State sponsored violence against elected officials must be removed from Zimbabwe’s politics

27 Nov 2018

We used to believe that wars were, and are, fought on large swaths of land against unwelcome neighbours. Thousands of horsemen or tanks, standing ready to charge against the enemy who advances with equal determination. But it seems like Taiwan started it all…against itself. This island nation has been well ahead in staging the most notorious parliamentary brawls than any other parliament. We remember, don’t we, seeing on YouTube, snippets of punch-ups in the Taiwanese parliament where legislators threw chairs at each other or, literally, ate bills to prevent them from progressing?

I try to figure out how I would react in Parliament when my idea is under threat as another Honourable Member stands up and, with a turn of verse, spouts a load of uncollected rubbish onto my precious proposal and tries to impose a restrictive law that affects not my constituency but me. That is when I learned that chairs can fly.

It is, however, not unheard of that Honourable Members of Parliament at times literally take the law into their own hands, prompting security officers to storm into Parliament and eject Honorable members.

Many times, we have seen it in South Africa as security officers forcibly ejected parliamentarians out of the august House.

It is nothing new at all; but it is something terribly awkward when it happens because it washes away the sanctity of both parliament and the elected representatives who work within. More importantly, it diminishes the importance of representatives while it sends a clear and unfortunate signal that tarnishes the other two members of the tripartite: the Executive and the Judiciary.

South Africa has shown us rude ways to right things. Some call the parliamentary behavior of the Economic Freedom Fighters ‘radical’ and necessary while others look upon it with disdain.

Both sides are right, depending on who is being served.

A similar situation happened in the Zimbabwe parliament in 2004 when then parliamentarian, the late Roy Bennett, floored then Finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa, for uttering what Benett considered patronizing remarks against him. Bennett was subsequently convicted for this stand-off and jailed.

In 2015, in a first in Botswana Parliament, MP Phenyo Buthale was manhandled by police in parliament and thrown onto the floor outside parliament after some heated debate over the national water and electricity crisis.

Slowly, around the world, parliamentary decorum has evaporated and honorable members have found it a little more efficient to keep quiet, thereby shortchanging the people they are supposed to be representing.

Abusive and disregard of parliamentary protocol have been witnessed in countries such as Kenya and Taiwan.

Three days ago, the Speaker of the Zimbabwe Parliament instructed the Serjeant-at-Arms to remove, from the House, a horde of opposition MDC Alliance Members of Parliament for allegedly not standing up when the President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, walked in.

While there is no law that requires MPs to stand up when the president enters Parliament, the MDC Alliance continues to refuse to accept Mnangagwa as head of state, saying he rigged the elections and so is not the legitimate leader of Zimbabwe.

During this particular eviction process, opposition parliamentarians were beaten up by police, with some requiring hospitalization.

Zimbabwe is facing very difficult times. Mnangagwa should be the first to admit that he, at the moment, does not seem to have answers or solutions to Zimbabwe’s problems, both economic and political.

He seems to lack fresh ideas and seems willing to imitate deposed president Robert Mugabe’s destructive methodologies.

He is just following in Mugabe’s footsteps and regurgitating back into cabinet the same pile of incompetent men and women.

On Thursday, his Attorney General, Prince Machaya, stated that there is “no conflict with the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) in relation to the deployment of members of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces to assist police in the maintenance of law and order.” This at a time when former South African president, Kgalema Motlanthe, chairs a so-called international Commission of Enquiry into the violent August 1st mayhem that claimed more than six lives and is canvassing for witnesses to give evidence.

As Motlanthe gathers his evidence as to whether or not the government and military were involved in the deaths of protesters, the police invade parliament, the third branch of government, and assault parliamentarians so badly that some of them had to be hospitalized.

It does not seem as though Motlanthe will be looking very far to find perpetrators of violence in Zimbabwe.

As for Mnangagwa, he ought to understand now that Zimbabweans and the world will not be giving him an extended honeymoon, especially now that he has shown a desire to adopt Mugabe’s despotic type of governance. Even those Zimbabweans who were advocating for giving Mnangagwa a little more time are beginning to get turned off by his lack of both direction and innovative ideas for the country.

In parliament, as outside, people are not safe from either the police or the soldiers.

Parliamentarians are elected people and the State, whatever their grievances are against Members of Parliament, must treat the people’s representatives with respect.

The people want to see parliamentarians eloquently espousing the wishes, needs, feelings and ideas from their constituencies without fear.

The violence in Zimbabwe’s parliament does not bode well for a nation failing to inspire itself and the people, let alone mapping a new path that divorces the country from the brutal governing of a past president.

Mnangagwa cannot continue with Mugabe’s way of ruling; he has to listen to the people and do what the people demand of him.