HARARE – The wife of jailed Zimbabwean opposition leader Job Sikhala was arrested while driving to see him on Tuesday — supposedly for reckless driving. Ellen Sikhala’s lawyer is convinced that she was arrested and charged to further harass the opposition.
Job Sikhala, an outspoken member of Zimbabwe’s Parliament for the main opposition party, the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) — formerly the MDC — has been detained without trial for more than three months in Harare’s notorious Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.
Freddy Masarirevu, the lawyer of Sikhala’s wife, Ellen, told Daily Maverick that while driving to see her husband on Tuesday, she was stopped by police officers from Harare Central police station as well as traffic officers.
“They alleged she was driving recklessly against oncoming traffic. She denied that. She told them she was navigating an accident and that there was no oncoming traffic at that moment.”
When she told the police she was driving to Chikurubi Prison to see her husband, they insisted she accompany them to Harare Central police station, where they charged her with reckless driving.
They then released her and told her to appear in court on Thursday. Masarirevu said normally a driver would only be fined in such circumstances — if the police really believed the driver had committed such an offence.
He noted that the police had charged a few other drivers for the same offence, but believes they did so only to mask the fact that they were taking action against Ellen Sikhala for political reasons.
Masarirevu said he then went to see Job Sikhala in prison and found that he was struggling to cope with his detention, as he was not a young man and Chikurubi was “one of the worst places to be — conditions are hard”.
Sikhala fell seriously ill in prison this month and suspected he had been poisoned. He has since recovered. Masarirevu said prison authorities had examined Sikhala and taken samples, supposedly to establish the cause of his sudden illness.
But the officials had never produced the results of their tests — “so we can’t say with absolute certainty”.
He said Sikhala was due to appear in court again on 26 September to seek bail, but was likely to be refused again as had occurred several times in the past.
If this happened, Masarirevu said, Sikhala intended to appeal to the high court to be granted bail. He said Ellen Sikhala would try again to see her husband on Wednesday.
The outspoken Sikhala has been in and out of detention several times since the MDC was founded in 1999. He has also been tortured in prison.
Sikhala was effectively now a political prisoner, CCC Senator David Coltart told Daily Maverick at the time of the suspected poisoning, as there was no good reason why he had not been granted bail, which was a constitutional right in Zimbabwe, apart from exceptional circumstances which did not apply in his case.
Sikhala, who represents Harare’s poor, high-density suburb of Zengeza West in Parliament, his fellow CCC MP Godfrey Sithole and 14 other CCC activists were arrested on 14 June.
This was in connection with the disappearance and murder of the CCC activist Moreblessing Ali in May. Sikhala, also a lawyer, was asked by her family to represent them in trying to find her.
Zanu-PF supporters were suspected of carrying out Ali’s abduction and gruesome murder, and Sikhala had made strong statements about this. This appears to have prompted the detention of Sikhala, Sithole and the 14 activists and the laying of the charges against them, including promoting violence and obstructing justice. DM