The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Nomalanga Mzilikazi Khumalo (NK), who is a senior member of the smaller faction of the MDC, this week told NewsDay in a wide-ranging interview that she is eyeing a powerful post in the party.
The party is expected to hold its national congress on January 8-9, next year.
Veneranda Langa (ND) caught up with Khumalo at Parliament for an exclusive interview.
Below are excerpts:
ND: Honourable Khumalo, how were you able to land the post of the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, given that members from different political parties had to vote?
NK: My nomination came from Members of Parliament (MPs). It was not really from the MDC-M party, but my party endorsed that nomination. MPs from both MDC-T and Zanu PF were very supportive of my nomination and they voted me into that position.
ND: Given that you are a female managing and leading the robust House of Assembly, what kind of challenges have you faced so far in dealing with MPs?
NK: MPs are not easy to deal with, especially the male MPs. However, I think I have managed to deal with them very well. What has assisted the situation is that we have an inclusive government; otherwise the situation in Parliament could have got completely out of hand. All the same, I think when I talk I have authority and they do listen to me because I am able to assert my authority over male MPs.
ND: Do you ever feel that male MPs engage in heckling because you will be chairing as a female Speaker?
NK: Heckling is part of parliamentary business. It is necessary although it should not seriously disrupt business in the House. At least when MPs heckle they should not overdo it because our constituents sent us to Parliament to air views on their behalf and so even when we heckle we should not disrupt Parliament business.
ND: Do you experience a lot of heckling coming from female MPs?
NK: Female MPs also heckle in Parliament, but when I talk to them they listen to me. Perhaps they feel that since it would be a woman on the chair, they have to assist me and not give me too much stress by engaging in unnecessary heckling. That is what we do as women – we respect each other and allow emancipation of women to go on. I really do not have a lot of challenges with female MPs.
ND: What is your opinion on 50% gender equality representation ratio in politics and other positions of power?
NK: We really want 50% representation in all positions of authority, whether it is in political parties, government, and so on. We as women want our share because we have been disadvantaged for a long time. We also want men to assist us to achieve gender proportional representation in all powerful positions.
ND: You have been an MP since the opposition came into Parliament. Would you say a multi-party system is healthy in Parliament?
NK: It is very healthy and helpful. We do not want MPs who just come to Parliament to rubber-stamp decisions coming from the Executive. We have noted that if it is only one party represented in Parliament, like the previous parliaments before the opposition came in, MPs would just be whipped into line to make decisions. However, since the advent of the opposition there has been differing opinions and it is healthy because it moves the country forward.
ND: With the advent of the opposition in Parliament, how would you judge the quality of debates and motions introduced in the House?
NK: The debates have been very vibrant and the current crop of MPs have managed to introduce motions that can really take this country forward. We have young MPs who can debate really very well.
ND: But, there have been a lot of complaints that ministers do not turn up in Parliament to answer questions from MPs?
NK: We are facing a big challenge there and it is very true that ministers are dodging answering questions before the House of Assembly. When motions are debated and recommendations made, they only listen and agree, but we do not see any implementation of what the MPs would have recommended to the ministers. MPs should be taken seriously because they speak on behalf of their constituents.We need to challenge the policy to ensure that ministers become accountable to Parliament.
ND: The President has said elections will be held next year. In your opinion, is it fair to cut short the life of Parliament and the terms of office of MPs?
NK: It is not fair to cut short the life of Parliament. We would have wanted to go the whole five-year term because we had plans as MPs and people out there are looking at us to implement those plans. The country was beginning to stabilise and if we go to an early election we might be drawn back to the problems of June 2008. Campaigning for elections takes up a lot of resources and taxpayers’ money. If we go through the five-year term, maybe then the country would be ready for elections.
ND: Do you have any other political ambitions outside Parliament business?
NK: Yes, I am a very ambitious woman and as we approach the MDC-M congress, I want to clinch a very high position in the party. I cannot disclose which but I am eyeing a very powerful post.
ND: People might be interested to know how women in top positions like yourself manage the pressure at work and also family life.
NK: It is not easy but I try my best to distribute my time to Parliament business and family matters. Politics is not easy but I am managing well. To be honest, I am actually enjoying this job as a Deputy Speaker of Parliament and at the same time being a mother.
ND: What is your advice to young women who have political ambitions?
NK: I would advise young people to take it up. They need ambition so that they become good leaders of tomorrow. They must not be scared of political violence that people often experience. Sometimes there is shortage of resources, but they should never allow men to use them to get high positions. As women we cannot let men usurp all the positions. Political violence has to be stopped at all costs because women are not as strong as men and we need to be protected.
ND: What would be your Christmas message to Zimbabweans?
NK: Please do not drink and drive, act responsibly. Refrain from fighting. If elections take place next year and you vote correctly, that would be the best Christmas present for Zimbabweans because things might change for the better.