President Robert Mugabe’s speech during the official opening of the Fifth Session of the Eighth Parliament was marred by heckling as MPs made jokes about the alleged poisoning of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Before Mugabe entered the National Assembly to read his 18-minute speech setting out the new session’s legislative agenda, Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda announced that the House would break for 15 minutes before Mugabe presented his speech.
Musikavanhu MP Prosper Mutseyami (MDC-T) then shouted that ice-cream from Mugabe’s Gushungo Dairies should be served as refreshments during the 15-minute break.
Mudenda ignored Mutseyami’s remarks, which were centred on recent allegations that Mnangagwa was poisoned after eating ice-cream at a youth interface rally in Gwanda last month.
Later, after Mugabe had completed reading his speech, Kuwadzana East MP Nelson Chamisa (MDC-T) raised a point of order saying opposition MPs were happy to see Mnangagwa alive, adding any attempts on lives of MPs must be condemned.
Mugabe announced that most Bills would be to do with alignment of laws with the Constitution.
He said since it was the last session before the 2018 general elections, MPs must bring in “robust and well-informed debate, and must be present, punctual, disciplined, professional, and of impeccable Parliamentary conduct”.
The statement irked opposition MPs who interjected pointing out that his Cabinet ministers were always truant during question-and-answer sessions.
“You must tell your ministers to attend Parliament, especially Simbarashe Mumbengegwi (Foreign Affairs minister). The First Lady must tell them to stop it,” Bulawayo East MP Thabitha Khumalo (MDC-T) interjected, causing First Lady Grace Mugabe, who was present in the House, to laugh at the remark.
About 18 Bills will be brought before Parliament among them one to outlaw child marriages, the Child Justice Bill and the Marriages Bill, as well as the Mandatory Sentencing for Rape and Sexual Abuse Bill, which will provide for more deterrent measures against perpetrators of rape.
“In the education sector, a Teaching Professions Council Bill, which seeks to regulate and promote ethical conduct within the teaching profession, will be tabled in this Parliament,” Mugabe said.
Other Bills set for crafting are the Cyber Crime and Cyber Security Bill, the Electronic Transactions and Electronic Commerce Bill, and the Data Protection Bill.
“Work is also underway to come up with a Land Developers Bill in order to bring sanity in the operations of land developers. The Public Entities and Corporate Governance Bill already before Parliament will bolster the fight against corruption and other corporate governance ills affecting our public entities,” Mugabe said.
MDC-T deputy chief whip in the National Assembly Dorcas Sibanda said Mugabe’s speech was “empty and full of false promises”.
“We need implementation of the laws passed and it is government that is supposed to do so. Mugabe must also ensure that his ministers attend Parliament. He must practice what he preaches because we are tired of listening to his speeches talking about combating corruption when no action is taken on corrupt individuals,” Sibanda said.
But President of the Chiefs’ Council, Senator Fortune Charumbira praised the speech for showing seriousness to deal with the issues of early child marriages as well as imposition of mandatory sentences for rape.
“We want to join the President on that issue and say that it is barbaric for one to rape. Even primitive society did not rape,” Charumbira said.
MDC chief whip Jasmine Toffa said Mugabe skirted on issues such as corruption and failed to elaborate how the government plans to curb it.