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Making parly accessible – My Zim and SA experience
Parliamentary Monitoring Trust (Zimbabwe)
August 29, 2011

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Do you think it is possible for, let us say a Kenyan, to walk to our Parliament and upon production of his or her passport be let in and attend a portfolio committee hearing? My personal experience, having worked as a reporter in Zimbabwe for more than a decade, is that it is easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than for one to enter our parliament. However, three years ago I was surprised by the treatment that I got when I visited the South African Parliament working as a monitor for the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (an NGO based in that country.) I had been told to bring my passport and upon producing it at the security checkpoint, I was surprised by the warmth the police officer showed. She asked me if I knew where I was going and when I answered in the negative she told me to wait for someone who came within a minute to escort me to the committee room. This set me thinking on how far South Africa had gone in democratizing its institutions. The country could have its problems but in terms of parliamentary democracy, it was outpacing us. I started to think of the problems one goes through to access our parliament including the no-nonsense police officers who guard the entrances.

This is made worse by the security personnel at the public entrance who think the parliament was for the MPs and not the public. One of the security personnel at the public entrance was mad at me after, during the process of emptying my pockets, one of the MPs almost bumped into me. It was quite surprising that even after the honourable MP said sorry, the guy fumed at me asking where I had come from. I simply told him I was coming from one of the constituencies and wanted to go to the publications sections as I wanted to have a look at one of the acts. On asking him how I would find my way to the publications section, the security guy told me to follow someone else who was going to a completely different section. Another brush with security at parliament was when I wanted to cover the 2009 budget. I was asked to produce my identity card or passport or driver’s license. When I said I had neither of the three but had then Media and Information Commission accreditation card, the two guys manning the entrance said they did not recognize it. I asked why it was so since the accreditation through MIC was a result of the passing of an Act of Parliament. They said they had their own rules. I had to beg them so that they would let me in and cover a national budget. My experience with our parliament and what I went through South Africa has shown me that there are things which may not require any funding to change. What is needed is a change of mindset so that the security personnel know that they are working for a public institution which should be accessible to as many people as possible. I never had problems the 10 or so times I visited SA parliament in 2008 but I cannot say the same about our local parliament. The security guys have a tendency of trying to intimidate and cow people and the result is not many people are interested in going near them. This is something that should be changed if we are to make Parliament accessible to the people of Zimbabwe. A simple training on the duties of the security personnel would do it!

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