Zimbabwe: New Parly Building - Opening Doors to Democracy

12 February 2024

The handover of the New Parliament Building in Mount Hampden on the outskirts of Harare to the Zimbabwean Government by Beijing late last year carved out a niche in the annals of history by finally shedding the colonial baggage of (mis)representation incarnated in the old legislative House opposite the Africa Unity Square in the capital since the 1890s.

As the curtain closed on the bastion of colonial oppression, on October 26, 2023 President Mnangagwa received an emblematic golden key on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe from Vice Chairman of China International Development Cooperation Agency, Mr Tang Wenhong, thus symbolically opening the doors to true democracy, not merely representation.

The striking six-storey circular New Parliament Building, an embodiment of splendour, is, indeed, more than just an imposing edifice, as it also testifies to the positivity of shared expectations.

Although the 10th Parliament of Zimbabwe owns the story of legislative supremacy epitomised in the structure, majestically sitting on a 70-metre platform above the picturesque surrounding area, threatening to run away with it too, the momentous occasion belonged to the man, who not only made it possible, but addressed its First Session on October 3, 2023 at the new House--President Mnangagwa.

The official handover by Beijing to Harare, affording the 10th Parliament a new home in Mount Hampden, about 20km north-west of Harare along Old Mazowe Road, gives new meaning to what constitutes democracy, and how a people can fashion a shared future.

During the occasion, the enthusiasm, anxiety and electric feeling that come with partaking in making history so heavily hung above the collective atmosphere that one could easily cut through it.

Used to cramming in the old Parliament building, which was converted from a hotel that went broke in the 1890s, and bought at a bargain price by the British South Africa Company's (BSAC) administrator, the legislators' relief was palpable as they sauntered in to take their maiden seats.

With Rhodies trusting in their twisted belief, spun by Ian Douglas Smith, that there would never be majority rule in "a thousand years", the space was meant for 100 representatives. This has now become inadequate for the current 360 legislators (comprising the Senate and National Assembly), and 248 secretariat staff.

All that is in the past now!

About democracy, parliamentarism

In a democracy, citizens have an obligation to question the way they are governed and/or represented.

Every citizen has a right to seek representation, either in the Executive, or the Legislature, which is why the New Parliament Building is crucial in reinforcing democracy.

Montesquieu (1689, 1755) puts democracy in context when he says: "As in a country of liberty, every man who is supposed to be a free agent ought to be own governor; the legislative power should reside in the whole body of the people.

"But since this is impossible in large states, and in small ones is subject to many inconveniences, it is fit (that) the people should transact by their representatives what they cannot transact by themselves" (cited in Held, 2006: 66).

There is a telling point here; that the Legislature derives its power from "the whole body of the people", and not that it is a crucial component on its own. No!

Representative governments pervade modern politics with every country in the world having a form of parliamentary representation. There are two categories of parliamentary systems; bicameral (having two chambers of parliament), and unicameral (having one chamber or assembly).

Out of the globe's 193 countries, 114 are unicameral and 79 are bicameral. Zimbabwe, whose parliamentary system is split into National Assembly and Senate, is bicameral.

The Althingi, the Icelandic Parliament founded in 930 AD is the oldest parliament.

If parliaments are strong, they become the bedrock of democracy in global politics. Parliamentarians are the voice of their constituents, whose expectations and aspirations they carry and project in the august House, hence, they represent the people.

The delivery

It is in view of the significance of the people in shaping the future and fostering development, that the Second Republic, under the stewardship of President Mnangagwa, has seen to it that works on the New Parliament Building were commenced and finalised.

The construction of the building, whose concept was born in 1983 with the Kopje area in Harare as the proposed site, was undertaken on a six-hectare stand in Mount Hampden, about 20km north-west of Harare along Old Mazowe Road, thus creating opportunities for a new city project.

The project was made possible by a US$140 million grant from the government of the People's Republic of China through China-Aid. Feasibility studies were carried out by the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design Company Limited in 2015.

It was designed by China SIPPR Engineering Group, and Shanghai Construction Group, a global construction behemoth, was the contractor.

The Government also expended US$2,4 million towards enabling works to kick-start the project.

The designs for the New Parliament Building, which embody Zimbabwean culture and heritage enshrined in the Great Zimbabwe monument were completed and approved in October 2017. Works on the project commenced in November 2018 and were completed on May 27, 2022.

The structure comprises four floors on the Parliament side and an adjacent six-storey office building. It encompasses a Chamber House, containing the 350-seat National Assembly and 100-seat Senate, with enough space to accommodate 50 more seats in either house.

A 108-seat gallery overlooks the National Assembly, while an 84-seat gallery overlooks the Senate. There are also 24 interpreters' rooms for both the National Assembly and the Senate; 12 for each House, which are linked to an up-to-the-minute public address system.

Citizens can follow proceedings from outside through television sets in the civic square that also provides a clearer view of the building.

Such is the nature of democracy; such also is the essence of visionary leadership.

Legislators and visitors to the New Parliament Building are treated to breath-taking furnishings and top-notch equipment installed in the offices and chambers.

Grandeur greets the visitor from the main entrance of the superstructure, where two water fountains, inspired by one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Mosi-oa-Tunya (The Smoke that Thunders), the imposing Victoria Falls, magnificently tell the Zimbabwean story of beauty and an enduring legacy of peace.

On either side of the impressive stepladders and squares are pillars at the top of which eight Zimbabwe birds are perched. From the ground floor to the fourth floor on the Chamber House building, and up to the fifth floor on the offices side, a comfy ambiance captures the discerning visitor's eye.

Three bridges link the Chamber House to the office building on each of the floors from the first, second and third, making a total of nine. Also, there are two spacious and exquisitely furnished special committee rooms, and 15 equally adorned 30-seat and 44-seat committee rooms, connected to cutting-edge conference systems.

At least 600 well-furnished rooms, among them service areas, VIP offices and directors' offices are part of the offices section. In addition, there are bar areas for National Assembly and Senate members, a well-equipped staff canteen, comfortably furnished dining hall, library, storerooms, and server rooms as well as public receptions on each floor.

The media, a vital cog in the wheel of democracy, is not left out, as a Press studio and conference room have been included in the setup. Moreover, the building has a multi-purpose hall and facilities for other associated services. And, 800 parking bays are available, 50 of which are reserved for VVIPs.

High quality information technology, which has seen the building being installed with world-class systems for conferencing, fire-fighting, air conditioning and cooling technologies, completes the route for excellence.

From the top of the hill on which the building imposingly stands, the visitor is consumed in the tranquility of the underlying hinterlands, a vastness that stretches to the eye's limit, creating a feeling of déjà vu that only comes with familiarity.

It is that kind of peace and serenity which lingers on in the heart, and is therapeutic to the soul. Outside, the wayfarer's dreamy feeling is only interrupted by the chirping birds in the foliage beyond, and the momentary nickering of horses as man and beast share eternal camaraderie.

In the consuming mood, nature alluringly embraces humanity too.

Truly, man has the ability to turn stone, boulder, pebble, metal, wood, water, cement and soil into infectious beauty. Joltingly, one is reminded of man's ability to fashion out his world through sheer belief and workmanship. This was made possible by a workforce comprising 135 Chinese experts and 350 Zimbabwean citizens.

About 18 863 hectares have been set aside for the envisioned new city three-tier site adjoining Mazowe and Zvimba Rural district councils, in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland West provinces, respectively, and Harare.

The envisaged highway that will lead to the New Parliament Building already has a name. It is called Chairman Mao Boulevard, in honour of a great friend of Zimbabwe. The nearby Zimbabwe National Defence University will be part of the new city, it is anticipated.

New transport links will include high performance trains and an upgrade of the nearby Charles Prince Airport.

Some of the key structures to be incorporated into the design of the smart city are office parks, commercial entities, a hi-tech park, information communication technology centre park, institutional facilities, agro-processing structures, hotels, conference centre, golf course, apartments, cluster houses and garden flats, low density residential houses, civic centre game sanctuary, botanical garden, waste to energy management centre, roads and green buffers.

The precinct of the new site's proximity to Harare, and its geographical environs offer opportunities for growth.

Indeed, the New Parliament Building exudes the Zimbabwean spirit, culture and heritage enshrined in the Great Zimbabwe Monument, offering the motherland a chance to define herself as a nation through a home-grown plan awash with vast prospects for all citizens cutting across the entire gamut of human endeavour.

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