A Brief History of the Parliament of Zimbabwe
The origins and historical development of the Parliament of Zimbabwe are interwoven with the colonial history of the country. The country was colonised by Britain in the 1880s through the British South African Company (BSAC). The BSAC was granted a royal charter to “ govern, legislate and administer” the new colony, which was named Rhodesia after Cecil John Rhodes. Between 1898 and 1923, Southern Rhodesia ( Zimbabwe ) was governed by a legislative council, which really was an extended arm of BSAC. It goes without saying therefore, that this legislative council was created specifically to serve the interests of BSAC, not the interests of the black majority people. This is clearly demonstrated by the level of representation of black people in the legislative council and the successive legislative bodies that came into being until 1980 when Zimbabwe got its independence.
The Legislative Assembly in 1923
The expiration of the BSAC royal charter in 1923 necessited a constitutional amendment which gave the colony a semi-autonomous status, which came to be known as Southern Rhodesia. This constitutional development resulted in what could arguably be called the first bona fide legislative body of elected representatives. It was a unicameral legislature comprising 30 elected members, 2 members from each of the 15 districts of the colony. The electoral system was based on a highly restrictive qualitative vote system; ie, property ownership, a certain level of education and income. This system disenfranchised the majority black people as very few of them possessed those qualifications at the time. Hence, between 1923 and 1961, the Southern Rhodesian legislature was entirely made up of white settlers.
The Legislative Assembly in 1961
In the 1960s, the politics of nationalism had gained sustained momentum and the main nationalist organization at the time, Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), which had been formed from the ashes of National Democratic Party (NDP) and African National Council (ANC) respectively, was agitating for political independence for the country. It was this sustained political pressure that led to a constitutional amendment in 1961, ostensibly to accommodate Blacks. Under this constitutional amendment, the parliamentary seats were increased to 65 in total, with 50 seats for Whites and 15 for Blacks. This was rejected by ZAPU. The nationalists wanted total political independence and universal adult suffrage based on the “one man one vote” principle.
The Legislature in 1969
In 1965, the Rhodesia Front made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) to circumvent efforts by Britain to steer the country towards black majority rule. As a strategy to convince the world that the government had embraced the principle of black representation, a constitutional amendment was passed in 1969. This amendment created a bicameral legislature. The Senate had 23 members; with 10 seats for Whites and the other 10 seats for Blacks. The 3 remaining seats were reserved for senators to be appointed by the President of the Senate.
The 65 seats in the House of Assembly were apportioned as follows; 50 were reserved for whites elected by Europeans from 50 European roll constituencies, 8 were to be Africans to be elected by Africans registered as voters, (4 apiece for the two regions, Matebeleland and Mashonaland), the remaining seats were occupied by Africans elected by chiefs, headmen and selected councilors of African Councils. Thus, all in all Blacks occupied 15 seats as compared to 50 seats for Whites. The major nationalist movements could see through this sham and rejected this arrangement. Thus they continued to pile political and military pressure on the Rhodesian Front government and this led to a sham power transition gimmick by the colonial regime in 1979.
The Legislature in 1979
When the inevitability of a majority rule dawned on the colonial regime, a constitutional amendment to usher in a transitional government was passed. Even though blacks were to occupy more seats in both Houses of the legislature, the Whites entrenched a clause to safe-guard their seats so that they would always have a certain number of seats in parliament. Thus the membership of the House of Assembly was increased to 100 seats. The distribution of seats between Blacks and Whites was as follows; 72 seats for black people elected by voters on the Common roll and 20 seats were for the Whites elected by voters on the European roll. The remaining 8 seats were occupied by Whites elected by the 92 elected members of the House of Assembly. Thus in total, Whites had 28 seats.
The membership of the Senate was increased to 30. Members of the Senate were elected by a 3-tier Electoral College system. The 72 black members in the House of Assembly elected 10 black Senators and on the other hand, the 28 white members in the House of Assembly elected 10 white Senators. The 10 remaining Senators were traditional chiefs elected by a Council of Chiefs.
Still, the major nationalist movements, PF ZAPU and ZANU PF, did not accept this arrangement. They continued to pile pressure and this finally led to the Lancaster House Talks in 1979, which brought a political settlement in the country.
The Legislature in 1980
The Lancaster House Agreement maintained a bicameral legislature modeled on the Westminster system, with the same number of seats as in the 1979 parliament, but a with a change in the composition of both Houses. Eighty seats (80) were reserved for black people whereas 20 were for white people, giving a total of 100 seats. The 80 seats for black people were apportioned through a proportional representation electoral system. In the first elections held in an independent Zimbabwe , ZANU PF won 57 seats, PF ZAPU 20 seats, UANC 3 seats and 20 seats were reserved for whites.
The Senate comprised 40 seats whose members were elected by a 3-tier Electoral College system. Hence there were 14 black Senators elected by black members of the House of assembly, 10 white senators elected by white members of the House of Assembly, 10 traditional chiefs elected by the Chief's Council and the remaining 6 senators were appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.
The Legislature in 1986.
The Constitution was amended in 1986 (Constitutional Amendment No. 6) specifically to repeal the clause that dealt with the 20 reserved seats for whites so that those seats could be contested in an open electoral process like the other seats.
The Legislature in 1987.
The constitution was further amended in 1987, (Constitutional Amendment No. 7) to do away with the position of a prime minister and at the same time introducing an executive president. Before this constitutional amendment, the Prime Minister was the Head of Government whereas the President was the ceremonial Head of State. As head of government, the Prime Minister was a Member of Parliament. Thus he represented government business in the House and was answerable to parliament.
This amendment also coincided with the Unity Accord signed between PF ZAPU and ZANU PF on 22 nd December 1987 after the political conflict between the two parties, infamously known as “Gukurahundi”. After this unity accord, parliament became largely a one-party legislature save for only 3 seats, which went to the opposition and/or independents.
The Legislature in 1989
Yet another constitutional amendment was passed in 1989 (Constitutional Amendment No. 9), which saw the abolition of the Senate. Thus after this amendment, the legislature became a unicameral parliament with an enlarged membership of 150. Of the 150 members, 120 were elected through the popular vote system (First-Past-the-Post) and 30 were non-elected members (10 chiefs, 8 governors and 12 Presidential appointees).
Some of the reasons given for the abolition of the senate were to do with costs associated with running two chambers and also the fact that the senate was slowing down the passage of legislation. Government wanted a fast mechanism to expedite the passage of legislation in order to change the socio-political landscape it inherited from the colonial administration, to meet its own political goals.
The Legislature in 2000.
After more than a decade of a one-party legislature, the political landscape changed dramatically with the presence of the MDC in parliament in 2000. Of the 120 contested seats, MDC won 52 seats and ZANU PF 67 seats and 1 seat went to ZANU (Ndonga). However, ZANU PF enjoyed a numerical advantage over the MDC with the support of the 30 non-elected members (10 chiefs, 8 governors and 12 Presidential appointees).
The Legislature in 2005.
In the 2005 parliamentary elections, MDC fared badly and its membership in parliament was reduced to 41 seats against 78 for ZANU PF. The other seat went to an independent candidate.
In 2005, parliament amended the Constitution (Constitutional Amendment No.17), to re-introduce the Senate. It was ostensibly the re-introduction of the senate that split the MDC into 2 formations after the factions failed to agree on whether to participate in the senatorial elections or not. One faction went ahead and fielded candidates and won some seats.
The 6 th Parliament did not last for the 5 years as stipulated by th Constitution, as its life span was cut short by Constitutional Amendment No. 18, which sought to harmonize the presidential elections and the parliamentary elections in 2008.
The Legislature in 2008.
Constitutional Amendment No. 18 saw an enlarged parliament, with 210 contested seats in the House of Assembly and 93 seats in the Senate of which 60 were contested, 10 reserved for governors, 18 reserved for chiefs and 5 for presidential appointees. After the March 29 elections, the composition of both Houses was as follows;
House of Assembly
99 ZANU PF
30 ZANU PF
5 Presidential Appointees
Constitutional Amendment No. 19 is in the offing and will change the configuration of parliament, especially the Senate, where 6 more seats would be created to accommodate members of the 3 parties as per the SADC mediated Agreement. This amendment will also re-introduce the post of a prime ministers and two deputies.