Those who win elections do so, for the most part, because they have invested heavily in effective communication structures and processes. Ideology espoused is important, but it, alone, is not enough. Our political processes need to adapt to the modern challenges and our educational process will be complete when we have learned how to learn and change.
Today’s political challenge
Ineffective internal process, particularly communication, is the biggest political challenge of our time; our organisations are characterised by stunted growth as a direct result of dysfunctional communications departments.
At the core of problem is the damaging unprofessionalism, disjointed, incoherent and often mixed political messaging – a major handicap for the organisations; this is because communication remains an under prioritised area within most of the representative organisations.
The danger with poorly constructed messages is that they can be a more malign force capable of blocking the pro-Mthwakazi reform, engendering ill-discipline, promoting and sustaining undemocratic political attitudes.
For our politics to grow we must tackle this elephant in the house; first, we must acknowledge we have a communication crisis that needs our urgent attention. Our space is still filled with bizarre and conflicting political declarations supposedly from our organisations and oftentimes it is unclear whether the message we hear or read is personal opinion or party policy.
Defining political communication
In its broader sense, political communication is the role of communication in the political process. It includes the production and generation of messages by political actors, the transmission of political messages through direct and indirect channels, and the reception of political messages.
The primary target for our pro-Mthwakazi organisations need be the restructuring and fine-tuning of political communications departments. A great idea locked away in poor communication systems is of no use as it cannot leave the source, it cannot be heard far and wide and it cannot be critiqued; the essence of politics is the exchange of ideas.
The communication department
Setting up communication departments is vital if our political organisations are to make progress within a highly competitive political space. Unlike popular belief, communication in political activism is no longer just a way of getting across messages, it is action in its own right. Like other forms of participation, communication mobilises and structures political thought and engagement, and it affects the internal and external workings of politics, social movements, and other societal actors.
We recognise the role of communication in supporting our political views and broadcasting policy statements. Robust and effective communication departments would be a powerful force for positive, developmental change.
Priority must be the creation of robust and efficient communications departments; this is vital if we are to harmonise political ideas, politicians and people’s ideas within a sober socio-political space.
The Role of the Department of Communication
The Department of Communication will assume a party public relations or public affairs department role. The department will have to work closely with other departments to ensure it understands the dynamics of the party operations and the information it needs to communicate. The communications department plays a crucial role in an organisation’s success.
Credibility, perception and reputation are important in politics; communications departments will play a key role in how supporters, members and the general public perceive our politics and its leaders.
The communication department will establish a coherent political brand, promote ideology, and attract new members as well as retaining old members; building loyalty to party brand is essential for growth.
We recognise the importance of internal discipline in communication. The Department of Communication must also include internal party communication. This helps leadership keep party membership in the know about what is going on and helps to strengthen the various departments in an organisation. Internal communications include party newsletters, regular emails and party team-building events.
Control and accountability are essential in political message delivery. There is a need to reduce non-tactical ambiguity and unnecessary confusion, we need to have a single focus. The communications department would need to be led by a communications director or manager or team. The communications team would help the party strategise and implement methods of external and internal communication that best serve the organisation’s needs.
Another key aspect of political activism is how citizens, leaders and public institutions relate to each other in order to make change happen. Without communication structures and processes which enable the two-way exchange of information between political organisations and our people to happen, it is difficult for politics to be responsive to public needs and expectations.
Crucially, two-way communication allows our people to monitor the organisations’ activities, to engage with the political organisations on issues that matter to the people, and to influence political outcomes. Such interaction encourages the development of trust between our political organisations and the people they want to represent and is a foundation of long-term legitimacy of the parties.
The challenge for every pro-Mthwakazi political organisation right now is to gain visibility in a highly competitive political space. Our groups must compete for the attention of the voter not only against ZANU PF and the MDC but also against other groups on the same platform who likewise wish to be visible and popular.
Furthermore, our groups have to deal with competition against non-political communicators who also want to attract the attention of an audience – our message has to be exciting to persuade the audience to listen to us.
We cannot dispute the power of communication, and in particular the catalytic role of the media, in influencing the relationships between our formations, the people and the political processes. Professionalised communication departments will be vital for connecting political organisations’ ideological location with societal norms and values, facilitating inclusive political and accountable systems, giving ‘voice’ to poor and marginalised groups, and enabling public participation. It can be argued that strategic use of political communication tools and methodologies will influence attitudes, opinions and behaviour of key stakeholders and secure the political interest necessary for growth on the ground.