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  • Senate a high-sounding nothing
    Bornwell Chakaodza
    November 04, 2005

    THE other day, a colleague was explaining to me how he had not come across a single Zimbabwean who had evinced any interest to vote for the contested seats of the senate election scheduled for November 26.

    My own conversations with friends and family members both in Harare and in rural Guruve where I hail from, have led me to feel that many Zimbabweans neither understand what this animal called the senate is all about, nor will they waste their time and energy voting for the remaining contested constituencies come election day.

    For my own part, it was very heartening to be reassured once again that the electorate is a very discerning and questioning one which knows a useless thing when it sees it. Zimbabweans are fully aware that the senate which is almost akin to the House of Lords in Britain is a futile and idle exercise, a mere talk shop for the failed Zanu PF old guard which will not bring any benefit whatsoever to them. At least in Britain, members of the House of Lords are not failed politicians by any yardstick you care to think of.

    Whether some candidates have filed their nomination papers on MDC tickets or as independents is neither here nor there. The point is that they are contesting the seats to promote their personal interests. And in the unlikely event that they are elected by the few who will bother to vote, they will nevertheless remain impotent.

    One elderly man from Mufakose high-density suburb asked me: "This senate which is being paraded before us every day in the media, what is it? Will it put food on my table or a roof over my head?"

    When I responded by saying that the senate as the upper house will be charged with the responsibility of reviewing legislation and scrutinising bills emanating from the lower house, the House of Assembly, the elderly man retorted: "What is that? Does it mean that the people we voted into parliament last March are now impotent? If that is the case, let us do away with this damn thing called parliament!"

    Clearly, going by what the Mufakose man said and the people I have been talking to over the past two months, it does indeed appear that the Zimbabwean electorate is an anxious one, worried much more about their living conditions than obsession with trivialities and irrelevant netas such as the costly senate which will serve as the primary source of individual enrichment of pseudo-politicians and nothing more. In an economy like ours that is in a critical condition, accumulation is often dependent on a system of patronage and state resources and favours. The struggle for spoils in the form of senate seats must be understood in this context.

    Zanu PF, as the mover of this useless project, is thus completely out of touch with reality. Of course, from the deluded and brainwashed and lowly placed Zanu PF supporters, there will be song and dance but this does not take away the fact that for the vast majority of Zimbabweans, the senate elections are a non-event. The behaviour of such Zanu PF supporters need not surprise anyone. For the only time when the lowly-placed in society become "politically active" is at the time of voting and during rent-a-crowd meetings of the party where they perform the functions of hands-clapping and ululating to accompany every speech by the president of the party and his lieutenants. Apparently, the deluded supporters think that these mystical gatherings will bring about the disappearance of starvation only for reality to dawn on them when after the speeches they trek back to their homes to face the continuing misery and poverty alone and out of the sight of the so-called chefs.

    In other words, we can safely talk about two societies in Zimbabwe. One for the ordinary masses, and the other for the political elites. The former struggles for existence daily and in their deluded state makes it possible for the latter to earn a senate salary and a new vehicle. The re-introduction of the senate after it was wisely abolished 18 years ago in the wake of the establishment of the all-powerful executive presidency has nothing to do with any lofty ideals such as the further scrutiny of bills from the lower house but rather with individual self-interest in a situation in which opportunities for personal accumulation are closely tied to membership of the ruling party.

    Little wonder that since 1980, positions of leadership in Zanu PF and its government have been dominated, to a considerable extent, by the same people or their close confidants. Let us therefore be spared all this verbiage about review of legislation by the senate or its delaying tactics on the passing of bills. Amendments or no amendments, inputs or no inputs from the senate, the lower house will pass the bills anyway. This is the bottom line, which to me reads very well and that is why for the vast majority of Zimbabweans, the re-introduction of the senate is particularly painful.

    Essentially, the whole senate thing boils down to plundering the little resources we have. That is also the reason why Morgan Tsvangirai - with whatever shortcomings you ascribe to him - is the man who has come to represent the conscience of Zimbabwe on this particular issue of the senate.

    In fact, almost every Zimbabwean is asking why the senate is suddenly necessary after an 18-year absence. Personal interests that include providing "jobs for the boys" who will be needed for a smooth presidential succession in the same way the senate closed ranks with the lower house in 1987 when the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No 7) 1987 ushered in the executive presidency which with its centralisation of power in one man, provides answers why the senate has been revived.

    Therein lies the context within which the re-introduction of the senate must be understood and sub-sequently condemned. When it comes to things like the re-establishment of the senate for example, the more important point is conceptual. It lies in the argument that events and happenings should not be seen as isolated, accidental or superficial occurrences but as grounded in a deeper political and social process.

    Zimbabwe is in dire straits. Ordinarily, why should anyone want to come up with a senate project that by any stretch of imagination does not make sense at all? The question is being asked: How on earth can anybody do this? The senate is not going to have any powers of setting aside any bill or legislation even it is against right and reason or repugnant to the Constitution or anything. The bill can only be delayed but it will eventually pass. So why have the senate given such a scenario anyway?

    In any event, given the semi-literate nature of many of would-be senators, their partisan stances and lack of understanding of the seriousness of the current crisis and challenges, I guarantee you that you will never see a worse circus like this in your lifetime.

    For this and many other reasons, I will not, for the first time since 1980, be voting in an election. Even if there was going to be competition in my constituency, I was not going to waste my time and effort. No useful purpose would be served by taking part in this charade. I am cocksure that the vast majority of Zimbabweans share this position and viewpoint.

    * Bornwell Chakaodza is a former editor of the Herald and Standard newspapers.

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