Liquidated Finance Bank also lunged for his neck over a MK50 million loan that Atupele Properties Limited (a family business concern) obtained in 2004. With interests this debt came to MK93 million at the time the bank wanted to be paid. The High Court in Blantyre last year ruled that MK50 million be paid by Muluzi's property agents and managers, Knight Frank, and MK43 million by Atupele Properties.
Police guarding Mugabe plaque
by Emmanuel Muwamba, 08 May 2006 - 07:49:39
Police in Blantyre are guarding the plaque Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe unveiled when he opened the new Midima Road which has been named after him as Robert Mugabe Highway.
Police have been seen sitting at the foot of the plaque or hiding in a shrub behind it since Thursday when the road was officially opened.
Minister of Transport and Public Works Henry Mussa said he was not aware that police were still guarding the plaque suggesting "that may be they are waiting for transport to take away their tents".
But when he was told that there were no tents around since Thursday, Mussa said: "Why don't you ask them why they are there."
Mussa said he was travelling to India and had no knowledge of what was going on.
Southern Region Police Headquarters spokesperson Rhoda Manjolo said police presence in most roads was normal.
"These are normal patrols, it is part of our daily job," she said.
But she could not say why Police were specifically seen at the plaque which was unveiled last week.
President Bingu wa Mutharika renamed the Midima Road after Mugabe describing him as a true son of Africa and hero who deserves honour "because of his relentless war against colonial domination not only in Zimbabwe but also throughout Africa and the entire world".
The renaming of the road came amid resistance from the civil society who threatened to stage demonstrations in protest against Mugabe's visit because of his bad human rights record.
However there was no single placard against Mugabe during his entire four-day stay in the country.
He left the country on Saturday.
Zim public servants 'conned' over salaries
08 May 2006 09:41
Soldiers, police officers, teachers and other civil servants in Zimbabwe appear to have been taken for a ride by the Public Service Commission (PSC) as it has begun to emerge that "hefty" salaries they were recently promised may have been just a mirage.
Irate soldiers, teachers and other civil servants called The Standard newspaper last week to blast the government for making what they called empty promises.
PSC chairperson Mariyawanda Nzuwah -- flanked by army commander General Constantine Chiwenga and police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri -- recently announced that the lowest grades among teachers would be paid Z$33-million a month, while the lowest-paid soldiers would receive Z$27-million a month.
A few days later, Nzuwah told The Sunday Mail that top-performing civil servants and members of the uniformed forces would receive more money.
He said there would be additional incentives, which would see a rural teacher receiving a total package of Z$36,5-million while their graduate counterparts would gross Z$39-million.
However, when the salary schedules were released last week, the civil servants and the uniformed officers were shocked to see that the figures had been inflated.
For example, a teacher will this month receive a basic salary of Z$21 071 048 instead of the promised Z$36,5-million a month. Additional transport and housing allowance bring the figure to Z$30 912 629.
The highest-paid non-graduate teacher in grade C3 will receive gross Z$32 597 079.
A teacher who has all along been dreaming of grossing almost Z$37-million told The Standard: "It appears we were conned. The government should have announced percentage increments but because they knew they had something to hide, they just started confusing everybody with figures."
It appears to be the same story for soldiers.
While government had said those in the lowest ranks of the army would receive Z$27,2-million, senior army officers told their juniors that they will get Z$21-million.
A private who spoke to The Standard on Friday said: "Yes, that is what we were told. It's depressing."
He said there was widespread disgruntlement in the camps following the revelations that they would not get the promised Z$27,2-million. Other soldiers who spoke to The Standard said they were angry at what they termed deceptive behaviour by the PSC.
Said one soldier: "As far as we were made to understand, the gross salary for the lowest-paid soldier would be Z$27-million, but according to the new payment schedules, the gross is Z$21-million. I don't know why they announced things they knew were not true."
There are reports that some landlords have started hiking their rentals after hearing that the civil servants' salaries were increased by 300%. The government is believed to have hastily announced salary increments for civil servants amid fears that they could join any opposition-led demonstrations against the government.
Raymond Majongwe, secretary general of the Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe, said the wrong impression has been created over the increments.
"It must be clearly stated that there is a difference between a salary and an allowance. You cannot group salaries and allowances and then assign a percentage increase. As we speak, many teachers are being congratulated by people who believe that their salaries are out of this world.
"Rentals are beginning to go up; shops have increased their prices in anticipation of the 'hefty' salaries. By the time teachers receive their May salaries, inflation would have eroded them," Majongwe said. -- The Standard
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