Visiting Parliament without a pass

Posted by on 19th November 2010

Categories:   Citizen Engagement News

By Mzalendo Contributor  – Moreen Majiwa (@mmajiwa)

I was apprehensive about the prospect of going to parliament without a pass signed by a MP – the pink pass is like a special key, it soothes attitudes and opens doors.   On my last visit I had taken out the pass way before I got to parliament  – salutes were given, card keys swiped, and a personal escort given all the way to the Speaker’s Gallery.   I anticipated that without the pass the experience would be vastly different. My friends, the same ones that had been less than encouraging the last visit, concurred with enthusiastic mockery ‘gate crashing sounds fun and if you get chucked out you’ll have something interesting to write about.’

Having made the decision to go parliament sans pass I decided to take it all the way – dress casual and see how easy it is for the regular ‘watus’ to get in.  I wore the uniform for people my age skinny jeans and a shirt-dress. I did carry a blazer in case there was dress code for parliament the blazer and dark coloured jeans could pass for a crude suit.  There isn’t a dress code I learned,  but formal is best.

Being more familiar with the protocol, and having checked the parliamentary timetable on the Bunge website, I got to the gate at 2 pm, 30 minutes before the start of session.  A carefully chosen time, if any hitch occurred I had adequate time to either charm and or argue my way into parliament, charm being the strategy of choice – but was ready to either or both.

It turned out that I didn’t need to do either!  I walked through the main gate, with no problems at all.  The second entrance is a smaller portal, the entry in to the parliament building is very funnel-like, a wide main entry point, a narrower second entry portal with a body scanner and a conveyor belt, and finally a revolving gate which needs you to swipe a your visitors card before you can access the parliamentary building inside the gated area.

The guard at the second entry point is a lot more intimidating than those at the main gate.  I introduced myself to the guard, used to the nonplussed silent stares of government officers I was surprised when he introduced himself back, his name was Charles…he was no-nonsense and very polite at the same time. I told him I wanted to sit in and listen to the parliamentary proceedings.  He asked for my ID and issued me with a visitors pass, checked my handbag and asked me to put it through the scanner and then to leave it at the baggage area.   If you don’t like leaving your bags in public places you’re advised not to carry one.

There is a slight difference between viewing sessions from the  Speaker’s gallery versus  the Public gallery. In the Speaker’s Gallery you face speaker and can see the whole house. The Public gallery is positioned above the Speaker so you can’t see him and your view of the front of the house is constrained. Though the Public Gallery is a lot less comfortable than that in the Speaker’s gallery the experience of being in parliament is no less exhilarating and I’d still recommend a visit. It is relatively easy to get in all you need is your ID and the interest.