Job Sikhala in court speaking to his attorney.
- Zimbabwe’s Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole were given two-year suspended sentences.
- Sikhala will taste freedom after 555 days behind bars.
- He will come back to a fractured opposition with internal fighting.
Arguably the engine of opposition militancy in Zimbabwe, Job Sikhala is free again – only to emerge to a fractured Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), the main opposition group he belongs to.
Sikhala was handed a two-year suspended sentence, along with his CCC colleague, Godfrey Sithole, for public violence after the murder of a party colleague, Moreblessing Ali, two years ago.
Ali was murdered by Zanu PF activist Pius Jamba Mukandi, who was convicted in December last year. But in handing down the 30-year sentence, High Court Judge Esther Muremba said the murder was not politically related.
At the time, Sikhala had spent more than 500 days in remand custody for instigating public violence, while Sithole was released from custody.
On Tuesday, in a packed courtroom, Sikhala had the same infectious smile that he carried throughout his trial, but this time he was not taken back to the maximum Chikurubi Prison in leg irons and handcuffs.
“He is now a free man. This is the only case that has been keeping him in custody,” lawyer Harrison Nkomo told journalists outside the magistrate’s court in Harare.
During his incarceration, Sikhala, a larger-than-life character, had drawn sympathy from the public through open letters.
In one of the letters, he urged nationwide demonstrations in protest over his jailing.
For lawyer Douglas Coltart, “the fact that he has been given a wholly suspended sentence highlights the horrific injustice of the fact that he has been denied bail and kept in prison all this time.”
For the next two years, if Sikhala is charged over a similar matter, the two-year sentence would be added on. Some critics say this is an attempt to keep him in check.
“Now he can’t be linked to any demonstrations against the regime because that would translate to the two-year suspended sentence being activated. He is walking free but with an invincible chain to limit him,” said John Moyo, a CCC activist.
Job Sikhala junior said his family was happy that their patriarch had been released from prison but more than anything, he was out so that “he continues with the fight for justice” something he said was “evidently lacking lately in opposition circles”.
Sikhala was jailed while serving as a member of Parliament for Zengeza West.
The seat now belongs to Innocent Zvaipa also from CCC but his co-accused who managed to stay out of custody, Sithole, retained his Chitungwiza North seat.
He returns to a fractured opposition which, due to internal fights and alleged infiltration, has seen leader Nelson Chamisa step down amid an onslaught from Sengezo Tshabangu.
Tshabangu, until recently when he claimed to be the Secretary General of CCC, was a small-time political player. He led nationwide recalls of what he claimed were imposed candidates for the CCC.
He also accused the party leadership of not fighting hard to get Sikhala released.
In opposition circles, Sikhala is known as “Wiwa” taken from Ken Saro-Wiwa, a human rights defender executed by the Nigerian military regime in 1995.
Sikhala would have had numerous brushes with the regime in Zimbabwe and this was his first conviction.
Sometime in 2003, he had wire wrapped around his genitals, toes, and tongue and was then subjected to electric shocks for eight hours until he confessed to treason against the Zanu-PF regime.
He would later recover at a South African psychological facility.
But that was added fuel for his radical approach to politics.
The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.
Source link : https://www.news24.com/news24/africa/news/the-sweet-taste-of-freedom-but-now-sikhala-goes-home-to-a-bitterly-fractured-opposition-20240131
Publish date : 2024-01-31 05:20:02