HomeOpinionWe need a senate like a hole in the head

We need a senate like a hole in the head

By Bill Saidi

VOTING is a very personal business. Would you buy a used car from Richard Hove or Forbes Magadu?

You re hungry, thirs

ty, jobless and ill and yet these heartless politicians are asking you to get out of bed very early in the morning and trudge to the polling station to vote for them.

If you are in Hove’s constituency, you are fine. After all, he was elected unopposed.

But if your candidate is Magadu, then you have to look at your options carefully. This man boasted, on ZTV, that only he could improve the lives of the people of Chitungwiza.

But your memory of his tenure as chairman of the town council is filled with the stench of rotting garbage and refuse-strewn streets. He claims credit for the Town Centre and the highway to Harare, but for you he is linked to the unsavoury era when Chitungwiza was a hotbed of corruption and graft.

So, if you know what is good for you, you will grit your teeth, gird your loins and search for that money you hid under the mattress for the bus fare to the polling station.

You must prevent Magadu from returning to look after your garbage – and anything else in the suburb.

To most people, we need the senate the way a perfectly normal person needs a hole in the head.

But Zimbabwe has been providing the world with marvellous theatre since Independence. William Shakespeare would have loved this country. There would be scintillating material for another Macbeth, complete with plots and bloodshed, another Julius Caesar, Othello and even Much Ado About Nothing.

For the moment, Zimbabwe has provided enough material for a film featuring an assassination at the United Nations, starring Nicole Kidman, among other Hollywood heavyweights. The centrepiece is a fictitious President Robert Mugabe, of course.

A play written by a gay, Jewish South African, has a psychiatrist interviewing President Mugabe, a man whose homophobia is known throughout the world.

In years to come, another play might be written on the amazing, zany flip-flops of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) before two elections in 2005 for the national assembly and the senate, both won by Zanu PF.

The play would naturally feature Morgan Tsvangirai, whose rise to the role of Mugabe’s most formidable challenger for power is the stuff of which dreams are made. A supporting role will be accorded to Welshman Ncube, to whom Shakespeare might assign the role of another Brutus.

If Zanu PF had any faith in its TV network, it would have abandoned the senate election after the screening of a damning vox pop which showed how little most ordinary people knew of the senate, let alone why they were being asked to vote for it. One person wondered why, if the senate had been abolished as a relic of the Smith regime, it was being revived in 2005.

So far, nobody, including the president, has explained satisfactorily why we need the senate. The prevailing suspicion is that Mugabe, who likes to look after old friends, wants the senate as the burial ground for his old cronies.

Otherwise why else would we have failed politicians like Dumiso Dabengwa, Richard Hove, Sabina Thembani, Vivian Mwashita and others getting on the payroll of the taxpayer?

For most people, the senators will do more dozing than debating. For one thing, they are mostly old and for another they don’t originate anything but wait for laws to be passed on from the house of assembly.

In truth, the senate will not have the clout of the United States senate, for instance, which has enormous authority in Congress. The lower house of representatives has more members, but with only 100 members the senate is more feared by presidents.

Moreover, this senate may not be even as powerful as the House of Lords in the United Kingdom, although that institution is a sort of burial ground for old politicians, including the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, now Lady Thatcher.

The senate was created with the promulgation of Constitutional Amendment Number 17, characterised by many as an example of how much contempt Mugabe and his party have for the people of Zimbabwe. This amendment also “concluded” the land reform programme, barring any challenges in court for any action taken by the government. Some say this is the coward’s way, but others say only a bully would do this sort of thing.

In creating the senate, Mugabe wants to ensure that his political handiwork remains intact for a long time to come. If, one day, the house of assembly is weighted in favour of the opposition, a Zanu PF-dominated senate could make its work pretty difficult.

The mess created by the senate is unlikely to leave the MDC unscathed. Its split over a boycott of the poll is likely to leave permanent scars. Allegations of the cause being over money are shameful.

Tsvangirai has learnt valuable political lessons since joining the fray in 1999 and Welshman Ncube, his alleged rival for power, does not have an edge in that department.

But South African President Thabo Mbeki’s alleged role in ensuring Ncube wins the day, albeit temporarily, is not going to augur well for any future relationship between his ruling ANC and the MDC. Tsvangirai may not be ready to lie down and give up the fight, as another former trade unionist-turned-politician, Cyril Ramaphosa, did to allow Mbeki free rein in the ANC.

Moreover, Mbeki may rue his all-out support for Mugabe. Hugo Chavez, an ally of Mugabe in their anti-imperialist stance, has said in a recent interview that he did not support everything that Mugabe stood for. He did not elaborate, but it is suspected that when he saw Mugabe’s performance at the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s 60th anniversary conference in Rome, he was alarmed.

Others, in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, were equally alarmed. Yes, Mugabe has engaged in sensational histrionics in the past, but in Rome he seemed to go overboard.

Most African leaders seem to support Mugabe. They have their own reasons: they have performed no better than he has. Some are even more brutal towards their people than he is.

But the decision to go ahead with the senate election may be his final undoing. People are bitter with his policies for stripping them of their dignity.

The tsunami will not be easily forgotten as an act of savagery against ordinary people whose only sin was that they wanted to make a decent living in a country whose economic managers had bankrupted it.

The final straw must be the temerity with which people are being asked to go and vote for a useless institution, an institution which adds nothing to their struggle to better their lives or to give them the power to challenge the government to do “the right thing” by them, honouring its promises to them at Independence.

Tsvangirai’s call for a boycott may not be the trigger. The people’s own anger may eventually be the catalyst for a real stayaway.

* Bill Saidi is editor of the banned Daily News on Sunday.

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