Seven Senate seats – a worthless quota

BY DIANA MITCHELL
Seven has always been my favourite number, but I am going off it. When the MDCs pro-Senate faction won seven seats it set me thinking about numbers  not my favourite pastime  but words have begun to fail me since the whole sorry scenario of a futile and possibly fatal fight

with the partys President over the Senate seats began. So I ruminate over another historical, and equally unhelpful political win for seven opposition men whom I knew long ago. Working together in our little opposition political party, we helped them on their way to parliament. We were looking for political space; we were na￯ve enough to believe that we could change things. We were wrong. Our seven men won seven seats but they could do absolutely nothing to advance the cause of our party for freedom from minority rule of the country. Thirty-five years ago, the parliament of Rhodesia was almost exclusively filled with devotees of the ruling party, the Rhodesian Front (which was the same as the government). The opposition could not even boast of the worthless quota – in seats, not in personalities – that the current Zimbabwean government (which is the same as the ruling party) has permitted their MDC opposition. It is by Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) party’s design that they currently occupy too few seats to be effective in either the upper or lower chambers of Parliament. A two-thirds majority for the ruling party gives them licence to change the constitution, to do whatever they like. Twenty-five years of increasingly brutal preparation for this achievement has seen to that. The parallels with Smith’s RF falter here because it has to be said that the majority of white voters followed him out of love (they wanted to believe that he could keep the country safe for them forever), and not, as in Mugabe’s case, out of fear. In the general elections of 1970, undaunted by the same uneven playing field as exists today – correction, it wasn’t nearly so uneven then as it is today – the Centre Party put up eight good men and true, led by Micah Bhebe, for the eight seats that could only be contested by the very limited numbers of black people on the “B” roll. Seven of them won (the eighth was won by a candidate from Masvingo called Gondo). All the whites, who contested on the “A” roll, lost. We were not surprised but we were thrilled to bits with our seven men in parliament. The record (Hansard) reveals, however, that they could change absolutely nothing – just as is the case for the MDC in today’s parliament of Zimbabwe. The little opposition CP had no chance of making alliances in the House with other minority parties – because there were none, way back then, either – to outvote the ruling RF regime. Mere “window dressing” it was then and window dressing it is now. A small quota of opposition seats was expensive window dressing, but well worth the cost as it presented our apartheid South African neighbours and others disposed to support white rule with the false face of a democratic dispensation. The uninitiated were given the impression that democracy could prevail in a country ruled by one party. We all know now that under the ruling RF, the minority whites eventually had to fight a bloody war, and power came to the majority blacks through the barrel of a gun. MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai went against his party’s formal decision to contest for seats when he urged a boycott of the Senate election. He was ineffectively suspended, quite legitimately, but unwisely at this point in time, as his party’s non-partisan Legal Secretary, David Coltart put it. He reacted by making things worse. “I don’t want to get bogged down in legal interpretations. This is a political problem and would have to be sorted out politically, he said, through Bango, his spokesman. William Bango is a good man but perhaps he should shoulder the blame for this awful blunder. Zimbabwe’s most powerful man, the cause of most of Zimbabwe’s problems has exactly the same attitude to “legal interpretations”. He has never allowed himself to get bogged down in them. The only interpretations he will accept are his own, and look where that has brought the country. Morgan is on firm ground, however, with his reported remark “All this political fiddling while the country is reduced to ashes.” That is indeed a piece of political wisdom. The score between the two factions is just about even “at this point in time”. David got it. Now why can”t the rest of them get it? The Seven Senate Seats provide a fine piece of alliteration for a headline. Unfortunately, the number Seven is as hopeless as it proved to be thirty-five years ago. There really are no words worth concocting around the whole dreary episode of a fatal fight over the carcass of a once proud parliament. Except for the opportunity to play with words and numbers, it is an exercise in futility.

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