ONE of the six Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) members, Emmanuel Sitima, who were arrested in connection with spray painting various buildings in Harare demanding the release of political prisoners Job Sikhala and Jacob Ngarivhume says prison strengthened his resolve to fight injustice.
Sitima was arrested along with, Benjamin Watadza, Comfort Mpofu, and Lionel Madamombe on 17 May 2023, at the ZimRights offices in Harare before two others were apprehended on campus.
They were later granted ZW$500 000 bail each at the High Court on 17 July, after spending two months in jail.
“Prison experience strengthened me. It gave me reason to keep on fighting,” he told The NewsHawks.
In the 55 days that Sitima and his co accused were in prison, they were denied bail by Harare magistrate Learnmore Mapiye who cited the fact that their demand to have Sikhala and Ngarivhume released had not yet been fulfilled. The magistrate said granting them bail would see them continuing with their protests.
Sikhala has spent over one year in prison and has been denied bail at both the magistrates’ court and the High Court.
Sitima is the chapter chairperson of Zinasu at the University of Zimbabwe and his advocacy was around academic freedom, until he was arrested.
He says sharing cells with fellow young people who had been arrested for petty theft or substance abuse broadened his view of problems affecting the youth.
“I realised that it’s not only Job Sikhala who is in need of justice but every Zimbabwean because we are all in a bigger teapot-shaped prison called Zimbabwe. A bigger prison which is characterised by poverty, unemployment, corruption and unjust arrests. l realised that we also need justice as a generation. Above 90% of the inmates are young people who are being charged with cases of drugs and theft,” he said.
“That alone exposes the deteriorating economic conditions we are living in. So, for those and other reasons, l’m really motivated enough to continue with the struggle and of course with an understanding that there is no struggle without bruises. It’s just a matter of time but a free Zimbabwe is coming.”
The students were arrested for allegedly defacing the High Court and Parliament buildings in Harare. They were also accused of inciting public violence.
While in prison, the students managed to write their exams, but they could not access their reading material.
“We wrote exams and some of us had projects. We just pray that we pass since all the reading materials were censored. Everything that involved politics was removed without considering that some of our comrades are doing political science, therefore everything they do academically ought to be political,” he said.
“They plucked out pages and some of the material was totally denied entry.”
Despite having not fully prepared for the exams, with restrictions on their reading material, Sitima is hopeful that they passed.
Zinasu and other human rights organisations welcomed the release, but they called on the government to stop targeting student activists and to respect the right to freedom of expression.
Zimbabwe is facing a number of challenges, including a worsening economic crisis and a crackdown on opposition political activists that are on the campaign trail ahead of the 23 August general elections.
The government has been accused of using the law to silence its critics. The arrest of the Zinasu students was seen as part of this trend.
The release of the students is a positive development, but it is important to note that they were only released without charge.
Sitima and his colleagues will be back in court on 15 September for routine remand and possibly the start of trial.