We argue that effective communication will be an indispensable tool in the real growth of the pro-Mthwakazi politics; communication breaks down the invisible barriers between the public and the leadership. Pro-Mthwakazi politics is no different, its growth is dependent on how well politics, politicians and the public interact. Effective communication creates links between leaders and the electorate, and how messages are delivered – both in terms of timeliness and clarity – is key. It is critical that the priority for the pro-Mthwakazi movement should be building strong communication departments.
Various opinion polls attest to the fact that political communication is central to the electoral and policymaking process. We however, need to be alert to the modern-day changes within the communication systems. While in the late 20th Century word of mouth via door-to-door campaigns, traditional media in the form of local and national newspapers, newsletters, pamphlets, radio and television were the main, if not only outlet of information, the internet and social media have fundamentally altered this process in the 21st Century. Social media is now the master in the field, the main platform for political communication, tried and tested old forms and methods of political communication – from elites to the masses (top down) and from the masses to elites (bottom up) – are being radically displaced and reconfigured by the social media.
Unique only to social media is the rapid speed with which information is both created and disseminated. Mainstream organisations and institutions are almost always playing catch up. The world trend is such that activists are more emboldened and often able to easily bypass state barriers to build new movements and protests using social media which are increasingly successful at altering mainstream political agendas.
While the social media presents great opportunities for the otherwise fringe groups and individuals to express their ideas, it also presents challenges when abused or misused by elements with ill-intentions in some political groups; it is increasingly becoming difficult for movements to maintain discipline or verify the quality of information that is being disseminated in their name to the public.
We believe that if organisations are to engage the public effectively, dedicated communications departments will be key. Communication of party ideas, events, plans and other internal matters will need to be professionalised and controlled to reduce avoidable and at times damaging contradiction. Being in control of the dissemination of information is not the same as unfairly withholding crucial information of public interest but having a reliable central data source from which official information is scrutinised for factual verification and then categorised according to sensitivity; it is during this process that information may need to be edited to protect individuals, communities and/ or the organisation. Ideally, we would expect the party’s department of information to be the only portal from which information on various party activities including policy updates is safely shared with various interest groups, e.g. sponsors, journalists, party members and the general public on a need to know basis.
The current free for all which has often seen individuals from certain groups breaking rank and using their private Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts to express personal views, contradict leadership positions on sensitive internal party matters and/ or policy positions is unhelpful. Besides the fact that such behaviour undermines party leadership and authority, it compromises safety of the entire organisation and those associated with it as well as questioning its integrity and that of the leadership.
What effective political communication should be about is the building of an interactive process concerning the transmission of information among politicians, the news media, and the public. The linkage process as described earlier in the article operates vertically, top-bottom, from elites toward the electorate and vice-versa, i.e. the bottom-up process in the form of public opinion toward authorities and then we have horizontal in linkages among political actors.
It is impossible to please everyone at all times hence individual grumblings are to be expected but a safe, confidential, fair and accessible channel needs to be available for members on all sides of the ideological spectrum to express themselves before the party can reach decisions on various matters. What members would have to appreciate is that at times, in the interest of party progress, individual interests may have to be sacrificed to allow the organisation to provide clarity on a particular issue. In doing so, the electorate have more of an understanding of where a political party stands on specific issues, which can help them make informed decisions on policy matters.
Identifying the right target and sending information in an accessible format is a fundamental aspect of the political communication process. For instance, high-level political communication should focus on the most sensitive and most valuable activities of the organisation. This communication is often highly tailored and resource intensive; it may be channelled through policy briefs, case studies, conferences, high-level briefings, etc. The aim is to build trust and increase the credibility of the organisation as well as to drive coverage of the organisation in the media that senior decision-makers read.
The legitimacy of the pro-Mthwakazi agenda hinges on strong communication departments and effective communication. Only effective communication will link the pro-Mthwakazi movement with the public, interested organisations (local and international), other movements (local and international) and sponsors.