Zimbabwe: Jailing of opposition MPs points to judiciary capture by Mnangagwa’s government

By Farai Shawn Matiashe
Posted on Tuesday, 11 October 2022 13:40

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa in Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole, legislators of Zimbabwe's main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) have been locked up at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in the capital Harare for over 100 days without trial. Many say it’s another move by President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government to silence dissenting voices, and proof of its state capture.

Sikhala and Sithole were among over a dozen CCC activists arrested in June this year on allegations of inciting public violence during a memorial service of opposition party activist Moreblessing Ali, who was murdered by a Zanu PF member in Nyatsime, Chitungwiza, about 25 kilometres from Harare.

Sikhala, an outspoken politician and the legal representative of Ali’s family, was demanding justice to prevail.

Sikhala and Sithole’s bid for freedom failed when they were denied bail for the 5th time on Wednesday 5 October. Represented by the country’s top human rights lawyers – Beatrice Mtetwa and Jeremiah Bhamu -, Sikhala and Sithole have been denied bail twice at the High Court and three times at the lower court.

The duo, who are incarcerated at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison and not the Harare Remand Prison for people who are not yet convicted, were brought to court in a Hollywood crime film style: chained with leg irons as if serious criminals.

Judiciary capture and selective application of the law

“I am not sure of the veracity of aspersions of capture cast on the judiciary, but there is no uncertainty about the selective application of the law,” Eldred Masunungure, a political analyst based in Harare tells The Africa Report.

“One may even be forgiven for suspecting that there is a dual legal system, one for pro-regime and the other for anti-regime litigants. If so, it attests to what some legal gurus call rule by law rather than of law. It is a sorry state of judicial affairs.”

A pattern of refusing bail and keeping regime critics in appalling remand conforms in custody has continued under the Mnangagwa administration…

Prominent business people linked to Mnangagwa, who were arrested recently, were quickly released on bail vividly proving the selective application of the law in Zimbabwe.

Mike Chimombe, president of the Economic Empowerment Group, a local black empowerment lobby group, was arrested in September this year over allegations of fraud, but was released on bail the following day and the State did not oppose.

Another businessman and Zanu PF legislator, Mayor Wadyajena, who is close to Mnangagwa, was arrested in August this year on allegations of money laundering and fraud in a $5m deal involving the Cotton Company of Zimbabwe, a large cotton processing and marketing organisation.

Wadyajena was released on bail after spending only two nights behind bars.

Both the Zanu PF lawmaker and Chimombe were brought to court without chains, but rather in their suits, preferential treatment not extended to opposition members and activists.

“A pattern of refusing bail and keeping regime critics in appalling remand conforms in custody has continued under the Mnangagwa administration, enabled by a coterie of compliant police officers, prosecutors, magistrates and judges,” says Piers Pigou, a Southern Africa consultant at the International Crisis Group.

“This selective application of the law is reflected in a long history of politicised manipulation against critical voices.”

‘CCC leaders too soft on Mnangagwa’

Political analysts and observers have accused CCC leader Nelson Chamisa of being too soft on the State. Since Sikhala’s arrest, Chamisa has not backed any protests demanding the release of his member of parliament.

Only a handful of residents staged a demonstration in the streets of Chitungwiza calling for the State to end Sikhala’s incarceration.

They are not ripe for the kind of mobilisation that would be required to speak truth to power

Pigou says the CCC needs to more diligently profile these cases, to shed light on the enablers. “There has been criticism from within opposition ranks that the ‘Nyatsime accused’ have not received adequate support from key elements of the party hierarchy,” he says.

Gift Ostallos Siziba, a CCC deputy spokesperson, says the problem is not the judiciary, but Zanu PF and the elites that have captured it and want to use the same to settle political scores.

“We hope some members of the judiciary can find a way to stop this. Otherwise, they will be part of the problem. The fact that victims of crimes are facing lengthy and protracted trials is an indictment on the judiciary,” he tells The Africa Report.

“The two leaders, Sikhala and Sithole, are victims of a carefree and inhuman political leadership of Zanu that uses the courts to destroy the authentic opposition,” he says.

Masunungure says the brutal reality is that the CCC or any other anti-regime actors are severely encumbered by the asymmetrical governance system where virtually all the tools of power are monopolised by the power elite.

“The CCC’s degrees of freedom to act is limited and public criticisms about the party’s inaction and lethargy seem to me a misreading of the reality of the situation,” he says.

“Further[more], Zimbabweans have in the recent past not exhibited an appetite to go out and protest their grievance, but are more inclined to give the other cheek. They are not ripe for the kind of mobilisation that would be required to speak truth to power,” he says.

Sikhala and Sithole highlight Mnangagwa’s authoritarian rule

An online petition by a lobby group, Platform for Concerned Citizens (PCC), was signed by over 50,000 people.

Some of the people who signed the petition include Ibbo Mandaza (an academic); Strive Masiyiwa and Mutumwa Mawere (businessmen); Tsitsi Dangarembga (an award-winning Zimbabwean author and filmmaker); as well as Tony Reeler, Philani Zamchiya and politician Simba Makoni (scholars).

In late September, Dangarembga was convicted for staging a protest with the intent to incite public violence following her arrest back in 2020 in Harare.

Lovemore Madhuku, a constitutional lawyer, recently said Sikhala and Sithole’s arrests were political.

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