Language and political message delivery

Questions have been raised of the impact (to the message) of the language being used by some pro-Mthwakazi activists. This, I believe, is a fair question of interest in relation to the importance of language as a tool of communication. Words can make or break your message. If you do not pay attention to your words you risk damaging an otherwise excellent message as the language or words, and not the message, becomes the focus of the discussion.

Straight to the point, many people do identify with the pro-Mthwakazi message, but even more do not identify with the language selection in the delivery of the message. Some activists have chosen to ride on emotion over the guidance of principle in their response to ZANU PF barbarism hence the misdirected tribally charged language, profanity and threats have become custom in the political sphere. Such language is creating a barrier between the movement and the public meant to receive and probable benefit from the message.

The effectiveness of the movement shall not be measured on how people are emotionally or physically harmed but how many buy into the ideals. While some people will get hurt (physically and emotionally), that must not be the default position but a result of genuinely unavoidable consequence of the struggle; being tough cannot be confused with recklessness, any increase in otherwise avoidable casualties will discredit the movement.

Fear that poor choice of language may be undermining the message is a real threat for every activist to be wary about; the impact that the language being used by some activists is having on communication of their goals is yet to be objectively assessed, but the negative public feedback through social media comments seems to suggest the poor selection of language by some activists may be negatively affecting how the message is received.

Language can make or break a cause. Care must be taken in the choice of words for political progress to be achieved; as an activist and primary message driver, you must ensure the words and language used is highly accommodative and keyed in with your target communities; the message must focus on the broken system without regard of the tribe of the beholder.  

Difference between language and communication
Image courtesy © “Transactional comm Model” by Jason S Wrench cited by Hana (2015) in PEDIAA. To influence people you need to understand what is already influencing them

It is important for the movement to avoid assumptions and work at understanding how the presentation of the message benefits the recipient. In the absence of the “what’s in it for me” factor, the public will quickly lose interest. To connect directly with the public, it is important that the movement speaks as if to each individual person and every community in Mthwakazi.

As a bare minimum, the public must be able to see themselves in the message you deliver. So to connect directly with the electorate, be sensitive to their sensitivities, feel and communicate their pains in their language; Mthwakazi is a social and politically diverse nation and there are growing political methodological differences and tensions, you will have to be attentive to place your ears to the ground to conjure the appropriate connecting channels.

It is no secret that tribalism and intolerance are the foundation of ZANU PF government and politics, but we are not in competition with ZANU PF because we are certainly not running the same race; our focus is creating a completely different state, a state that will – every day – stand up against racial and tribal prejudice and intolerant attitudes.

You can make a strong case, robustly express your anger and dismay at the injustices perpetuated by the current system and win the public over without the need for profanity, without targeting specific tribes for abuse. We have the toolkit in the form of body language, appropriate, powerful, incisive words and phrases in all of our local languages and culture that allow us to do just that.

Remember to the recipient of the message you share an identity with the words and phrases you use; calling specific population groups such names as ‘amahole’ or ‘amaswina’, among other derogatory terms will not glorify you and the message, and never will make it more receptive but will increase the risk of diversion and restricting the debate to the language itself than the message being delivered.

As an activist this is an opportune moment to strongly oppose language that promotes tribalism in favour of language that instils tribal equity because more equal societies are healthier societies. Defend humanity against vile ideologies; resolutely defend the downtrodden without regard for their tribe.

It is your right to annihilate Babylonian ideologies but use language that does not violate the essence of another man’s being; use language that fights against discrimination, language that conveys respect and tolerance, language that shares the common history of all humanity in Mthwakazi – including its most tragic chapters.

As an activist, it is important not only to think about what you say, but how you say it. To communicate effectively, it is not enough to have well organised ideas expressed in complete and coherent sentences, you must also think about the tone and clarity of the delivery, and adapt these attributes to the target audience. Emotions are an essential part of being human, but being a leader is being able to take control of the physical and emotive aspect of the message. Do not let the subject matter take control of you, let principle be your master, stay in control of what you say, including how you express your emotions, and you will be in full control of your message; more importantly you stand a better chance of winning over your audience.

Published by THE RESEARCH HUB

a progressive politics and policy researcher and author with an interest in Mthwakazi (Matabeleland) human rights, liberties, safety and security.

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