Emperor Mugabe has new theme but old habits

President Robert Mugabe. (AFP)

President Robert Mugabe. (AFP)

When Zimbabweans are not swatting the British colonialists, we like to act like them.

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

And so, on Tuesday, President Robert Mugabe, fighter against all things colonial and last champion of all things pan-African, rode in a vintage Rolls-Royce through Harare's streets on his way to Parliament.

Ahead of him was a column of horses, ridden by horsemen wielding lances, wearing scarlet jackets, white tights and gleaming boots and peering out from under their white helmets, their backs erect in their shining saddles.

The ceremony drew crowds, who lined up in the public square facing Parliament to watch the colonial show.
Ahead of Mugabe's arrival, the who's who arrived one by one, skipping out of their luxury vehicles in their shiniest suits and swaying down the red carpet as if it were a catwalk.

Then the judges arrived in their scarlet robes and shoulder-length white wigs, followed by the traditional chiefs, proud in their "white-explorer-in-Africa" pith hats and red robes, their large gold pendants swinging from their necks. The regalia used to be handed out by colonials decades ago to buy chiefs' loyalty.

Then, after the dignitaries disappeared into the Parliament building, the black Rolls pulled around the corner, gloved horsemen in front, lances in the air, swords dangling from their saddles. The Rolls was previously used to drive around Lord Soames, the last colonial governor of Rhodesia.

Inside Parliament, Mugabe called for peace and tolerance, a new favourite theme of his. The era of violence was over, he said. As he left, he gave Finance Minister Tendai Biti and Information Communication Technology Minister Nelson Chamisa a pat on their backs – and he greeted Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

This new session of Parliament will experience debate over a new constitution, which will end 32 years of life under a Constitution negotiated and written at Lancaster House in London.

In the park facing the Parliament building, Mugabe's supporters sang his praises. The head of the Johane Masowe church, one of the largest religious groups in Zimbabwe, has previously said that Mugabe, whose second name is Gabriel, had been shown to the church's founder in a dream in 1957. A leader with the name of an angel would rise, it was said.

On Tuesday, members of the church drowned out the army's brass band, singing "Gabriel tungamira (lead us, Gabriel)" as he was helped into the Rolls-Royce before disappearing round the bend, horses following on.