Elliot Ziwira and Zvamaida Murwira
Epitomising magnificence, the imposing six-storey circular Parliament Building in Mount Hampden sitting on a 70-metre platform above the picturesque surrounding area, symbolically projecting legislative supremacy, is now 100 percent complete, and ready for handover.
Breath-taking furnishings and top-notch equipment for offices and chambers have already been installed, with only works on two other parking lots and landscaping being outstanding, a recent visit to the site has shown.
Royalty greets the visitor from the main entrance of the superstructure, where two water fountains, inspired by one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders), the splendid Victoria Falls, majestically tells the Zimbabwean story of beauty and an enduring legacy of peace.
On either side of the impressive stepladders and squares are four pillars at the top of which eight Zimbabwe birds are perched.
The construction of the building, whose concept was born in 1983 with the Kopje area in Harare as the proposed site, is being undertaken on a six-hectare stand in Mount Hampden, about 18km north-west of Harare along Old Mazowe Road, thus creating opportunities for a new city project.
The project was made possible by a grant from the government of the People’s Republic of China through China-Aid. Feasibility studies were carried out by the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design Company Limited in 2015.
It was designed by China SIPPR Engineering Group, and Shanghai Construction Group, a global construction behemoth, was the contractor.
The Government of Zimbabwe also expended US$2,4 million towards enabling works to kick-start the project.
The designs for the New Parliament Building, which embody Zimbabwean culture and heritage enshrined in the Great Zimbabwe monument were completed and approved in October 2017. Works on the project commenced in November 2018 and were completed on May 27, 2022.
The project, which comprises four floors on the Parliament side and an adjacent six-storey office building, encompasses a Chamber House, containing the 350-seat National Assembly and 100-seat Senate.
A 108-seat gallery overlooks the National Assembly, while an 84-seat gallery overlooks the Senate. There are also 24 interpreters’ rooms for both the National Assembly and the Senate; 12 for each House, which are linked to the state-of-the-art public address system.
The public can follow proceedings from outside through television sets in the civic square, which also provides a clearer view of the building.
From the ground floor to the fourth floor on the Chamber House building, and up to the fifth floor on the offices side, a comfy ambiance captures the discerning visitor’s eye.
Three bridges link the Chamber House to the office building on each of the floors from the first, second and third, making a total of nine.
Also, there are two specious and exquisitely furnished special committee rooms, and 15 equally adorned 30-seat and 44-seat committee rooms, connected to cutting-edge conference systems.
At least 600 well-furnished rooms, among them service areas, VIP offices and directors’ offices are part of the offices section. There are also bar areas for National Assembly and Senate members, a well-equipped staff canteen, comfortably furnished dining hall, library, storerooms, and server rooms as well as public receptions on each floor.
The building also has a press studio and conference room, a multi-purpose hall, and when complete 800 parking bays will be available, 50 of which reserved for VVIPs, and associated services.
High quality information technology, which has seen the building being installed with world-class systems for conferencing, fire-fighting, air conditioning and cooling technologies, completes the route for excellence.
From atop the hill upon which the edifice magnificently stands, the visitor is consumed in the serenity of the underlying environs, an expanse that stretches to the eye’s limit, creating a feeling of déjàvu that only comes with familiarity. It is that kind of peace and tranquil which lingers on in the heart, and is therapeutic to the soul.
Outside, the dreamy feeling is only interrupted by the chirping birds in the foliage yonder, and the momentary whispering of both machinery and man.
Indeed, man has the ability to turn stone, boulder, pebble, metal, wood, water, cement and soil into infectious beauty.
Joltingly, one is reminded of man’s ability to fashion out his world through sheer belief and workmanship. This was made possible by a workforce that constituted 135 Chinese experts and 350 Zimbabwean citizens.
Had it not been for Covid-19-induced delays, which have seen the workforce at the site being scaled down in line with the World Health Organisation guidelines on curbing the spread of the highly contagious virus, the New Parliament Building would have been completed in April last year.
The existing Parliament Building opposite Africa Unity Square was converted from a hotel that went broke in the 1890s, and was bought at bargain price by the British South Africa Company’s (BSAC) administrator.
The space has since become inadequate for the current 350 legislators (including the Senate and National Assembly), and 248 secretariat staff, as it was meant for 100 representatives.
The precinct of the new site’s proximity to Harare as well as its geographical environs offer opportunities for growth, and present Zimbabwe with a chance to define herself as a nation through a home-grown plan pregnant with vast prospects for all citizens cutting across the entire gamut of human endeavour.
About 18 863 hectares have been set aside for the envisioned new city, three-tier site adjoining Mazowe and Zvimba Rural District councils and the city of Harare.
The envisaged highway that will lead to the New Parliament Building already has a name. It is called Chairman Mao Boulevard, in honour of a great friend of Zimbabwe.
The nearby Zimbabwe National Defence University will be part of the new city, it is anticipated.
New transport links will include high performance trains and an upgrade of the nearby Charles Prince Airport.
Some of the key structures to be incorporated into the design of the new city are office parks, commercial entities, a hi-tech park, information communication technology centre park, institutional facilities, agro-processing structures, hotels, conference centre, golf course, apartments, cluster houses and garden flats, low density residential houses, civic centre game sanctuary, botanical garden, waste to energy management centre, roads and green buffers.
Members of Parliament have hailed their new Parliament building saying it will enrich the quality of debates given the spacious nature and extra facilities available.
Guruve South MP Cde Patrick Dutiro (Zanu PF) said the new Parliament building will give huge benefits. The building was a gift from China.
“There is going to be more space and more facilities even if in time of a pandemic such as Covid 19. The current Parliament building inhibits quality debates because MPs would be crammed together, one cannot concentrate during debates because the next person might be fidgeting and making unnecessary noise.”
Mashonaland West proportional representative legislator Cde Goodluck Jonathan (Zanu PF) said the new Parliament building was good and health-friendly particularly for women.
“The current building has no facilities for women particularly those who are lactating. We had improvised one room but it was small. The new Parliament building will have more facilities for us. It also has a better library that will enable us to research and deliver quality debates for the good and benefit of the nation,” said Cde Kwaramba.
“We will now be sitting more comfortably in the new Parliament building given that there is more space. It will allow us to observe social distancing something that was difficult to observe in the current Parliament building resulting in us meeting virtually.”
Zimbabwe Women Parliamentary Caucus member Ms Sibusisiwe Bhudha-Masara (MDC-A) commended the new Parliament building saying it will bring more comfort.
“We are struggling to fit in well in our numbers with the current Parliament building. This is so particularly during important Parliamentary calendar days such as State of the Nation Address and national budget presentation,” she said.
Shurugwi South MP, Cde Edmond Mkaratigwa (Zanu PF) said he was excited by the new Parliament building and would enhance the quality of debates during both plenary and committee stage.