Matabeleland Political analysts remain understandably baffled by the recent ZANU PF ‘victory’ in Matabeleland in the last general election. However, it remains equally difficult to objectively understand why anyone would have been expecting the opposition to win the Matabeleland vote instead of ZANU PF. There is no objective reason why the opposition, including nationalists, was worthy of a victory in Matabeleland. The biggest socio-political worry in Matabeleland right now remains the political disconnect between politicians and the people. Communication is crucial in bridging the gap between people’s lived realities and the political rhetoric.
Every society has its own political grammar, political codes and sub-codes unique to its human, economic and political history and experiences. It is highly contestable that the problems being addressed by local politicians are the same challenges being experienced by the people of Matabeleland. Politicians need to stop imposing solutions to problems that are essentially a figment of their political imagination. Our politics has to address people’s needs and resist the temptation of limiting focus argument around problems, most of which are pure by-products of subjective appraisal of socioeconomic and political realities.
Why is it that despite the ‘resurgence’ of nationalist politics, there appears to be a growing disconnection between the people in the region and the political leadership while nationalism is yet to grip the population? I have serious reservations on the effectiveness and appropriateness of the communication strategies currently employed by Matabeleland politicians, in particular, nationalists. The victimhood emphasis as opposed to the solution focused message has only worked to confirm the victim status in the region and people are simply withdrawing into their safety margins as evidenced by the latest election result in which ZANU PF’s performance was perhaps the best in the region since Zimbabwean independence. The region is crying out for a leader who will inspire people to be what they know they can be!
The politics of nationalists has to date been mainly focused on complaining about ethnic Shona hegemony instead of recreating Matabele self-discipline and recreating a thriving and sustainable Matabeleland nation. Politicians must be facilitators of development and let people manage their circumstances. Matabeleland intellectuals, politicians, and the business community are simply not investing their energies in those projects of national significance. For instance, local investment in public education and health infrastructure is abysmal to say the least yet instead of taking practical steps to resuscitate those structures we are busy complaining of lack of investment by a government whose detest of the people of the region is neither new nor a secret.
The major concern in Matabeleland is not the lack of political activism; rather it is the lack of political direction. There is clearly no convergence between politicians’ interests and what Matabeleland people want. Matabeleland politics needs to address people’s worries as seen by the people themselves and not only as perceived by political professionals. If communities cannot identify themselves within a political message meant to be communicating what is important to them then there is a crisis of socio-political confidence. Politicians need to formulate a system for gauging public opinion and for testing policy proposals before major public pronouncements are made to avoid embarrassing, if not indeed damaging contradictions.
It is essential that the communication context is understood and appropriate communication strategies are adopted to access a wider audience and link politics with people’s lived experiences. Modern communication technologies such as the internet, mobile phone applications, radio, television, and the print media maybe effective modes of communication but they must supplement and not supplant people-intensive modes of communication as the diffusion of modern communication technologies remains effectively hampered both by Zimbabwean government suppressive communications legislation and economic factors.
For Matabeleland to work for its citizens, people-intensive political consultation programmes have to be adopted. Politicians have to answer people’s questions as opposed to addressing questions that they (politicians) think people should be asking. An understanding and astute manipulation of the communication context (laws and technologies available) is vital if Matabeleland politicians are to reach a wider audience.