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Editor’s Memo

Mace & wigs

PRESIDENT Mugabe opened parliament on Tuesday amid the traditional pomp and ceremony, steeped in the British pageantry of wigs and maces.

na, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>The opening of the House, as has become the norm, lived up to its prosaic billing as the usual presidential blood and thunder was countered by tradition and ceremony.

Our octogenarian leader on such occasions has to stick to the written speech, which does not afford him the sabre-rattling opportunity to brandish his fist and utter choice expletives against opponents.

Thus the major highlight for the forlorn crowd seated in the Africa Unity Square was the very colourful sight of horses, the vintage Rolls Royce, and the procession of black judges in shoulder length curly white wigs led by the Sergeant-at-Arms carrying the ceremonial mace. The practice of carrying maces dates back to the 14th century and Sergeants-at-Arms were armed with maces and sworn to protect the King’s person. In modern-day parliaments the mace is said to represent the authority of the speaker.

The ceremonies around the opening of parliament and the conducting of its business are rooted in the British Royal ceremonies, which were then passed on to Commonwealth countries.

But the British themselves have started to discard some of the paraphernalia and ceremonies associated with the royalty.

In October last year the British Lord Chancellor broke with centuries of tradition by ditching the elaborate costume worn by his predecessors at historic ceremonies. Lord Falconer donned an ordinary suit for the judges’ service marking the start of the legal year.

In 1998 Queen Elizabeth II dropped 14 worthies from the royal procession at the formal opening of the legislative session – all victims of the modernisation of the monarchy.

Perhaps Zimbabwe should start by dropping the wigs and replace them with a more appropriate headdress. The mace can also go and be replaced by the Nyami Nyami walking stick! Remember Mugabe received a leopard skin in 1996 during his inauguration as president. Should he not wear this on state occasions in addition or instead of the gold chain and sash?

Lest we forget, Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth in December last year because it is “evil and racist”. Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa has spoken of the need to remove vestiges of colonialism from the country’s institutions including the judiciary.

“We must begin to exorcise from all our institutions the racist ghost of (former Rhodesian leader) Ian Smith and we do so by phasing out his disciples and sympathisers,” he said in 2001, just before the reorganisation of the Supreme Court Bench.

Should he not be thinking of exorcising the ghost of the Bench’s regalia – especially the white wigs?

But there are also Zimbabwean traits that have become synonymous with the opening of parliament.

Thousands of Harare residents got to work late on Tuesday morning because police decided to check the face of every person driving into the city. This might sound ridiculous but I did not understand what they were looking for at roadblocks set up on all major roads leading into the city.

Along Robert Mugabe Road just before the Vehicle Inspection Depot, a visibly tired policeman appeared unsure of his instructions.

Standing in the middle of a lane leading into the city, he would stop all vehicles travelling in the inner lane and signal a dozen in the outer lane to pass. He continued the routine alternating between the lanes. Three other policemen were chatting on the roadside.

I did not see a vehicle being searched for dangerous weapons or unroadworthy contraptions being taken off the road. An old green Landrover truck carrying about 20 standing passengers went through the roadblock unchallenged.

The result of this policeman’s pointless exercise was a traffic snarl-up from the roadblock to Braeside shopping centre.

There was a moment of immense danger on the level crossing along Chiremba Road when the Freedom Train from Mabvuku rolled through, missing by a few inches a number of vehicles stuck in the jam near the railway line.

My seven-kilometre drive from home to work, which normally takes 10 minutes in the morning rush hour, took an hour and seven minutes. We now await the police to tell us how many saboteurs and criminals were nabbed in the huge operation. Not to mention manhours lost as most employees were late for work.

I was in Murehwa on Monday where I had been subpoenaed to testify as state witness in a case before the court there. After attending court, a police constable told me to go to the office of the clerk of court to be reimbursed for my transport expenses since I was on state duty.

“We pay 70c per kilometre,” the court official said with a straight face. The journey from Murehwa and back is 180 km, which would have made my compensation 12 600c or $126. Is Chinamasa being paid this rate when he travels on government duty?

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