By John Chimunhu
The Zimbabwean parliament is rewriting rules for its members after the country’s vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa made unsavoury remarks against a female MP.
Mnangagwa’s taunts against Harare MP Ronia Bunjira resulted in instant protest from MDC legislators. The Parliamentary standing rules and orders committee has now drafted tough new regulations classifying such taunts as “sexual harassment”.
Trouble started for Mnangagwa during question time after Bunjira asked a sensitive question about vendors and Mnangagwa’s relative, Gokwe-Nembudziya MP Justice Mayor Wadyajena made abusive remarks about her close-shaven head. Mnangagwa then sprang to Wadyajena’s side after the latter was forced to withdraw the remarks by the speaker of parliament.
Mnangagwa referred to Bunjira variously as ‘this lady’, ‘amai avo’, ‘spinster’ and asked if she was male or female because of her hairstyle. This attracted howls of protest and interjections from MDC MPs. The debate went like this:
BUNJIRA: Thank you Mr. Speaker. My question is to the Leader of the House. What is Government policy on evicting vendors using State security agents, for example the army and the police? I thank you Mr. Speaker -[HON. MEMBERS: Inaudible interjections]
THE VICE PRESIDENT AND MINISTER OF JUSTICE, LEGAL AND PARLIAMENTARY AFFAIRS (MR. MNANGAGWA): Thank you Mr. Speaker Sir. I am grateful that the hon. member has openly exposed … MRS. MISIHAIRABWI-MUSHONGA: On a point of order Mr. Speaker. Can the members who have been abusing the lady and asking her to put on a wig please withdraw it because it is very sexist and abusive? MR. SPEAKER: Hon. Wadyajena, can you withdraw your statement? MR. WADYAJENA: Mr. Speaker Sir, I do not know what to withdraw. MR. SPEAKER: You said, pfeka wig. I heard you. MR. WADYAJENA: With all due respecMS. BUNJIRA: Thank you Mr. Speaker. My question is to the Leader of the House. What is Government policy on evicting vendors using State security agents, for example the army and the police? I thank you Mr. Speaker -[HON. MEMBERS: Inaudible interjections]t Mr. Speaker Sir, saying pfeka wig, I never mentioned a particular individual here.
. SPEAKER: Order, order! Hon. Wadyajena, you made the statement looking at her and I was looking at you. Can you withdraw that statement? MR. WADYAJENA: Mr. Speaker Sir, in that case, I was referring to … -[HON. MEMBERS: Inaudible interjections.]- MR. SPEAKER: Please withdraw your statement? MR. WADYAJENA: I withdraw that statement Mr. Speaker Sir. MR. MNANGAGWA: Mr. Speaker Sir, I believe that it is parliamentary to advise each other on how to dress. However, in relation to the question, the rules of the House permit us to address that issue but you have given me the floor to reply to the hon. member on the question she assumes ignorantly of course that Government has policy to use the Army or Police to evict vendors. I am not sure whether she refers to this country or to another country – [laughter] – but if she refers to Zimbabwe, I am not aware of an incident where the Army has been used to evict vendors, I am not aware if that has ever happened because the question of vendors is principally an issue of the municipality or local Government authorities in any given urban set up. Only when they ask for assistance from the law and order section which is the Ministry of Home Affairs, but up to now, I am not aware of the Ministry of Home Affairs being asked to deal with a question of vendors. So, I am not so sure if she is referring to our country or some other country but the position is as I stated. *MS. BUNJIRA: Thank you Mr. Speaker, I am proud to be a Zimbabwean and an African. Furthermore, my supplementary question is that the Vice President has said that he has no knowledge of such incidences – I am surprised that as Vice President he is ignorant of the fact that soldiers last week went around town using hailers giving an ultimatum of seven days for the vendors to leave the streets. They were dressed in Army uniform. *MR. MNANGAGWA: If this hon. lady or this hon. member or is she male – [HON. MEMBERS: Inaudible interjections]- in our vernacular language, I have given her due respect as an hon. member who happens to be a female. *MR. MACHINGAUTA: Thank you Mr. Speaker Sir, the words that have been used by the Vice President as he was facing Hon. Bunjira, I believe are unparliamentary to say Mrs Bunjira. The words that have been used by the Vice President that what have been uttered by that lady or that woman, he must address her accordingly and withdraw. * MR. MNANGAGWA: Mr. Speaker Sir, I believe that in our Shona language if I refer to Hon. Dr. Gumbo as this man, I will have given him his due respect. In our mother tongue, if I refer to her as Mrs. and I did say that twice, and I did say this hon. lady, if I had said honourable and ended there, maybe I have not but I have doubled the respect. Let me then go and say honourable without referring to her gender. Is she not a woman, yes, I have thought that if she is a spinster and have said hon. amai in our vernacular language would have given respect. May be she does not want to be addressed with that respect, I will end at honourable. She does not want good things that are in her mother tongue, which is Shona.