Decades of poor political communication and unresponsive policies will not be undone in days, but we are in control of the change we want. It is prudent that we start by eliminating the unnecessary so the necessary defines the political space. The first step to ensuring the Mthwakazi or Matabeleland movement is high-functioning and poised to reclaim the political narrative, power and control will be dealing with political communication deficiencies within the movement. We are under no illusion that a strategic and effective communication would be indispensable to campaigns to influence and persuade the public and shape the political space in our own image.
Political communication is defined as the role of communication in politics, it is an interactive process characterised by the transmission of information among politicians, the media, and significantly, the public. The process operates downward from political governing entities toward citizens, horizontally in linkages among political actors, and also upward from public opinion toward authorities.
In the age of the internet the greatest challenge and problem with communication is keeping up with the speed of information acquisition and dissemination, not to mention the veracity of what is fed to the public. Traditional media has been usurped which is both a good and bad thing; good in the sense information is no longer controlled by the elite and governments and bad in the sense separating fact from fiction and outright lies can be tricky in a world where anyone is an expert on any subject, and more important they have access to a gullible audience.
What is evident is that the communication in our political space so far is nowhere where it should be for effectiveness; it is often chaotic, shambolic, bitter and at times shameful, and an even bigger problem is what is left unsaid during the disorganised social media interactions. Political groups are getting more polarised with little to no room for viable coalitions. The social media confrontations between different Matabeleland focused groups, and between political groups and the public are evidence that a revamp of the political communication will be central to the movement and policymaking process.
Going forward, we need to build a sustainable communication strategy and find a way of facilitating – behind closed door, outside public glare – meaningful communication between all Matabeleland stakeholders, social and political organisations and public representatives. It is clear that because of the absence of a communication strategy, it is difficult to coordinate and/ or sustain a Matabeleland-wide activity on the ground. While we acknowledge and appreciate the bravery and isolated actions of individuals or group members in fighting against political injustice, we cannot ignore the importance of numbers in politics, and this takes us to the need for targeted or issue-based coalitions between different stakeholders, political, social organisations and public representatives.
Bringing together individuals and groups whose view of the world is fundamentally different is no mean business, but one that we should not shy away from. We believe most people are open to making compromises, but often dig their heels in because of lack of clarity on what sacrificing their positions would mean to them in the short to long-term; people have not forgotten the price Joshua Nkomo and PF ZAPU paid for their sacrifices and the damage those sacrifices caused Matabeleland.
Investment in high quality communication systems will both liberate and expand the political space; a political communication strategy will be intrinsic to a high-functioning Matabeleland political movement as it is indispensable in galvanising political support.
Analysis of what are often toxic social media exchanges among Matabeleland focused groups and the public highlights the fact that the Matabeleland movement is still struggling for public influence and in persuading voters to buy into its agenda. If the movement wants the average Matabeleland voter to agree with its political stance, in particular the focus on localisation of politics and economic activity and of course the restoration of Mthwakazi political authority, it will need to be able to explain its views succinctly and coherently.
While some groups have been able to provide valuable examples that corroborate and further explain their ideological location, many are still stumbling and thus find themselves stuck in a spiral of negative political campaigning where they dwell on attacking and attempting to discredit others instead of marketing their own ideology.
Crystal clear communication is key to building the Mthwakazi agenda profile. You cannot persuade people if they cannot see themselves in your project. We believe the design of the message is key hence careful selection of words that convey the message, influence and persuasion revolve around effective communication. This goes beyond words, the body language, the spoken and written language project maturity and the highest standard of behaviour expected of leaders in our society.
We are not naïve, and do recognise that it is impossible to please everyone at all times. However, it is possible and important to provide clarity on the Matabeleland agenda. As pointed in the last paragraph, good political communication would be essential in the Matabeleland political management, building coalitions, management of public expectation and the policymaking process.
We are convinced that for the Matabeleland movement to make real progress on the ground the development of strategic political communication should be a priority. The Matabeleland movement must respond to the communication evolution brought about by the internet and the related social media platforms. Effective political communication will involve identifying target population groups, a specific subject matter to address, and relevant communication platforms. In a nutshell, political communication is concerned with the engagement of political actors, the media and the public in matters of local, regional, state, national, and international interest and how the power of information, persuasion and strategic message design can be used to understand and affect outcomes at those levels, particularly in the area of governance and governmental and societal behaviour.