Mixed Reception At Parliament Opening

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe on Tuesday arrived at Parliament Building in a lustrous black British made Rolls Royce vintage car expecting nothing short of song, dance and ululation from his die-hard Zanu PF supporters glorifying his leadership and person.

 

Not known to the octogenarian leader was the mixed reception he would get from multitudes of people who found shed from the sweltering summer heat under jacaranda trees strewn in the Africa Unity Square.

As Mugabe’s bodyguards jumped from the motorcade and surrounded the 84-year-old leader, foot-stomping Zanu PF supporters started chanting “Gushungo (Mugabe’s totem), Gushungo! vaMugabe muhofisi” (Mugabe in office) welcoming him.

But not to be outdone were the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC supporters who were singing and waving anti-Zanu PF and Mugabe banners.

Though they were outnumbered by Zanu PF members, the MDC supporters looked energetic as they chanted their “MDC, more fire, Zanu yaora” (Zanu is rotten)’ refrains.

Police details manning the square struggled to keep the toy-toying members of the two main political parties under check.

This was a rare demonstration by the police known to ruthlessly stop anti-Mugabe protests.

The opening of parliament will go down as a memorable event in the country’s 28 years of independence. Not only was it preceded by a historic harmonised election in March, but also the outcome of these elections marked a turning point in the country’s body polity.

The opposition reversed Zanu PF’s majority in the House of Assembly for the first time since 1980.

Legislators were first to enter the chamber and about 20 MPs failed to secure seats because the house is small after parliamentarians were increased from 120 to 210.

Mugabe strolled into the House 20 minutes later and was given a standing ovation by Zanu PF supporters, but MDC parliamentarians remained rooted on their seats. The opposition legislators only got up when the country’s national anthem was played out.

Then Mugabe took to the podium and a few minutes later parliament was turned into a circus. The entire proceedings in the chamber were characterised by ranting.

The rowdy opposition parliamentarians at times drowned Mugabe’s voice forcing scribes to keep abreast with the proceedings by constantly reading the former guerilla leader’s prepared speech issued to them in advance. Mugabe was jeered at when he expressed gratitude to South Africa’s president Thabo Mbeki “outstanding (mediation) role” in the stalled inter-party talks.

One of the MDC MPs shouted: “Go back to the talks! You are arresting us as we speak right now.”

Shortly the opposition parliamentarians burst into their popular mobilisation song, Tiripachirangano (We are in agreement to remove Mugabe and Zanu PF) when the president referred to “isolated cases” of political violence during the countdown to the June run-off.

The parliamentarians went a step further and chanted another of their popular campaign song, Zanu yaora (Zanu is rotten), which completely drowned Mugabe’s speech.

Senior opposition members, among them vice-president Thokozani Khupe, secretary-general Tendai Biti and spokesperson Nelson Chamisa, who were seated on the front row on the right side of the chamber did not join their colleagues in deriding Mugabe.

The opposition legislators also shouted that they would not pass the Public Finance Management Bill Mugabe said would be tabled in the first session of the Parliament.

In an effort to show solidarity with the increasingly embarrassed veteran leader, Zanu PF supporters roared in applause to Mugabe’s planned motions on economic empowerment and the resuscitation of the agricultural sector, and his rhetoric on Western-imposed sanctions.

Mugabe’s foreign policy was not spared from opposition disapproval either. His emphasis on the Look East Policy targeting mainly China and Iran received a dose of mockery. “Zhing Zhong, Zhing Zhong! (Colloquial for cheap quality Oriental products)”, interjected the opposition legislators in song.

Mugabe’s remarks on the exploits of Zimbabwe’s swimming icon Kirsty Coventry at the just-ended Olympic Games in Beijing drew more jeers.

“Murungu, murungu, nhasi wazonaka (so the white man has suddenly become a hero),” shouted a female MDC-Tsvangirai legislator seated on the right side of the chamber.

For the MDC-Tsvangirai, their behaviour in Parliament was a protest against Mugabe’s decision to open the august house against the spirit and letter of the Memorandum of Understanding the parties to the Sadc-initiated talks signed on July 21.

The MDC-T Senate chief whip, Obert Gutu defended his party’s behaviour.

“We participated in the proceedings in protest. It shows that the democratic culture in the country is slowly maturing. We look at politics as an exchange or discourse of ideas as opposed to an exercise of thugery that was seen prior the June 27 election,” said Gutu.

Newly appointed Mashonaland Central governor Martin Dinha blasted the MDC for embarrassing Mugabe.

“This behaviour was deplorable and immature,” said Dinha. “It showed that some people were playing to the imperialist gallery.”

Mugabe’s exit from the house was also characterised by dishonour from the MDC-Tsvangirai’s lawmakers.

Zanu PF legislators gave him another standing ovation before roaring into the revolutionary song Zimbabwe ndeye ropa (Zimbabwe is a sacrificial country).

The Tsvangirai-led MDC remained seated as the 84-year leader followed by judges found their way out. Eventually they erupted into the Zanu yaora song, which drowned their rivals singing.

Newly elected speaker of the House, Lovemore Moyo, eventually closed the chaotic opening session that signaled what would await the new parliament, which adjourned to October 14.

The heckling that marked the opening of parliament on Tuesday was also preceded by the outrageous behaviour by the MPs on Monday when the legislators took their oath of office.

Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma struggled to keep the House in order. He continuously reminded the legislators to behave “honourably” but the message fell on deaf ears.

MDC-Tsvangirai legislators exchanged political volleys with Zanu PF legislators during the “secret ballot” for the speaker of the House of Assembly where most opposition legislators displayed their vote to the party’s deputy president Thokozani Khupe and chief whip Innocent Gonese.

The main wing opposition group emerged successful in an election Biti claimed Zanu PF, Mutambara’s MDC and Independent legislator Jonathan Moyo wanted to “subvert the will of the people”. Moyo seconded MDC nominee Paul Themba Nyathi who got 98 to 110 for Moyo.

MDC’s Nomalanga Khumalo Mzilikazi was unchallenged for the deputy speaker’s post.

Zwizai Murisi, Nelson Chamisa, Tabitha Khumalo and Dorcas Sibanda of the MDC-Tsvangirai exchanged ridicules with the ruling party’s Saviour Kasukuwere, Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao and Edward Raradza over their alleged involvement in the June election violence.

Deputy President Joice Mujuru was also a butt of the circus. MDC-Tsvangirai legislators “sympathised” with Mujuru following Ray Kaukonde’s alleged fallout with Mugabe. Kaukonde, formerly Mashonaland East governor, was widely seen as backing Mujuru’s ascendancy to the Zanu PF presidency.

By Bernard Mpofu