Zimbabwe opposition MP Job Sikhala ‘in deep pain’ after suspected poisoning in prison

Zimbabwe opposition MP Job Sikhala ‘in deep pain’ after suspected poisoning in prison
Outspoken Zimbabwe opposition MP Job Sikhala at the Harare Magistrates’ Courts, Zimbabwe on 2 September 2020. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Aaron Ufumeli)

Zimbabwe journalist Hopewell Chin’ono tweeted on Monday afternoon that he had just spoken to Sikhala’s wife, ‘who said the political prisoner is recovering, but is still in deep pain and struggling to walk’.

Outspoken Zimbabwe opposition MP Job Sikhala, who has been detained without trial for nearly three months in Harare’s notorious Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, seems to be in a stable condition after suspected poisoning on Saturday.

Sikhala, an MP of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) — formerly the MDC — was “extremely sick” on Sunday, according to CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere. She said Sikhala’s wife, Ellen, had told her he could not walk on Sunday. “Today [Monday] he complained of burning stomach pain and general weakness in his body.

“Arrangements are being made to get him private medical attention to ensure his life is not in danger and to establish exactly what is wrong.”

Sikhala’s lawyer Doug Coltart told Daily Maverick that he had gone to Chikurubi with a doctor to try to see Sikhala on Monday. “But he wasn’t there at the prison as he’d been transferred to court [on another matter] so we missed him.

“ I don’t think he has been seen to by a doctor but I get the impression from those who have been with him that his condition has stabilised.”

Zimbabwe journalist Hopewell Chin’ono tweeted on Monday afternoon that he had just spoken to Sikhala’s wife “who said the political prisoner is recovering, but is still in deep pain and struggling to walk.

“She added the MP said his food was tampered with during the day on Saturday late afternoon. He was vomiting and had severe diarrhoea.”

News24 reported earlier on Monday that Ellen Sikhala had told them she was planning to visit the prison later in the day with a doctor.

Sikhala was effectively now a political prisoner, said CCC Senator David Coltart, Doug’s father.

Sikhala, who represents Harare’s poor, high-density suburb of Zengeza West, in Parliament, as well as his fellow CCC MP Godfrey Sithole and 14 other CCC activists were arrested on 14 June this year.

This was in connection with the disappearance and then murder of CCC activist Moreblessing Ali in May. Sikhala, also a lawyer, was then asked by her family to represent them in trying to find her, Coltart Snr said.

They have since had numerous court appearances to try to get bail, but had been refused every time, said Coltart Snr, also a lawyer.

“That alone, from a lawyer’s perspective, is outrageous because there’s a constitutional right to bail. The only grounds to oppose bail are that you’re going to interfere with witnesses or you’re going to commit the offence again or you’re going to leave the country. None of those applies in this case.

“He has been denied bail for 83 days and effectively it’s the equivalent of political detention.”

Coltart Snr noted that Sikhala was being held among common criminals, including murderers, in Chikurubi and not in the remand section. This meant he was being denied many rights which should be accorded to an unconvicted remand prisoner awaiting trial.

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By contrast, a Zanu-PF MP charged with embezzling about $5-million had recently arrived at court in his designer suit and driving a Lamborghini, and had been detained for just one night before being released on bail.

“It’s just straight political persecution,” Coltart Snr said. 

“In essence, he’s a political prisoner. And the other 15 people have the misfortune of being associated with him. And they can’t release any of them because they’re charged with the same offences, so that would automatically lead to Sikhala being released.”

Coltart Snr said now it was clear that “the judiciary is complicit with the regime. Most lawyers in Zimbabwe are outraged because we know the constitutional rights. We know the jurisprudence. These guys should have got bail at the very latest a week after they had been detained. So they’re purely being held because of who they are.”

“It’s the equivalent now of preventative detention and a state of emergency.” 

He said Sikhala had been in Parliament since the original Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had won its first seats in the 2000 elections. He had always been an outspoken MP, “calling a spade a spade” and uttering terse criticisms of former president Robert Mugabe and then his successor, the current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

He had frequently been detained over the years and sometimes tortured by authorities.

Coltart Snr said the murdered activist Ali had lived in Sikhala’s constituency and had disappeared in May, apparently abducted by a member of the governing party, Zanu-PF. This person was later named in media reports as Pius Mukandi Jamba and had confessed to the murder, the reports said.

Ail’s family had hired Sikhala as their legal representative to help find her, Coltart Snr said.

A few weeks after her disappearance, Ali’s dismembered body was found stuffed in a disused well. “It was a particularly brutal murder. And you can imagine, highly emotional.”

Coltart Snr said some CCC supporters had reacted by burning the houses of Zanu-PF members. Zanu-PF supporters retaliated by burning the home of CCC members.

“It was a highly volatile situation and Job didn’t restrain himself. He made some very direct comments and said things like, ‘We will teach them’, and ‘They won’t get away with this.’ But he never, as far as I’m aware, advocated for violence. But some of his comments sailed very close to the wind.”

Sikhala, Sithole and the 14 other activists were then detained and charged with promoting violence, obstructing justice “and a variety of relatively spurious charges,” Coltart Snr said.

He said that it was not yet clear if Sikhala’s poisoning at the weekend had been deliberate or was the result of the terrible conditions in the prison. DM


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