Mandy’s Matrix: Zambia’s Parliament – where woodwork trumps boredom

2011-11-07 14:14

Woodwork seems to have a bad name in political circles everywhere.The subject that made Julius Malema the laughing stock of the educated classes was also a subject of discussion in the Zambian Parliament here in Lusaka.

Recently the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) was ousted in a shock election victory by the Patriotic Front (PF) led by Michael Sata.

But because Sata did not win an outright majority, he did a typical political manoeuvre to keep his enemies close – he included some of them in his executive.

Keith Mukata was one of those lucky ones. Although he is from the MMD, he is now the deputy minister of commerce, trade and industry.

But the nonstop heckling from the other political parties, branding him a “rebel”, is the price he is paying for it.

In his maiden speech in Parliament on Friday, he pointed to the MP who called him a rebel, saying he should’ve known a rebel is defined as someone who is against establishment.

This MP is a teacher, Mukata said, he should’ve known better. But Mukata said he forgave the MP when it came to light he was a mere teacher in woodwork. The other MPs were cracking themselves up, even the stoic speaker. The Zambian Parliament is a much more exciting place to be than the South African one.

Although many Zambian MPs hailed the new president, it was nothing like that sickening time when every ANC speech in the National Assembly started with “I am an African”, emulating Thabo Mbeki’s famous oration.

Even remembering it now, my eyes still roll themselves at the endless “gatkruipery” (toadyism).No so in Zambia. I suppose having been a true democracy since 1964 lets people lay off on the extreme historical rhetoric and instead focus on the issues at hand.

And because many MPs, including Sata himself, switched parties and there is the possibility that the ruling party may be taken out of power, MPs speak their minds freely. The fear of “redeployment” is perhaps not as strong here.

Not once did I hear a Zambian MP saying: “I can make this statement without fear of contradiction”. Here it doesn’t matter if you are contradicted, that is the art of debate.Having been built in the 1970s, the Zambian National Assembly is not the most beautiful of buildings.

We all know the seventies was a sad time for governmental architecture, just look at Pretoria city centre. So it will never match the elegant beauty of the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces in Cape Town.

The interior of the Zambian Parliament resembles the Old Assembly Chamber, the one where Verwoerd was shot. Dark wood, green leather that is fraying at the ends and a leather-coated cabinet in the middle that no one has figured out a function for yet.

But I had more insights, fun and laughs in the half an hour spent in the Zambian chamber than the two and a half years spent in the South African one, perched for hours on the press balcony, waiting for a story to happen. So I can add another reason one-party domination is a bad idea – it leads to extreme boredom.

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