MDC deputy chairperson Job Sikhala (JS) became the 21st person in Zimbabwe to face charges of attempting to subvert President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government after he allegedly told a rally in Bikita that the MDC would overthrow Mnangagwa before his term of office ends in 2023. Sikhala speaks to our senior reporter Blessed Mhlanga (ND) on his experiences.
ND: You are facing charges of attempting to subvert a constitutionally-elected government following statements you allegedly uttered at a Bikita rally, how do you feel about that charge?
JS: Basically, what you must understand is that when a matter is before the courts, there is a cardinal principle at law and it’s called sub judice. It means that you must not begin to discuss the merits of the matter, but what I can say is that it is now a common political charge many political opponents of the system are facing in Zimbabwe.
I am number 21 since Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration came to power. If we go at this rate, Zimbabwe is going to have more political prisoners, more than those witnessed during the period of Ian Douglas Smith, even more than political prisoners witnessed during apartheid in South Africa.
The way government is trying to throttle democratic space in our country has not been witnessed in the history of this country, even [former President] Robert Mugabe did not try to kill dissent in this country by charging people.
ND: Are you shaken by these charges?
JS: The period to be shaken by dictators has long gone. To some of us, we happen to be modern fighters. It’s a commitment that I gave myself when I joined politics and the movement, not for the purpose of seeking anything, but seeking the liberty and freedom of our people.
So it is a committed mission that does not allow me to be shaken by these people. Prison for political deliverance has been home for true revolutionaries. Therefore, I cannot panic from being put in prison for the purposes of demanding the political freedoms of the people. Rather, it is an incentive.
ND: Recently you had a rally and seemed more emboldened in confronting Mnangagwa, what drives you?
JM: I must be clear that it’s a democratic and constitutional right for every citizen in our country to participate in politics, because these are important fundamental rights that are provided for in terms of Chapter 4 of our national Constitution, which is basically the declaration of rights.
It’s different from the Bill of rights. The Bill of rights is a wish list, but a declaration is peremptory to the extent that a person has a right to exercise them without fear or favour. The other issue is we have been in this struggle for a very long time. Morgan Tsvangirai passed away, our founding deputy president Gibson Sibanda passed away, our founding national chairperson (Isaac Matongo) passed away. There are many cadres and committed senior officials of the MDC.
When we have not reached the destination, every sentence has a full stop and every composition has a conclusion. So we must have an end game in the way we are going to deal with the situation so that the people of Zimbabwe reach the destination. So, if we are not going to get the new Chris Hanis and the Josiah Tongogaras and the Herbert Chitepos and the Nelson Mandelas, definitely we are not going anywhere.
ND: Let me take you to your arrest, how was it handled?
JS: There are still some elements within our police, who are a minority, who are overzealous, whose mission and also I don’t know the agenda, whether they want to be thanked by the current regime for maltreating the current regime or not. One Superintendent Daniel Josephs treated me quite badly both during the period I was at Harare Central Police Station and also when they smuggled and abducted me to Bikita without the knowledge of both my lawyers and family.
Specifically, there is one incident that really angered me most, where I am taking the legal remedy in terms of suing them. I have already completed the summons and issued a 60-day notice in terms of the State Liabilities Act to the Minister of Home affairs, Attorney-General and also to him as an individual on the maltreatment when he visited me during the time of my incarceration.
When they abducted and smuggled me out of Harare Central Police Station, after locking out my legal practitioners, they took me to the car park, where three cars were parked, one a Toyota Quantum minibus and two Toyota Hilux vehicles.
All of them were filled with soldiers and State Security personnel. They bundled me into the Toyota Hilux that was between the two vehicles.
ND: How did you know that the people in the car were soldiers? Where they in uniform?
JS: Yes, they were in uniforms. There were about six soldiers who were in that Quantum and they were also six riot police officers in that same car.
ND: What was going through your mind during that time when you saw the soldiers and Central Intelligence Organisation operatives?
JS: Absolutely nothing. I was not even afraid even when Daniel Josephs put a hood to blindfold me over my head. I never panicked. I was ready for everything. We need to have the new Josiah Tongogaras in our country. We need the new Itai Dzamaras in our country. People who are prepared to die for their beliefs and the spirit of Herbert Chitepo, Josiah Tongogara, Itai Dzamara has currently possessed me that I am prepared to die for the common good of our people.
ND: The government is saying it’s a new dispensation and that the democratic space is being widened and improved, yet you are suggesting otherwise.
JS: Only fools and people who are not able to study carefully that this government is worse than the people who were here before they took over power will be praising these people. There is no new dispensation at all. It’s a deception which Mnangagwa is trying to sell both locally and internationally, that there is a new dispensation in Zimbabwe, but everyone has witnessed how people were shot from point-blank range in the streets of Harare on the first of August (2018), between January 14 and 17 (this year) when the ZCTU (Zimbabwe Congress of Unions) and the citizens of this country called for that stay-away.
I was so astonished with the level of torture the people underwent, I saw those who I represented in court. It took the audacity for me to represent for free down-trodden citizens of this country in Chitungwiza, where over 200 people were being tortured in police cells.
ND: These events that you describe, are they not what motivated you to use the words that you used at the Bikita rally?
JS: Whether I said those words or not is not the question on the basis that there is no evidence or proof that I said those words. I don’t know why people are jumping into conclusion. I don’t want to pre-empt my defence in court.
The truth of the matter is that only a fool would not know that the existence of every political leader in the country or a political organisation is to remove the government in power. So for them to be astonished that they want to be removed from power by a political leader and a political opponent means we are being governed by people who are insane.
They must know that my real existence and my every strategy and plan on a daily basis is to remove them from power because I am not part and parcel of their crew and government. So, specifically, my existence on its own must tell them that I want them to be out of power.
ND: With hindsight, do you regret the Bikita rally?
JS: It’s a calling I will never regret. Many people, including my relatives and friends, were asking me that. You have worked so hard that you have almost everything that you need in terms of financial needs, you have almost everything. My wife was asking me: “Daddy, why are you doing this and risking yourself over this? You have almost everything that you need at our house.”
I told her that the satisfaction of your needs should not drive you to be selfish. The majority, almost 98% of Zimbabweans, are suffering. They are not lawyers like me and even some lawyers are not fortunate like me, they are suffering.
ND: There has been talk that there were divisions over the statements you made in Bikita. Your party released a statement that seemed to distance itself from you. Has your issue created divisions in your party?
JS: The people in Zimbabwe rush into conclusions. People are allowed to see differently in a huge liberation movement like the MDC. It’s a common phenomenon in huge and large political organisations. Hani differed in 1978 with a gang of 15 that was at Robben Island, when the gang of 15 at the Robben Island wanted a soft landing and negotiate with the Apartheid government of (Pieter Willem) PW Botha to be able to be given a soft landing.
If you remember and it’s written in our own history that when Lookout Masuku and Dumiso Dabengwa were in prison, they totally differed with Dr Joshua Nkomo and that did not lead to them disowning him. Differing in political opinion should be accepted in the democratic culture that we want to create in our country.