Pan African Parliament settles in at Gallagher

Tucked away in an industrial area halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria, a sprawling modern conference centre named after an Australian-born baker is about to become home for the Pan African Parliament.

Gallagher Estate is a complex of modern buildings with posh interiors of winged-back chairs, glass doors, Italian marble and rosewood wall panels displaying naturalist art.

An auditorium where the results of South Africa’s historic 1994 multi-racial elections were announced has been transformed into the chamber where 265 members of Parliament from Algiers to Antananarivo will take their seats.

For the next year, the Pan African Parliament will hold its sessions here before moving to a new building being built at Gallagher Estate to house the continental legislature until 2009.

The South African government has yet to find a permanent home for the Parliament but the conference centre’s rose garden and fish pond will do nicely for now.

The estate once belonged to Harold Gallagher, an Australian-born baker and philanthrophist who donated the property to the city of Johannesburg for a child welfare centre.

It was later sold to a developer who built the conference centre that opened in 1993 and is billed as one of Africa’s biggest.

There are no on-site accommodations for the members of Parliament—five from each of the 53 countries—but a nearby exhibition hall is housing a maze of offices surrounded by dividers.

The chamber features rows of desks for the MPs facing the speaker’s chair flanked by the flags of Africa’s 53 countries. The Parliament is expected to sit all-day from Monday to Thursday and wrap up at noon on Fridays to allow Muslim members to attend mosque.

An army of interpreters will be on hand to ensure that debate can be understood in Arabic, English, French, Portuguese and Swahili. - Sapa-AFP

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