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Parliament Votes to Abolish White Seats

August 21, 1987

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ Parliament on Friday voted 78-0 to end special representation for Zimbabwe’s tiny white minority by abolishing the 20 seats reserved for whites under a British-brokered independence constitution.

Legislators erupted in dance, song and cries of victory after the bill’s passage. Their celebration poured out into the streets of Harare, the capital of this southern African nation.

The action had been expected since April 18, when the number of votes needed to dump the 20 white seats dropped to 70.

In the last month, two members of the white Conservative Alliance of Zimbabwe and three white independents crossed over to Prime Minister Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union, or ZANU, party.

The switch took the party, known also as the Patriotic Front, over the threshold needed to pass the bill.

Under the constitution, the bill becomes law after passing both assembly and the senate, which is sure to approve the measure, and being signed by President Canaan Banana.

The measure throws out of office the 10 remaining Parliament members of Ian Smith’s formerly dominant white political machine, along with 10 other whites. The remaining 80 members of Parliament will fill the seats in a special vote for which no date has been set.

Under the British-drafted constitution ending a 7-year guerrilla war in 1979, 20 parliamentary seats were set aside for whites to try to influence them to stay in the former white-ruled colony of Rhodesia after it became independent and black-ruled Zimbabwe in 1980.

Whites number about 150,000 in Zimbabwe’s population of 8.6 million. The government had argued their parliamentary representation was disproportionat e.

Lou Ankers, a white Conservative Alliance lawmaker, tried to introduce for discussion a lawyer’s opinion that abolition of the seats would disenfranchise Zimbabwe’s white voters. However, the matter was ruled out of order.

Later, the minister of legal and parliamentary affairs, Eddison Zvobgo, said that if the effect of the bill was to discriminate, ″so be it.″

″We will forget race from now on,″ he told the conservative white legislators. ″Really, I think few people will miss you.″

″But let it be recorded that these members harp and continue to harp, stir and continue to stir anti-unity feeling in the country,″ he said.

Conservative Alliance lawmakers, who said on Wednesday they would acquiesce in the elimination of their seats and support the measure, instead abstained and left the assembly before the vote.

The 78 parliamentarians remaining, including four white independents, four white members of ZANU and 11 members of Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union, voted for the measure.

Nkomo and Mugabe led rival guerrilla armies during the war that ended Smith’s 14-year administration and led to Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain.

Mugabe joined other government members in pounding the assembly’s green leather benches, the traditional gesture of approval, as six women legislators led parliamentarians in five minutes of spirited dance and song.

The celebration swirled onto the street outside the parliament building as crowds gathered on street corners.

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