Just before the presidential elections of early 2002, two young MPs from the united MDC, Job Sikhala and Tafadzwa Musekiwa, arranged a meeting with the late Perrance Shiri, who was then commander of the Airforce of Zimbabwe, and met him at his home in Borrowdale.
The most plausible account given for their visit was that they were seeking to convince Shiri to support the MDC in the event that its president, the late Morgan Tsvangirai won against Robert Mugabe. That was the same time the security chiefs declared that they would not support a president without a war history, meaning Tsvangirai.
Job and Tafadzwa were then young and naïve opposition politicians. They were excited that Shiri agreed to meet them but, unbeknown to them, Shiri secretly recorded the meeting. When the event was leaked to the government-controlled media, all hell broke loose.
Tafadzwa quickly took the gap for the UK, quit politics and tried to earn a living in the early days hawking curios. He didn’t mind falling from MP to street vendor, as long as he was safe from the Mugabe regime. There had been talk that after the Borrowdale meeting, the security system was plotting to assassinate the two.
With his sidekick gone, you would have expected Job to balk. He didn’t. He seemed more comfortable in the trenches, taunting the crocodiles and dicing with death.
So much so that, at the last count, Job has been arrested close to 70 times. He has suffered lengthy detentions on many occasions. The detentions have been nasty. Like, in 2001, they literally abducted him, took him to the infamous Kabritt detention centre near Chitungwiza—according to him—and then Harare Central police station where they reportedly tortured the lights out of him, making him drink his urine and doing all the sundry stuff they do on you.
More than 20 years after that abduction, Job is, once again, a state guest at one of the most portent tools of post-colonial repression and persecution. Prison. A tool that the so-called liberators happily inherited from their colonial tormentors. What an irony!
He was arrested together with a fellow opposition MP Godfrey Sithole and more than a dozen supporters of the opposition CCC party in mid-June this year. That means he has spent slightly more than six months in a maximum security jail, unbroken. He has been denied bail on as many occasions as you can count among the stars.
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Last Wednesday, the High Court reserved judgment on his umpteenth bail application, which means he will be in at Christmas and beyond. When a Zimbabwean judge reserves judgment like this, it’s a way of telling the prison wardens to toss the keys into Mukuvisi River.
They say Job, together with Sithole and the other Nyatsime activists, incited public violence and tried to defeat the course of justice by posting online, stuff that claimed ruling Zanu PF supporters had murdered Moreblessing Ali, a Chitungwiza woman whose body was found dumped in a well at the home of a ruling party activist. The rest have been granted bail, but Job remains in the cooler.
Many people out there are convinced that the charges were politically motivated. But even if they were not, the point is, state prosecution has not helped matters. It looks like a captured judiciary is being used to punish Job unfairly. The manner it has acted gives you this strong sense that the system is just punishing Job for his politics. It looks like they want to break his soul and send out a message to others.
Have a look. The main reason that has been offered for the serial denial of bail to Job is that he has the “propensity to commit crime”. To start with, it’s not clear where the magistrate who has been saying that got the weird idea from. Because, you see, there is nowhere in the court proceedings so far that shows that the magistrate was leading that conclusion from somewhere. He just pulled it out of nowhere. That’s not how the procedure of prosecution works.
Number two, the magistrate, again from nowhere, claimed that Job was a serial criminal. That’s nonsense as well. Out of those 67 times that Job has been arrested, not even once was he convicted. The constitution provides that one is innocent till proven guilty. That’s what they call presumption of innocence. Since Job has not been convicted—in fact, he has been acquitted in most of the cases—it’s vacuous to say he is a serial criminal. Which shows that the courts are just being used to persecute Job.
Now, let’s look at what this persecution entails. Financially, emotionally, psychologically, socially and politically.
Let’s start with the issue of the pocket and the stomach. Those that have caused Job to remain in prison for so long know what it means for Job’s and his family’s finances. And that is highly likely to be one of the reasons why they are keeping him inside, and why they hauled him over in the first place.
For all I know, Job’s main source of income has been as a legal practitioner. He was registered as a lawyer in 2017, late August I think. That means he now has slightly more than five years as a practising lawyer.
According to the tariffs released by the Law Society of Zimbabwe in October this year, a practising lawyer who has between five and 10 years’ experience can charge up to US$150 per hour under standard circumstances.
Let’s say Job was working eight hours a day for five days a week. That would mean he was earning US6,000 a week. The figure could be more or less, depending on circumstances, but let’s just use this one as the working mean.
There are four weeks in a month and Job has been in the vault for six months. What this means is that the continued incarceration of Job has lost him a whopping US144,000! You will know how big that figure is if you listen to the widespread outcry over the fact that MPs are being given loans of US$40,000 each.
That aside, his family depends on him, almost entirely. Let’s not assume that Job has been making savings that his wife/wives and children are drawing from. He might not have made such savings. Which, therefore, means that this coming one may be a very bleak holiday period for the Sikhala dependents.
Job has just said he remains unbroken, which, honestly speaking, may be true. He has been treading where, as they say, angels fear and has had a fair share of the shocks and shakes. But this is not his ordeal alone. There is his immediate and extended families to throw into the matrix too. If the family finances are as bad as someone said recently, it’s bound to take a toll on his dependents and loved ones.
No new sneakers for the young ones. No holiday out of town. No groceries for the old woman, etc etc. Just long faces. The torture among the kids and wife/wives of wondering when daddy will be back home, if at all he will come back home as one piece. The nightmares of seeing Job in leg irons and in prison garb. Those that are causing Job’s extended stay in jail know all this, and they are laughing all the way to Christmas.
Disillusionment, fatigue, pessimism, cynicism and hopelessness normally coming with experiences like Job’s. Not only for him, but his children, his wife/wives, his friends, his mother, his close relatives and political partners. The family will be asking very soon: Is it worth it?
So, there might come a time when Job will have to choose between his family and his political career, if the family insists that he quits as Job’s tormentors are praying for. Of course, all will depend on circumstances and Job’s will. Remember that his arch-tormentor, Robert Mugabe, was in jail for more than 10 years. He was barred from attending the funeral of his first born child, Nhamodzenyika.
Mugabe died with the scars of that torment. It’s a pity that, along the way, he lost principle and took it on his opponents. If he had not been that vindictive, some of us might have considered him a hero, other issues aside.
Imprisonment is a strategy that they use to disrupt political and social links. Job’s jailers are likely hoping that the protracted imprisonment of the politician will bring a wedge between him and his family. Vile as this is, it’s not farfetched. The relationship between Nelson Mandela and Winnie was never the same once Madiba refused to condemn the struggle against apartheid and spent 27 years on Robben Island.
Similarly, the tormentors are watching to see to what extent the long imprisonment will divide the CCC leadership. Already, there have been mumblings to the effect that the likes of Nelson Chamisa are lily-livered chicken that have abandoned Job in the hour of darkness. Someone out there is hoping that Job will get disillusioned with his comrades and move away, thereby weakening the opposition.
After all, it’s not the first time that Job, just like the likes of Welshman Ncube and Tendai Biti, has walked away from the main mass. He did it the other time and formed MDC-99 as Ncube and Biti also went their separate ways.
Tawanda Majoni writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on [email protected]