A critique of negative political campaigns

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

We respect the right of all of pro-Mthwakazi political entities to hold their views and express themselves the way they see fit. But we also put it across to them that they have a responsibility to the people they represent and those whom they wish to represent; they must recognise that the consequences of political choices and decisions can be devastating.

Our politicians must realise that society was already in existence before formal political institutions came into being. Political institutions draw their authority from the people, not the other way around. It is imperative that our organisations seek public approval before their ideas are turned into policies or laws meant to represent us. No matter their perception of their ideas, pro-Mthwakazi organisations must not be found guilty of bypassing the people if they truly represent change.  

What we believe is that our political space will benefit from politicians paying greater attention to the people, in return people will pay attention to politics. Good communication will be our vital reference point. Good communication skills help take the public from the confusion of political ideas to deep understanding. And, it is necessary that we demand of our pro-Mthwakazi formations to raise their message delivery standards.   

Objectivity and not subjectivity should be the driver of our political construction. The perceived popularity of the expulsion of Shona people from Mthwakazi maybe an illusion. Like any other ideal, the popularity of the Shona-bashing politics must be put to rigorous testing.

Are Mthwakazi people in support of the expulsion of ethnic Shona people? How is the expulsion of ethnic Shona people necessary for our independence and freedom?

We are all in agreement that Shona privilege which shores up the mainstream political parties of Zimbabwe and influences systemic decisions should be torn to bits and thrown away, and we will support all efforts in that direction.

What must be understood clearly by all our groups is that when they speak, they do so not only to tell the Mthwakazi constituency what they (groups) think, but to tell themselves what they think, after all speech is a part of thought. When political organisations communicate, they have the responsibility to make sure they have been heard and understood and not merely assume because they have spoken, communication has taken place.

It is not just the ideas organisations hold that matter but how those ideas are transformed into policy, how they are moulded into a coherent message and how they are delivered to the public.

If there is one point of major consternation within our political space, it is the long-term benefit of negative political campaigns. Its practitioners believe it does bear the intended consequences. However, many observers in Mthwakazi fear that negative campaigning has unintended but detrimental effects on the political system itself.

Negative Campaigning is simply the type of political campaign whereby instead of showcasing the good aspects of your candidate, the campaign highlights the flaws or problems of another candidate.  

Typical negative campaigning will focus on a candidate’s political record, or lack of one. In this regard, two different types of approaches are used: firstly, there is an attack presentation and secondly, a contrast presentation. Attack presentations will cut through the opposing candidate, and highlight their flaws and past, whereas contrast presentations will compare the positives of one candidate against another candidate’s weaknesses.

We are uncomfortable with the highly negative cat-fights between our different freedom fighters as much as we fear the name calling alienates some groups from the public. Intolerant groups cannot be trusted with enabling and protecting democratic development and growth. The political capital of public mudslinging is negligible, if there is any at all.

Evidence suggests that negative statements tend to be more memorable than positive ones but that they do not affect voter choice. The entertainment that comes with negative campaigns must not be confused with approval. People are no less likely to turn out to the polls or to decide against voting for a candidate who is attacked in a campaign.

That many people would recall the negative appraisal of other groups or tribes by some Mthwakazi formations is no indication of their popularity and must never be used as a measure of any organisation’s political success.  

One of the major criticisms of this form of political communication is that informative, policy-focused campaigns are being replaced by negative, enemy-seeking ones. The Mthwakazi electorate is rightly worried about the narrowness of the debate and lack of political ‘substance’. People want to know what you are going to do with the power they give you and that is what will influence their voting choices.

The crucial question is how the negative political communication affects the citizens and their decisions which define the Mthwakazi political process. Does targeting Shona people make our politics better? Does the lack of policy substance mean that voters cannot make well-informed decisions? Does a highly negative and uncivil political debate make them stay away from politics? Can this type of political communication have further social consequences?

We have yet to objectively measure the impact of negative campaigning to those organisations which have chosen to employ it. Studies indicate mixed outcomes ranging from increasing political engagement, disinterest, uninformed electorate, disillusionment and lack of trust in politics.

As pointed above, it is difficult to objectively measure the impact of the negative campaign being employed by some of our formations. But the unscientific deductions drawn from Facebook hits give strong indication that many of our people are not convinced that tribal profiling and exclusion is the answer to the tribally engineered problems we face today.  

Blaming and denying anyone citizenship for crimes committed by criminal elements from a social group they are identified with does not appear to be a just disposition and appropriate resolution to the challenges of tribalism we face. Indeed, many of our citizens see it as an unacceptable affront to justice. It is an ill-thought out intervention in that none of us chose their ethnicity.

Reckless language and pronouncements that unintentionally victimise individuals for belonging to certain tribes cast a shadow over our claims of being a fair society. We cannot address tribalism by imposing our own version of it. Tribalism can be effectively eliminated or denied operational space through laws and processes that promote equality, freedom, safety and security for all.    

We cannot tell political organisations how to campaign, but we have a duty to educate our people on methods being employed by local social and political organisations who are seeking their vote. As a nation, we have never been threatened by difference and ideals that suggest differently do not truly reflect us.

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