Horses and Royces: The colonial fanfare of Zim Parliament opening

After over a century of fighting off imperialists and their influences, we like to remind ourselves of the enemy we defeated. So, once in a while, we lay on some good old colonial fair.

The Opening of Parliament, which marks the start of a new session of Parliament, is a chance to remind ourselves of the imperialist and his odd ways. Like men in tights riding horses and men walking about in woolen wigs.

Robert Mugabe, whose anti-imperialist rhetoric barely hid his love for all things British, relished the colonial pageantry. On Tuesday, Mugabe’s successor President Emmerson Mnangagwa slipped into that role.

He rode in the open-top Rolls Royce used by Load Soames, the last colonial governor of Rhodesia, and arrived at Parliament, itself a relic of the imperial past designed by homesick colonials to look like the British House of Commons.

Trotting ahead of the Rolls Royce was a column of horses, ridden by about two dozen horsemen wielding lances, with scarlet jackets, white tights and gleaming boots, and peering from under their white helmets, backs erect in their shining saddles.

The ceremony draws curious crowds, who line up in the Africa Unity Square, whose paths are designed to make the park look like the Union Jack, the British flag. Looking down from the Meikles Hotel, the torn Zimbabwe flag that flies on the Western verges of the square looks more like a footnote.

It is fitting that the views of the square, and some of the whole colonial parade below, are decent from the Meikles. After all, it was built by the Meikle family, who arrived in May 1891 and grabbed natives’ cattle to turn a shop made out of empty whiskey cases at Fort Victoria into what is now a multi-million dollar enterprise.

It’s an enterprise that now includes the Village Walk, the new mall officially opened by Mnangagwa back in May. It is next to Sam Levy’s Village, which was built to look like London, complete with a miniature Big Ben clock and security men in British police bobby helmets.

Ahead of Mnangagwa’s arrival at Parliament, various recently elected representatives of the people arrive in style, skipping out of their luxury vehicles – which will soon, no doubt, be replaced. They appear in their shiniest suits and pointiest shoes, swaying down the red carpet for the electorate to admire.

Then the judges arrive, in their scarlet robes and shoulder-length white wigs. Then the traditional chiefs, proud in their standard “white-explorer-in-Africa” pith hats and red robes, and their large gold pendants swinging from their necks.

The regalia used to be handed out by colonials decades ago to buy chiefs’ loyalty. It is a trick that the liberators were to learn, and a tradition they have continued to good effect.

Mnangagwa then inspects the Guard of Honour, buttons gleaming in the September sun. The gloved horsemen, lances in the air, swords dangling from saddles, await.

Inside Parliament, Mnangagwa is ushered to his seat by the Sargent-at-Arms, in his lily white gloves and wielding a sword. As the President walks in, a brass section raises its trumpets and bursts out the royal heralding fanfare, tunes that wouldn’t be out of place at Windsor Castle.

As he made his speech, Mnangagwa didn’t break as opposition MPs walked out of the House, filing past jeering ZANU-PF, the Sargent-in-Arms at hand to ease them out. Mnangagwa didn’t flinch either as his own MPs gleefully jumped into the empty opposition benches, amid noisy cheers.

His speech lasted a total of 20 minutes. He pledged better management of the economy, a raft of legal reforms, increased support for health in the face of the cholera crisis, and called for political tolerance. Then the Sargent-at-Arms appeared once again to lead Mnangagwa from the chamber, to chants of “pfee” from ZANU-PF MPs.

Outside Parliament, amid taunts of “thief” from the opposition MPs, he slid easily into the Rolls Royce, before the car disappeared round the bend, horses in tow.