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Language in politics

Silence can be golden, but being quiet is not a privilege politicians should accustom themselves to, apart from when it is some form of constructive ambiguity. Politicians are in the business of either seeking to comment or react to media stories every day and night. Silence in politics is as potent as a shopkeeper who will not open his/ her shop.

We cannot overstate the importance of good communication skills to the marketing and expansion of the pro-Mthwakazi agenda. Our organisations frequently engage in conversations and debate, public statements and speeches, pamphlets and manifestos.

Choice of language will be essential for organisations to maintain public connectivity. Politicians must consider if the inclination to the use of isiNdebele language across a diverse society like Mthwakazi is politically sustainable? Or the use of simple English and local language interpreters will be a more progressive step?

Language is the cornerstone of politics. It can be political career-altering and sometimes fatal to political dreams and career. Inclination to reasoned intervention is the ideal advice to our leaders; we advise our sisters and brothers in politics not to be in the habit of speaking out of their discomfort with silence but to speak because there is something to say.

While we acknowledge the reality that shooting from the hip will be necessary and will happen with even greater frequency now that we live in a 24/7 access to online social media political age, every word has its price, thus every one that has to be uttered must be given due regard.

As argued by political scientist Noam Chomsky, words are the currency of power in politics. Communication is the key to swaying voters in a democracy; the system is based on the public buying into what politicians are saying in their campaign speeches.   

The pressure is immense for politicians to make quick and ‘right’ calls but they need to show due diligence and pragmatism in their judgement to gain political capital. For instance, when is an act a ‘hate crime’ and not ‘terrorism’? And when is it ‘tribalism’ and not ‘regionalism’?

What we say is important, but how we say it determines our success or failure in politics. It is not impossible to address the extant problem of Shona supremacy while steering away from tribalism.  

It is through communication that politicians express themselves and their goals and it is via communication that the public get to understand who they are. Communication will determine whether we will succeed or fail in retaining our supporters while winning over those still in doubt of the ‘righteousness’ of the pro-Mthwakazi agenda.

Our political space has been usurped by ideological extremities that have polarised citizens. The complete inability to communicate across political lines has not only disabled the Mthwakazi political space but also left society more divided at a time when ideological convergence would be the wisest political approach for pro-Mthwakazi organisations.

We are so divided that many people from opposite sides of the spectrum have simply stopped listening to anything from the other side. The result is a palpable failure to promote the Mthwakazi agenda and disable the status quo.

In the last 10 or so years there has been an upsurge of media platforms giving politicians a wide choice to send their messages, at the same time that has given a headache in choosing which platform will best meet their needs and be in sync with the public. How and where we send out our messages must not be a random act but an objective and targeted action.

We need to think of the target of the message, the goal of the message, how quickly should the message be churned out and then choose the right platform or platforms and form of language to be used. We can say with confidence that blogs and tweets are perfectly suited to direct, personal communication. Twitter or blogs followers are looking for spontaneity and personable messages, not finely tuned, politically-correct scholarly pieces.

Trump’s use of the twitter platform in his highly successful presidential campaign is a prime example where a politician scarcely noticed by most of the traditional media and, unrestricted by the standards and protocol of traditional communication, thrived in the new medium.

Mthwakazi groups must be clear about whom they are addressing as that is key to any successful communication. As evidenced in the paragraph above, press work is no longer exclusively targeted at journalists thanks to the rampant growth of social media which has revolutionised political communication. Just as Trump did, politicians can now access their voters directly, bypassing journalists and editors.

A powerful information war needs to be waged to win over the Mthwakazi people to the pro-Mthwakazi agenda. Our political leaders must learn to think their language through than rant.


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