Social Capital and Factionalism in Zimbabwean Politics


Social Capital refers to the networks of shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate co-operation within or among individuals and groups.


Where Social Capital is high in an organization, the networks within that organization are also strong and the levels of cooperation among the individuals and groups in that organization are also high.


Where Social Capital is low, networks among the individuals or groups within the organization are also weak, and consequently the levels of cooperation among individuals within the organization are low.


I have previously written about Social Capital in family businesses, arguing that where Social Capital is high, individuals within the business have high levels of cooperation and consequently unity of purpose, which helps the business to compete, despite external challenges.


Conversely, where Social Capital is low in a family business, the levels of cooperation are low and relationships among the business leaders are weak, often resulting in the permanent demise of the enterprise, fundamentally because no organization can survive without unity of purpose.


In a political party, one of the primary contributors to cohesion and harmony is the ideology of the organization, where ideology is defined as a set of beliefs pertaining to the best developmental direction for a society and how it can be achieved.


When the ideology in a political party is sensible and sound. then unity at all levels of the party is easier to achieve.


For instance, during the liberation struggle, the shared ideological vision to achieve a liberated Zimbabwe arguably transcended the individual differences and narrow interests of the leaders at the time.


However, conversely, today, it is not a shared ideology but narrow interests that predominately influence Zimbabwean politics.


This is true across the political divide.


Social Capital in Political Parties


When determining the levels of Social Capital within an organization six dimensions must be surveyed. These are:


●The relationships between the various groups, networks and individuals within an organization;
● The levels of trust and solidarity among those groups and individuals;
● The levels of cooperation among the groups and individuals;
● The efficiency in transmission of information and communication;
● The levels of cohesion and inclusion among groups and individuals;
●The levels of empowerment among the various groups and individuals.


An organization with adequate Social Capital will score highly in all of the aforementioned categories.


Political parties need Social Capital. They arguably attract their membership for two primary reasons. Firstly, because the party offers a sound ideological vision for the direction in which the society should develop.


Secondly, because the party puts forward a leadership that inspires the trust of its membership and perhaps the wider electorate.


This brings me to the issue of factionalism.


Social Capital and Factionalism in Zimbabwe


Recent political events in Zimbabwe generally and in ZANU-PF in particular make for interesting reading.


If anything, it seems that Social Capital is currently low across the political divide and in ZANU-PF in particular.


While I appreciate the view that factionalism is detrimental to the efficient functioning of any political party, I also feel that we must realize that factionalism is also a normal part of political life the world over.


As I write this the Republican Party in the USA has four distinct factions. In 2015, the Chinese Communist Party named three distinct factions: the so-called “Shanxi Gang,” “Secretary Gang” and “Petroleum Gang.”


Factions, in essence, are part of the political ecosystem and history shows that factions can at times do well for a political party’s Social Capital.


This is especially true where factions are aligned along ideological lines, and where intra-party debate is encouraged.


For example the moderate faction of the Republican party can help that party to win over Democratic voters.


Having said that, however, where factions are not formed on ideological lines, and are instead shaped along regional or tribal lines, then they tend to exacerbate non-cooperative behavior and therefore are adverse to the achievement of common party goals.


Ultimately, the problem in Zimbabwe’s body-politic currently is that the major political parties are not offering the country’s citizens a sound ideological direction.


As a result, Social Capital is currently low in all our main political outfits and in ZANU-PF in particular.


This is demonstrated by how different organs ZANU-PF have been publicly conflicting with each other.


War-Veterans have openly berated members of the Women’s league, and members of the Youth league have publicly castigated War Veterans.


All this is symptomatic of an organization that lacks Social Capital and is consequently gradually descending into anarchy. This is not good for Zimbabwe.


The thing is, where there is no vision the people perish. That means that when there is no ideology to unite the people, then all you have left are your differences, and that is the reason why you fight.


That is true in any institution, be it a marriage, a family, a family business or a political party.


At the end of the day, our politicians need to stop exacerbating regional and tribal tensions, and instead, practically focus upon ideological and developmental goals.


That is the only way to regain the trust of the electorate and restore lost Social Capital.

Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director



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