In 2018, South Africa’s firebrand opposition leader, Julius Malema made headlines at the funeral of Winnie Mandela when he asked her to give him a “signal”.
The signal would allow him to “deal” with hypocrites and erstwhile enemies of uMam’Winnie – as she was fondly known.
Just like many things Malema, the invocation became a huge talking point and the idea of a signal gained currency among young radicalised politicians in South Africa and beyond.
In Zimbabwe, supporters of the opposition MDC have been clamoring for a signal – albeit in much different circumstances.
There is a lot of conjecture as to what the signal is.
Illustratively, sometime last year, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa was involved in a Twitter spat with a follower who challenged him to give the party a signal.
Chamisa expressed ignorance of what the signal could be, despite having himself on a number of occasions mentioned the word, sometimes as an allusion to a sign from God.
Yet, while giving his Agenda 2020 statement last week, Chamisa was back at it.
During the speech, set to define the tempo for the organisation this year, Chamisa repeatedly said, “This is the signal”.
It was supposed to be a rallying call for supporters gathered in Mbare and beyond.
However, the invocation did not give one but a number of signals.
He said: “People have been impoverished beyond measure, no jobs, no income, no lights, no water, no fuel, prices are escalating while incomes are plunging. It’s just hell on earth, a beautiful country and hitherto relatively prosperous country turned into a hellhole by a failed, rogue and corrupt politics and policies.
“THIS IS THE SIGNAL!” he chanted.
He complained about the failures of “the old order” which he said had “failed to bring forth the new”.
He chanted “the signal” again.
And finally, he said that Zimbabwe needed “serious and competent leadership with a clear vision and pathway forward through structured reform, re-engagement and talks.”
That was a signal, according to Chamisa.
The above typologies appear to suggest that Chamisa’s signal defining the compound of Zimbabwe’s failures. That is hardly epiphanic.
What glaringly lacked in Chamisa’s iteration was how to deal with the situation.
Instead, he appeared to further mystify the construct of the signal.
Many of his supporters were left at sea. In a poll I conducted on Twitter last week, the majority of the party’s supporters confessed that they were unclear what the signal was.
Among 170 respondents, 43 percent said “No”, they did not know what constituted the signal, while 41 percent said they knew. 16 percent said, “Not really…”
Salutary to this, a week later, Zimbabwe’s opposition family is not any wiser, as echoes of Chamisa’s speech in Mbare die down.
Perhaps the signal is just an illusion.
The mysticism is actually deeper than that.
Some few weeks ago, Chamisa – a devout Christian and pastor – appeared in a video clip in which he was telling a congregation that he communicated with God who gave him signals that he alone could “download” and transmit to people.
He said he would not give people marching orders to go into the streets without the numinous signal from God.
Bloody anniversary, call of hope
It’s a holy mess.
Nothing puts this in context than the fact that over the past few days, Zimbabwe marked the first anniversary of deadly riots that engulfed the country’s major cities at the beginning of last year.
The violent demonstrations, dubbed national shutdown, rattled the administration in Harare, bringing out the worst as soldiers gunned down protestors, killing 16.
In Zimbabwe there have been hopes and fears – depending on where you stand – that the violent overthrow of the ruling party could end decades-old compound crises.
The opposition has often despaired that legal means – the electoral and constitutional means – have failed.
Interestingly, many see a violent confrontation and popular uprising – which are not without precedence in Africa especially after the Arab Spring that swept away North African dictators – as the real endgame.
So, short of a call to this kind of showdown, many young and restless supporters of the opposition do not see a solution.
Young people are the hardest hit in a country beset with high unemployment, poverty and hunger.
The future looks bleak.
There are no signs of turnaround in 2020.
A signal could be a rallying call for hope that things could change for the better. However, Chamisa’s call last week came agonisingly short of that.