Hansard and the Problem of “The Nonverbal Code”: Implications on Parliamentary Discourse

Hansard and the Problem of “The Nonverbal Code”: Implications on Parliamentary Discourse

Umali Saidi (Midlands State University, Zimbabwe)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 33
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8094-2.ch007

Abstract

The chapter exposes the challenges of recording proceedings in the Zimbabwean parliament using selected cases. For years, the Zimbabwean parliament has been a discursive battle ground as mostly the MDC(s) and ZANU (PF) parliamentarians have sort dominance in the August House. Some debates and submissions have generated violent confrontations, singing, jeering and dancing thereby reducing the August House into some kind of theater. Such developments are assumed to pose challenges in the recording of the nonverbal cues that carry the crux of the meanings around the debates. What has become obvious is the mere recording of the spoken submissions with very few representations of nonverbal codes usually indicated as either laughs or simply inaudible. Using selected debates from the Zimbabwean Hansard, this chapter exposes some challenges of recording parliamentary discourses especially when the nonverbal code is called into question.
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Introduction

Zimbabwe, like most countries previously colonized by Britain, adopted, at independence, systems of governance and legislature from their colonial masters. Inheritance of most governance systems appear to have been appropriated either in toto or with minimum modifications or amendments. The adoption of the parliamentary system, as an instance, can be thought of as done in the spirit of building new nations as well as African ‘new’ nations firmly establishing their position within a broad ‘democratic’ ideological as well as global political practice. Sesay (2014, p. 9) observed that,

…democratic governance is inseparable from accountability and separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government. ‘Democratic governance’ and ‘good governance’ are underpinned by the supremacy of the rule of law, equity, popular participation, respect for fundamental human rights and effective public service delivery. Democratic governance is in many respects a social contract between public office holders and the citizens. In the more established democracies, a fundamental breach of the social contract would result in rejection by the people at the polls, electoral defeat and ultimately loss of political power.

From the above submission, Zimbabwe is no exception in its desire to ‘foster’ democratic governance and practice. However, despite most African countries portraying themselves as ‘democratic’ one wonders which definition of ‘democracy’ they adhere to, since scholarship has found ‘democracy’ as a difficult concept to define. As noted by Sesay (2014, p. 7)

Democracy as a concept and system of government, is perhaps the most commonly used, ‘abused’ and misunderstood word in political discourses, especially in the post-communist global dispensation.

More importantly, however, use and adherence to the ‘parliamentary’ system appears to reveal a great deal of democratic notions of governance to which the Hansard comes in handy as an official record of the proceedings in parliament.

The Parliament of Zimbabwe has a department responsible for the Hansard and it says that the Hansard is

…common name for the printed record of the verbatim Parliamentary Debates. It is derived from Thomas Curson Hansard, the man who is generally credited with first reporting of the debates in the House of Commons in Westminster in 1811, as an unofficial observer. Since then, the Official Report of the House of Commons has been known as Hansard, and the name has been adopted for the official reports of a number of legislatures throughout the world, including Zimbabwe. (The Parliament of Zimbabwe, 2018a)

In Kenya, a similar sentiment is reflected where The National Assembly of Kenya (2017, pp. 1-2) defines the ‘Hansard’ as

…the name given throughout the Commonwealth to the daily printed record of the debates of Parliament. Indeed, it is word-for-word account of the daily proceedings of the House and its Committees. The Hansard Report, otherwise known as Official Report, as enunciated by a House of Commons Select Committee on Parliamentary Debates in 1907, is:- “A full report in the first person, of all speakers alike, a full report being defined as one which, though not strictly verbatim, is substantially the verbatim report, with repetitions and redundancies omitted and with obvious mistakes corrected, but which on the other hand leaves out nothing that adds to the meaning of the speech or illustrates the argument.

Both Kenya and Zimbabwe are former British colonies and as such use similar legislative systems. It is no surprise, therefore, that the approach and adherence to the Hansard in this aspect is also similar. What comes out clearly is that the Hansard is a record of parliamentary proceedings and that the document has its roots in Britain. A quick search of the history of the document is captured in studies dating far back to the beginning of the 19th century. The National Assembly of Kenya (2017 p.2) notes that in the 16th century Britain,

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