HECKLING has become one of the most common features of the Zimbabwean Parliament, to the extent that it sometimes degenerates into childish pranks.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
Despite fierce heckling and sexist comments targeted at female legislators in the National Assembly, 31-year-old Melody Tionei Dziva has managed to rise from a very timid Member of Parliament (MP) to become one of the most powerful women in Parliament.
The Zanu PF proportional representation MP now sits in the Speaker’s panel and controls debate whenever the Speaker Jacob Mudenda and his deputy, Mabel Chinomona are away.
Dziva is one of the youngest legislators. Her young age and gender could easily have been a hindrance to attaining a place in the Speaker’s panel, which requires persons with assertive authority to control a House full of restless and polarised MPs.
“It is not so easy to control debate in Parliament, but I am always guided by the standing rules and orders and the country’s Constitution whenever there is a controversial debate in the House, or whenever MPs are heckling and making noise,” Dziva said.
“Some MPs debate out of line, maybe because they do not understand the context of the motion or the Bill that is being discussed in the National Assembly.
“I find that I have to use the law to make a ruling, to be firm, as well as make a ruling that is neutral and fair.”
As a female MP sitting in the Speaker’s panel and often presiding over a House full of fierce heckling, Dziva said she had studied the nature of the “noisemakers” in Parliament and concluded that MPs with a penchant for heckling were overzealous people.
“I have studied MPs and now I understand the characters of different MPs in the National Assembly,” she said.
“Most of them are unproductive and concentrate on heckling.
“However, as a presiding officer, I should not tolerate that in Parliament.
“Some of them heckle other MPs because of personal differences on issues that have nothing to do with Parliament.
“I have always encouraged such MPs to solve their differences outside of Parliament instead of disrupting debate.
“One needs to understand the context of the motion being debated, the policy issues during question time, and to study the Bills presented in the House in order to contribute meaningfully to the debate.”
Dziva said she agreed with Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC) who once raised a point of order with Speaker of the National Assembly Mudenda, suggesting that there were too many sexist comments passed on female MPs, especially to do with dressing and their hairdos to the extent that the offending male MPs must be censured.
“Sexist comments are not allowed in Parliament and the Constitution outlaws gender based violence, even in the verbal form,” she said.
“What I have noticed as an acting Speaker is that males pass sexist comments deliberately as a ploy to discourage some female MPs from debating in order to make them lose confidence.
“Basically, it is abuse, it is criminal and it is not allowed in the House.
“It is only that the female MPs who have been victimised have not named the culprits.
“I support Misihairabwi-Mushonga’s point of order that female MPs must not be abused with sexist comments.”
Dziva was once a victim of a sexist comment when she was presiding over the National Assembly as acting Speaker when an opposition male MP exclaimed that she was pretty.
“That was a comment passed on me as if it was complimentary, but I quickly realised that it was supposed to catch me off-guard, and was meant to give an impression that women are as good as ‘being pretty’, but are not capable of controlling debate in Parliament,” she said.
“I have noticed that even when deputy Speaker of Parliament Marbel Chinomona is presiding over the National Assembly, she has to deal with a lot of noise from MPs.”
Dziva said there was need for grooming and capacity building of female MPs to be able to stand up to their male counterparts, who are often very powerful when it comes to debates and arguments in Parliament.
“Luckily, I was a student activist at the University of Zimbabwe and I managed to attain high educational qualifications. I feel women need to get a chance to attain high educational qualifications and be groomed to take up leadership posts in government, Parliament and other institutions,” she said.
Dziva is a holder of a degree in Public Administration from the University of Zimbabwe and a Master’s degree in Development Studies. Currently, she is studying for a law degree at the same university.
Apart from acting as the Speaker whenever Mudenda and Chinomona are not present, she is the youngest member of Zanu PF’s central committee. She is currently the acting president of the Inter Parliamentary Union, an international forum where she recently presided over the 134th IPU Assembly in Zambia, as well as being a member of the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Dziva says she was lucky that she has been well-groomed and attained high educational standards, to the extent that at 31 years, she got recognition to sit at the Speakers panel.
“I take it that my seat at the central committee and as the youngest member in the
Zanu PF panel is a very good achievement,” she said.
“Being nominated to sit in the Speaker’s panel is also not an easy feat as it requires one to be an educated person who understands the rules and procedures of the House and the law.”
As she looks forward to maybe becoming a future leader, Dziva says some of the challenges she faces are lack of resources to play her role, adequately such as fuel.
“It is also very difficult to control older people in Parliament. At only 31 years, they take advantage of you, as well as that I am a woman.
“But I am determined and will not let anyone undermine me,” Dziva said.
She is single, but is in a steady relationship.