Invest in social capital and build political capital

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Photo credit: MRP Twitter feed @mthwakazi_mrp (2018) As part of MRP’s Bulawayo Central Parliamentary candidate Ms Sehliselo Ndebele’s campaign, MRP members took it upon themselves to tidy litter in the Bulawayo city centre

Figures do not lie, a snapshot of the 2018 general election results gives a clear picture of total control of the Matabeleland political space by ZANU PF and the MDC; sadly, the Matabeleland political movement influence remains negligible. We cannot affect a genuine philosophical and political revamp in Matabeleland until there is a change in who controls the political space. That hints at the displacement and removal of ZANU PF and/ or the MDC-A while ensuring a real time increase in Matabeleland movement activity and influence. Although not impossible, it is an uphill task for anyone to break through the ZANU PF/ MDC barriers of power.

Image credit: Zimbabwe Electoral Commission via BBC News. The map shows 2018 general election results.

Participating in the 2018 elections was correct, the best test to date, and best way of publicising and exposing the Matabeleland movement agenda out for public scrutiny. We acknowledge that the performance was nowhere near as good as the movement leadership would have hoped and we recognise it may have sent an unintended message to Matabeleland communities. We cannot rule out the confidence crisis suffered by the movement initiatives; the public was left resigned to the continued reign of the mainstream politics.

Going forward, the one important task for the movement will be establishing truthful communication between its leadership and the target constituencies which may at times have differing interests. Truthful communication is dependent on the accuracy of information; the repercussions for decision-making are far-reaching for activities based on the accuracy of information. We will need to develop reliable methods of observing information for accuracy.

An honest review of Matabeleland focused political parties’ performance will indicate a fundamental problem for the movement, that of a serious lack of political capital. Every political analyst knows the importance of political capital, this is the key that allows politicians to execute their plans. However, it is only possible to have political capital if you have first invested in building a solid foundation of social capital. The primary task for the Matabeleland movement therefore is to invest on social capital, and stop assuming locals owe us loyalty because we come from the region.

What is social capital?

Defining social capital is not straight forward, it is subject to different interpretations depending on who defines it. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines social capital as “networks together with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate co-operation within or among groups”. It has also been defined as ‘the ability of people to work together for common purposes in groups and organizations’ (Fukuyama 1995). Fukuyama (1997) further simplifies social capital to ‘the existence of a certain set of informal values or norms shared among members of a group that permit cooperation among them’. It can be seen as the quantity and quality of your relationships whose potential usefulness depends largely on who these relationships are with.

The Matabeleland movement must concentrate on building trust and establishing mutual relationships with members of the community. It is important to identify influential individuals who share the vision and closely work with them to expand the cause.

Admittedly, there are groups already doing that – engaging with communities in various ways, e.g. voluntary work – tidying local areas or protecting needy members of the community, intervening to stop illegal invasion of local property, etc. but the efforts have tended to be too sporadic to be effective. The weakness is that most of that contact has been sporadic and often of a crisis management type than planned with clear short to long-term goals.

Forms of social capital:

Social capital takes various forms, but one fairly straightforward approach divides it into three main categories: Bonds: connection to people based on a sense of common identity – such as family, close friends and people who share our culture or ethnicity. Bridges: connection extending beyond a shared sense of identity, e.g. acquaintances. Linkages: connection to people or groups from distinct social classes.

Who we build relationships with matters; although both quantity and quality matter in establishing relationships, we want to build trust and reciprocal relations with influential people in the communities. The movement must work on amassing quantity before it can start working on the quality.

While quantity refers to raw figures, quality refers to the reciprocal nature of trust and sharing between the people in the relationship – the public and the movement leadership. Through networking, we will build friendships, loyalties and mutual support. However, it is also necessary to consider the one-way quality relationships because it is impossible to maintain reciprocity with everyone.

Political Capital

Political capital is a vital resource with which politicians induce compliance from other power holders; political capital is defined as the amount of goodwill and support available within your relationships. The value of one’s political capital will be determined by the power and influence of those who bestow them with their goodwill and support, and their potential to assist you in moving forward your goals. It is thus essential that the movement identifies those influential individuals with valuable expertise within communities who happen to share the same philosophy with the leadership and make use of them to pierce through to the core of the community.

Three fundamental factors in the process of developing political capital:
  1. Clarity of goals and specificity of areas where you seek power and influence.
  2. Build a broad base of social capital (relationships) with people around your goals/arena.
  3. Gradually progress social capital to political capital with those who matter most.
Developing Political Capital:
  1. Build an understanding of the personal and professional agendas of your key targets
  2. Understand their values. Remember you are likely to gain a greater degree of support if you manage to appeal to people’s values (and emotions) as well as their agenda
  3. Compare and contrast their values and interests with your own aims, goals and values
  4. Once fully aware of interests and values, start assisting the community to be the best it can be
  5. Reinforce the relationship. Invest time, particularly informal time, getting to know them and allowing them the opportunity to get to know you as a person
  6. Explore ways of encouraging them to directly get involved in what you are doing
  7. Stay relevant. Relationships and goals evolve and change, ensure you conduct regular reviews of your goals and identify new relationships and connections which are worth investing in

We appreciate politics is not static, aims, goals and indeed sources of the vital political capital change due to both local and international factors. The Matabeleland movement must be prepared for such changes and adjust accordingly.

Conclusion

To get things done, we need political capital; this vital resource is a by-product of social capital. The task for the Matabeleland movement leadership is to build valuable social capital and astutely elevate it to political capital. We expect our leadership to take their roles seriously, stop the disenfranchisement of communities and population groups; start to promote social bonds, build bridges and links between communities and organisations. The leadership must be alert to potential changes around the movement’s goals and allow for appropriate flexibility; sources of valuable political capital may change just as goals and the political context may experience unexpected changes and shock. A well-focused, goal oriented broad base of political capital is vital for the sustenance of the movement.

Published by THE RESEARCH HUB

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

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