My name is Job Sikhala Jnr, the son of Job Sikhala, who is currently detained at the Chikurubi maximum prison in Zimbabwe, in cells meant for the most dangerous criminals.
My mother is now weary
My father is not a dangerous criminal, far from it. He is a peace-loving and law-abiding citizen whose only crime is to defend the rights of others, and to criticise the regime’s autocratic approach.
It is now more than 90 days since my father was unjustly sent to Chikurubi, and this morning I looked at my mother and could not help but notice how tired and grey she looks.
My mother has always been a steady source of support and encouragement to my father, as they share not only a family but also the quest for a free and equal Zimbabwe.
When my father was arrested, my mother (as she has done 65 times when he was arrested in the past) quickly took on the double duty of taking care of the family and giving support to my father.
His unjust imprisonment has stretched far longer than any of us ever imagined and I have watched helplessly while my mother struggles to put food on the table, reassure my anxious younger siblings, take daily trips to Chikurubi (72km round trip) and attend court.
Sometimes I listen to her prayers at the end of each day in the quiet of the night, as she gets ready to rest from busy and demanding days. At first they were long prayers with questions and requests to God, but now they have become short prayers of gratitude to God for taking her through the day, and for all the outpouring of love and support from many people.
She is weary. My father is the sole breadwinner in our family, so his unjust imprisonment does not punish only him but also my mother and younger siblings.
My father’s continued imprisonment is an act of unfathomable injustice against small children whose right to education, food and other necessities stands threatened by his continued imprisonment.
My father’s abiding sense of responsibility
My father has a deep and abiding sense of responsibility towards our extended family; his own family of birth as well as his marital family. So I know that even though my mother, my siblings and I feel the void of his absence, members of our big family miss him too.
Since I was a little boy, I have watched with admiration how he always turned up at family bereavements, illness of a family member or at joyous festivals as he lived one of his dearly treasured values of love and oneness.
I’ve also watched my father extend the same compassion and gentleness to our Harare community in St Mary’s, Chitungwiza, where we live, and Zengeza East, where he is the elected member of parliament.
We have always shared our home space and his modest earnings with community members in need; and although this sometimes means our own subsistence would be thrifty and austere, we have never lacked both in basics or in joyfulness.
My father always shows up for those in need and selflessly gives his time to the shared cause of a free Zimbabwe. Sometimes he faces serious threats to his personal safety; and yet he still brings his boisterous laughter and witty stories.
He will gladly miss a game of his favourite football team Arsenal to attend to urgent calls to provide legal assistance and solidarity to a victim of state brutality or to contribute to a progressive cause.
On one of my visits to the maximum prison, I explained to my father that I had brought only a few perishable food items as I was worried the food would go bad before he could eat it. He smiled and said “nothing goes bad here; the prison food is terrible and I have so many friends to share with”.
This moment instantly reminded me how, to my father, generosity is a state of mind that can never be altered by his circumstances; he is a giver of both his being and of material things.
As I left prison that day, I could not help but hold back tears. I felt deep admiration for my father’s resilience and how the painful conditions of prison had not tamed his gentle soul.
Even more, I wondered how a man who’s been an impeccable example of humanity and great community leadership could be subjected to inhumane treatment for simply campaigning for a free and equal Zimbabwe.
My father’s unjust incarceration cannot take away his generosity and selflessness as he’s carried on with these precious virtues to those he is sharing the derelict cells of Chikurubi.
However, his imprisonment unnecessarily robs the people of Zengeza East constituency of his much-needed leadership and representation. It robs his clients, most of whom are victims of human rights violations, and in particular the family of the murdered Moreblessing Ali. And it robs many vulnerable community members of his dependable support.
My painful last prison visit
The prison visit I refer to would painfully be the last precious moment I spent with my father at the prison. On my next visit on the 24th July, I was denied access to see or speak to my father and was turned away by prison officials. Since then I’ve only been able to see my father from a distance (handcuffed and in leg irons) in the packed courtroom while he stands in the dock.
It is so painful that such an injustice can be allowed to happen to a man who should not be in prison in the first place. Many of his family, friends and political colleagues have also been turned away. One of his lawyers, Roselyn Hanzi and the president of his party, advocate Nelson Chamisa, were at different occasions turned away and denied the right of entry to visit my father.
My own experience was quite frustrating, but seeing prison guards turn away more people from whose solidarity my father draws so much strength has left me indignant. This deliberate effort to isolate my father is cruel and a violation of his human rights.
My father is being punished for nourishing our democracy and holding different views to those who have captured state institutions, including our judiciary system. When the key stakeholders in the justice system such as the police, the national prosecutorial office and the judiciary are captured, the legal system is weaponised.
The courts have become instruments of repression at the hands of the authoritarian regime, and my father is one of its many victims who include activists, political leaders and journalists.
The state’s abuse of my father has been a huge part of my life growing up, but his resolve to fight for a free Zimbabwe has been an even bigger and inspirational part of my life. My father is not a quitter. He has taught me to be selfless and to always help those in need, and to stand firm in my truth; no matter the cost.
Despite all the challenges he’s faced, my father planned my future successfully as I am now working to complete my law degree, and also devoting my time to add my small and humble contribution to the great and noble struggle.
And despite all the challenges, my father has continued to show up for others, to stand in his truth, to defend democracy. My family and I are supportive of the work my father is doing to contribute to a better Zimbabwe, and I personally admire his heroic determination.
I know he inspires many in the same way he inspires me, and his continued victimisation, which is meant to break his spirit and demoralise others, has actually worked to embolden us.
Next to his freedom, the one thing that would make my father feel that his sacrifice is not in vain, is to see more people acting to bring a democratic, peaceful and prosperous Zimbabwe. To see young people of this country taking the initiative to register to vote and to actually vote in 2023.
- Job Sikhala Jnr is the first child of Job Sikhala. He is a 22 year-old law student and a leading youth voice in his community in St Mary’s, Chitungwiza.
- There is a petition here to get Sikhala and fellow MP Godfrey Sithole released.