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Hopewell Chin’ono: Job Sikhala’s only crime is calling for an end to corruption

By Hopewell Chin’ono

Today as you read this article, Job Sikhala would have woken up at 5.30AM from the cold concrete floor that he has been sleeping on since his persecution and incarceration at Chikurubi Maximum Security prison started 4 weeks ago.

Hopewell Chin'ono
Hopewell Chin’ono

He is not a convicted prisoner, but through the vindictive nature of the Mnangagwa regime, he was sent to a prison meant for convicted prisoners, where he is shackled in leg irons and handcuffs like a dangerous and convicted criminal.

His only crime is calling for an end to corruption and looting of public funds!
Job Sikhala is a member of parliament in Zimbabwe and an officer of the High Court just like all registered lawyers.

His only crime is calling for the end of corruption in Zimbabwe, something that is killing our fellow citizens daily, because money meant for public services like hospitals has been looted!

His prison cell is meant to house ONLY 16 prison inmates, but like all other prison cells at Chikuribi prison, it is packed with 42 prisoners, and it only has one toilet with NO running water for those 42 men.

At times the prison cell can have more prisoners, I know so because I shared the same cell with Job Sikhala.

At one point the prisoner officials wanted to bring more inmates with mental disorders so that we would end up around 75 for that night in a cell designed for only 16 prisoners!

This is in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic which requires social distancing, but not at Chikurubi prison!

Sikhala and the other prisoners are locked up in this prison cell for 17 hours daily!

If you fall sick during those 17 hours, you won’t get any practical medical help at all.

Many die quietly and the nation never gets to know how life evolves in these prisons because of a deliberate lack of transparency mixed with lies and silly propaganda by the State.

After waking up at 5.30AM, Sikhala joins the other prisoners downstairs in section B of the Chikurubi prison where they get porridge without sugar in it, or anything else for breakfast.

Down there they will be around 500 prisoners in section B, yet they only have 2 toilets for use, YES, 2 toilets for 500 prisoners from the 12 cells in section B.

Each section is numbered in alphabetical order and has 12 cells.

There is NO running water in the downstairs area just like in the cells, there are only 2 toilets for 500 people.

Prisoners spent 7 hours of their time downstairs in the courtyard where they are fed and where they exercise if they wish to.

When I left Chikurubi prison 2 weeks ago, almost ALL prisoners had NO COVID-19 masks, a direct consequence of the LOOTING of public funds and plunder of national resources which I had reported on in June and July leading to my arrest!

At 10.30AM, Job Sikhala and his fellow inmates are given lunch which comes in old dirty wheelie bins!

It will be badly cooked Sadza and boiled beans with no cooking oil or anything else, just boiled beans with water.

Resembling a concentration camp, prisoners are asked to go on “Foreign” which is a lining up of prisoners before they can get their food.

“Foreign” is a bastardization of a military term “Falling In Line” where the prisoners sit down in lines of 5 if they are in the cell, or more if they are in the downstairs courtyard!

They have no soap for either washing their hands or bathing, they have no running water-NOTHING.

As a journalist and documentarian, being in prison gave me a front-row seat which allowed me to see how the regime has tragically failed to run even a mere prison!

Lunch comes at 13.30 for Job Sikhala and his fellow inmates, again brought in the same dirty wheelie bins.

This time it is the badly cooked Sadza with boiled cabbages, all these meals are cooked by fellow prisoners.

This is the dietary routine everyday all year round, nothing more.

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They get NO meat although the prison dietary book says that they are meant to eat meat 8 times a week.

This is what happens when the State and government are being looted daily without legal consequence for the crooks and looters!

At 3 PM in the afternoon, Job and his fellow prison inmates are locked up in their cells for the night where for the next 17 hours, they will be sitting and sleeping on the concrete floor with torn blankets heavily infested with lice.

Job is being punished because the State and the regime know that he has NO case to answer in a proper court of law before an honest magistrate or judge who is applying law not partisan politics!

So the regime has been punishing its critics using the office of a man called Thabani Vusa Mpofu (not the advocate), who is supposed to be an anti-corruption prosecutor in Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office.

He is the one behind the persecution of Mnangagwa’s critics and political rivals using the courts, lawfare!

It is so shameless that our cases which are supposedly criminal are being brought before the Anti-Corruption Courts, that is how the regime is abusing the judiciary in pursuit of political objectives!

Instructions are given not to give bail to people like myself or Job, and like in my case, I started serving prison time without a conviction or even a trial as a form of vindictive political punishment!!

Denial of bail and a delay in pronouncing bail rulings is meant to make sure that you are punished without trial, I spent 45 days in Mnangagwa’s prisons without trial.

When Job’s lawyers come to see him at the prison, he will be shackled in leg irons, a form of morbid humiliation!

But like myself, Job understands that today’s humiliation is a sideshow, what matters is the ending of corruption and looting of public funds and not our individual punishment!

The citizens should focus on ending corruption which has destroyed this country, they should also stand in solidarity with Job Sikhala because his fight against corruption is for the citizens, not just for himself and his family.

Today Job and his fellow prison inmates as they are locked up in section B of Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison have NO soap to wash their hands, NO running water for toilets or for drinking.

The only water they have comes in jugs and 20 liter containers which are then shared amongst the prisoners for the next 24 hours!

Many prisoners use bible pages when they go to toilet, the prison fails to even provide toilet paper.
When it rarely comes, it really feels like a Christmas moment for the prisoners, that is how low Zimbabwe has sunk!

Chikurubi is meant to house 1360 prisoners, today it houses over 2500 prisoners.

Job Sikhala is NOT a convicted prisoner, but he is being treated worse than one, and all that Zimbabwean citizens have been able to say is #FreeJobSikhala #ZimbabweBelongsToAll.

So whilst you follow comedians on social media in your millions, remember that there is Job Sikhala languishing in Mnangagwa’s jail at Chikurubi Maximum Prison for fighting for YOUR rights to have a corruption free society!

As an officer of the court, as a trained lawyer, Job Sikhala spends his evenings at Chikurubi Maximum Prison going through trial records of other prisoners and helping them with their legal cases!

“Rega ndibatsire vafanha ava mwana wamai,” Sikhala would say to me as I stretch my long frame preparing to fit myself on my 30 centimeter width bedding area.

I saw Job go through multiple trial records and advising these prisoners.

With some of them he would immediately say that he would get them out because they had been badly represented, and they had no crime to their name based on the record!

“Mudhara hamuna mhosva imi,” he would shout from his concrete floor after going through one’s trial record.

Prisoners would sit around him with their trial records waiting for their turn to consult Job the lawyer.

I know that as you read this post, Sikhala is going through such records and attempting to help the prisoners who can’t afford a lawyer.

That is Job Sikhala for you, the one that I shared a prison cell with, and the one who is fearless, yet compassionate!

As Job Sikhala battles High Blood Pressure and swollen legs in Chikurubi prison, he still finds time to help the downtrodden! Selfless!

Do we know how his family is surviving beyond calling him a hero?

Hopewell Chin’ono is an award-winning journalist, Documentary Filmmaker and CNN Africa Journalist of the year.

He was imprisoned at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison without trial after exposing massive Covid-19 looting scandals that included President Mnangagwa’s allies.

The corruption exposures resulted in the former health minister Obadiah Moyo being fired.

Chin’ono is a Harvard University Nieman Journalism Fellow and a University of Oxford Africa Leadership Fellow.