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We betrayed Job Sikhala



NOTHING illustrates Emmerson Mnangagwa’s penchant for cruelty more vividly than Job Sikhala’s heart-rending case.

Sikhala, Zimbabwe’s foremost political prisoner, has been in pre-trial detention for 480 days. His continued incarceration is a scar on the conscience of every self-respecting citizen.

A fearless and outspoken politician, Sikhala has always been on the radar of the Zanu PF regime since his days in robust student activism.

In university, his peers nicknamed him “Wiwa” after the legendary Nigerian environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa.

It will be remembered that the courageous Saro-Wiwa died through execution by hanging following trumped-up charges. He paid the ultimate price for demanding social justice for his downtrodden community.

In a grotesque twist of fate, Sikhala, like Saro-Wiwa, is on the receiving end of injustices perpetrated by Harare’s ruthless authoritarian regime.

Mnangagwa’s government has unjustly jailed Sikhala in a sinister move calculated at sending one chilling message to the people of Zimbabwe: If you oppose the Zanu PF government, we will crush you and nobody will come to your rescue.

This way, the brutal authoritarian kleptocracy is hoping to suppress political opposition and maintain its iron-clad grip on power. By targeting and imprisoning dissenters, Zimbabwe’s rulers are intent on quelling any challenge to their authority.

Sikhala’s plight has had a chilling effect on free speech, because opposition politicians are cowed into silence, journalists are intimidated and human rights defenders are shackled.

In this Orwellian landscape where big brother is always ready to swing a sledgehammer against the perceived enemies of Zanu PF rulers, public discourse is hampered and democratic processes are subverted.

Sikhala’s continued detention has brought untold suffering on his family. His young children need the financial support and moral guidance of their father, and his wife is struggling to shoulder the burden.

We have seen the likes of Bulawayo mayor David Coltart stepping up to the plate to assist in forming a family trust through which some assistance has been channelled to the Sikhalas. Such gestures are commendable.

However, not much has been done to thwart the Zanu PF regime’s evil plot to deprive the Sikhala family of a livelihood. This is unacceptable and every Zimbabwean must introspect.

Supporting the Sikhala family is not the sole responsibility of the opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change — although it must be said, of course, that his comrades in the opposition trenches have simply not done enough to show pragmatic solidarity in that regard.

An entire election campaign came and went without the opposition taking any serious practical action on the Sikhala crisis.

The time has now come for Zimbabweans — regardless of political affiliation, religious persuasion or ideological orientation — to show solidarity to Sikhala and his long-suffering family.

Amnesty International recently cited the Sikhala case as one of the main examples of President Mnangagwa’s failure to make a clean break with the Robert Mugabe era of atrocious human rights violations.

To end Sikhala’s continued incarceration, the citizens of this country must launch local and international campaigns.

Civil society organisations should be raising awareness about the grave human rights situation. This can involve conducting campaigns, lobbying for policy changes, and working to mobilise public support.

Neighbouring countries and regional bodies should be putting pressure on the Zimbabwean government to restore the independence of public institutions.

It is wrong and scandalous for the courts of law to repeatedly deny Sikhala bail as if he has ever been convicted of any crime.

Strengthening the legal system, ensuring fair trials, and safeguarding due process are crucial for upholding civil liberties. Our judiciary has been a massive disappointment.

In the hands of corrupt, cruel and uncaring Zanu PF overlords, the law has been hijacked and perverted into an instrument of naked oppression. Nations are not built that way.

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