For the past 260 days at the Harare magistrates’ court, whenever members of the public noticed the deployment of more than 60 anti-riot officers — clad in full combat gear and armed with truncheons and teargas launchers — they automatically knew that Zengeza West opposition legislator Job Sikhala was having a court session.
The armed police would typically pace up and down the court premises, ready to pounce on any opposition protesters. The number of people in the court precincts also increased because solidarity for Sikhala attracted many supporters of the Citizens’ Coalition for Change and members of his Chitungwiza community.
It is for this reason that most people dreaded court because on some days police would go to the extent of conducting car and body searches before allowing anyone to enter the court premises. With the passage of time, the number of sympathisers pitching up in court in solidarity with Sikhala has considerably decreased.
In the first weeks and months of Sikhala’s court appearances, the courtroom that he would be appearing in was easily recognisable by the large contingent of anti-riot police and civilians milling around. Despite efforts to limit the number of people who could attend his court sessions, opposition supporters turned up in droves.
But anyone who ventured into the magistrates’ court on Monday this week would be forgiven for thinking that they had arrived at the courthouse on the wrong day; anti-riot officers were nowhere near the premises.
It was 11.30am, 15 minutes into Sikhala’s scheduled appearance in Court 9, but the police were conspicuous by their absence.
The courtroom was virtually deserted, except for his lawyers, Whange Central MP Daniel Molokele, Sikhala’s son and two daughters as well as two other people.
In January, when 26 Citizens’ Coalition for Change members were arrested, including Mkoba legislator Amos Chibaya and Budiriro MP Costa Machingauta, party president Nelson Chamisa pitched up in solidarity with the 26 who were appearing in Court 6.
Notably, Sikhala was making an appearance upstairs in the Victim Friendly Court. On this day, even security from the state was beefed up.
This would have given Chamisa an opportunity to see Sikhala, given that the CCC leader has been barred from visiting the incarcerated MP at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. As matters stand, Sikhala’s only consistent source of visible solidarity comes from his lawyers and his family.