Does Zimbabwe need a senate?

To some people, the reintroduction of the senate, which was abolished after the Unity Accord to create a single chamber, is an unnecessary expense that the country can hardly afford at the moment.

Others, however, argue that the second chamber, which will accommodate mature politicians from all sections of society, would provide the stability that the country badly needs.

The opportunity cost of establishing the senate, they argue, far outweighs the monetary cost associated with creating the new chamber.

The idea of resuscitating the senate was mooted in 1999 when the country drafted a new constitution which was rejected by the people in February 2000.

President Robert Mugabe has revived the idea of the senate during his present election campaign and has hinted at a number of rallies that his administration will resuscitate the senate within four to six months if his party wins a two-thirds majority in the March 31 elections because this will enable it to amend the constitution.

ZANU-PF needs to win at least 70 of the 120 elected seats to attain a two-thirds majority in the 150-member house where President Mugabe appoints 30 other members. It won 62 seats, eight short of the two-thirds majority in the 2000 elections.

President Mugabe has not yet disclosed the size of the senate or how it will affect the House of Assembly. It is also not clear whether the country would revert to the pre-1990 arrangement when the country had a president and a prime minister or it will retain the current two vice-presidents.

But what seems to have incensed critics of the creation of a new chamber was the suggestion by President Mugabe that the senate would accommodate those who failed to make it through the primary elections and probably those who will be defeated in the coming elections as this implies the chamber will be filled with ZANU-PF loyalists.

Political commentator, Jethro Mpofu said the creation of a senate was a weak excuse for rewarding ZANU-PF loyalists who may be useful to the party but were useless to the country.

"It is just a way of recycling the same old leaders and promoting ZANU-PF hegemony and consolidating Mugabe's stay in power. It has nothing to do with the development of the country," Mpofu said.

Another critic who preferred anonymity said the senate was an unnecessary expense at the moment.

The country should concentrate on consolidating its land reform programme, ensure that those on the land were productive, ensure that industry and commerce were running efficiently and then introduce the senate when the economy was on a sound footing.

Farmer, agricultural and economic commentator, Jonathan Kadzura said at face value this argument sounded right, but he begged to differ.

The creation of a senate, if it was going to be composed of mature politicians whose main aim would be to scrutinise legislation before it became law, would be a move in the right direction because it would consolidate the country's development.

"The opportunity costs will far outweigh the monetary costs," he said. "If you look at what is happening at the moment, most of the laws are being rushed through the House and we have too many temporary laws that are being passed through presidential powers. The senate will address this problem."

Kadzura said the creation of the senate should, therefore, not depend on ZANU-PF winning a two-thirds majority but should be supported by the opposition.

A ZANU-PF supporter said the creation of a senate would open up political space for the younger generation as the older generation would be moved to the senate. He said that it could also foster unity as the President might appoint a prime minister from a region like Matabeleland and thus speed up development in that region.

There is also speculation that President Mugabe is in a hurry to create the senate because he now wants to take things easy.

The ZANU-PF supporter said while President Mugabe might want to take things easy he would not step down but would probably give more rope to the younger legislators.

"Let us be honest. It is hard for these guys to let go. In Tanzania (Julius) Nyerere stepped down but remained in charge of the party while Benjamin Mkapa took over.

"Nelson Mandela is still calling the shots in South Africa though Thabo Mbeki is in power. The same goes for Bakili Muluzi in Malawi. That is why he is now at loggerheads with Bingu wa Mutharika. Sam Nunjoma is still in charge in Namibia. This does not just apply to Africa. Even in the US, it is senators who call the shots and not just the president," he argued.

Mpofu said there was no way President Mugabe was preparing to take it easy.

"Just look at the way these guys criminalised the Dinyane School (Tsholotsho Declaration) meeting. It clearly shows they are not ready to leave. They created the so-called Tsholotsho Declaration and hanged the so-called culprits simply to remain in power."

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