By Daniel Molokele| I first met Job Sikhala in 1996 at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ).
This was the year that he was admitted as a first year undergraduate student at what was then the most prestigious institution for higher learning in Zimbabwe.
When Sikhala arrived at the UZ, I was already one of the prominent student leaders there.
I was elected in November 1995 as the Secretary General of the 1995-96 UZSRC; after having been admitted as a student at the Faculty of Law in March 1995.
Within weeks of his arrival at the UZ, people started talking about Sikhala all across the UZ.
He had a very remarkable personality.
Firstly, he was a very tall person and his height enabled him to stand out in any crowd.
Secondly, he had a very loud mouth and always spoke animatedly and in a hyperbolic manner.
Thirdly, Sikhala was a very highly opinionated person. He enjoyed participating in all available public political discussions and debates and made sure that his strong views were heard very loud and clear.
But it was after April 1996 when I became the Acting President of the UZ students union that I started working closely with Sikhala.
This is because when I set up my own Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) he was one of the prominent first year students who actively participated in its meetings and activities.
It was the very same RCC that featured the likes of the late Learnmore Jongwe who was not yet in the SRC at that time and Nixon Mao Nyikadzino who later became the Commander of the RCC.
Later that year, our SRC organised some protests against the delays in the disbursement of government grants for students.
It was these public demonstrations that gave Sikhala his first public platform to become well known at the UZ. Other prominent RCC members like Jongwe and Nyikadzino also used the same demonstrations to grow their political profiles.
Then in November 1996, the elections for the 1996-97 UZ SRC were held. Both Sikhala and Jongwe actively campaigned and won. Sikhala was elected as the new Secretary for Publicity and Information while Jongwe was elected as the new President. I was also elected as the new Vice President of the same SRC.
It was this very same UZ SRC that was actively involved in the launch of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) in 1997
Furthermore, it was also this particular UZ SRC that actually hosted the inaugural Congress for the revived ZINASU that was held at the end of February 1997.
At the end of that Congress, elections were held for the national students’ leadership. This led to all three of us being elected to similar positions under ZINASU. Jongwe was elected as the President, I was alected as his Vice President while Sikhala was also elected as the Spokesperson for the 1997-99 ZINASU executive.
At the end of our term as the 1996-97 UZ SRC, Sikhala then contested for the Presidency of the 1997-98 UZ SRC. Unfortunately, he lost to Gabriel Marechera Shumba and Nixon Mao Nyikadzino who were elected as the President and Vice President, respectively.
However, Sikhala soon showed his political resilience by being elected as a member of the faculty based Students Representative Assembly (SRA) for that same year.
Then in April 1998, Sikhala was one of the prominent student leaders that orchestrated for a premature end for the term of office for the Shumba led SRC.
Soon after, some by-elections were held. Sikhala was one of the student leaders that actively persuaded me to step out of my retirement from campus politics and return as the President of the 1998-99 UZ SRC. Tafadzwa Musekiwa was elected as my Vice President while Sikhala surprised all and sundry by bouncing back into limelight as the new Secretary General.
It was during the 1998-99 UZ SRC that the political bond of brotherhood between Sikhala and myself was developed.
During that year we worked very closely as student leaders. In particular, we organised one of the most famous student demonstrations in the entire history of the UZ in June 1998. Unfortunately, the then Chancellor Robert Mugabe panicked and decided to close the UZ for almost a year.
It was also during the same period of the lengthy closure of the UZ that Sikhala and I grew even closer as political brothers. In particular, our political brotherhood was further strengthened when we managed to travel together to attend an internatnalton conference at the Makerere University in Uganda in August 1998.
During early 1999, Sikhala and I were also among the student leaders that were at the forefront during the process that led to the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) later that year. In particular, Sikhala and I co-authored a position paper that focused on why the student movement of Zimbabwe was strongly supportive of the formation of a new political party founded on the backbone of the labour movement of Zimbabwe.
But as fate would have it, later in 1999, Sikhala and I had a very big disagreement about our role in the 2000 parliamentary elections.
I chose to avoid joining parliament until later on. I then focused on legal practice at Bulawayo while Sikhala chose to go to Parliament in 2000.
In this regard, he was actively joined by the late Jongwe and Musekiwa, who were also elected successfully as MPs in the June 2000 elections.
We then drifted apart politically for several years.
Then in 2015, Sikhala visited me at my then home in Parkview at Johannesburg where he made a passionate appeal to me to return to Zimbabwe and actively participate in the national political discourse.
In response, I promised Sikhala that l would definitely consider returning to Zimbabwe but it was just a matter of time
That time eventually came in March 2017 when I was invited to contest as the next member of Parliament for my hometown at the Whange Central constituency.
When that opportunity came, apart from Advocate Nelson Chamisa, Sikhala was one of the first people I consulted about my decision to return to Zimbabwe. He was visibly happy and so excited.
From that time onwards, he actively played a strong part in helping me to set up my campaign. In particular, it was through his active facilitation that in June 2017, I travelled from Joahnensburg to Harare and met some of the most prominent leaders of our democratic movement.
It was Sikhala who set up my first meeting with Advocate Chamisa in Harare. He also accompanied me to meet Advocate Chmaisa at the Advocates Chambers.
It was also during the same meeting that Advocate Chmaisa helped me to set up an appointment with the late legend and icon, Morgan Tsvangirai. It was also Sikhala who accompanied me to my first meeting with Tsvangirai at his home.
As fate would have it, both Sikhala and I managed to contest and win in the July 2018 elections. Since then we have continued to work together as MPs, serving our beloved nation.
What I would like the people of Zimbabwe to know today is that Sikhala is not a criminal.
He is actually a political prisoner or prisoner of political conscience. Sikhala is a victim of political persecution by the abuse of criminal prosecution.
Ever since I first met him at the UZ in 1996, I have grown to know Sikhala as a passionate and patriotic Zimbabwean.
Sikhala really loves his beautiful motherland of Zimbabwe.
Whatever he has experienced since 1996, including the personal horrible torture that he had to endure at the hands of the State security agents in 2003; together with the over sixty arrests he has faced, the underlining point is that he has always been driven by passionate desire to actively serve his people of Zimbabwe.
He has always fought for a new peaceful, prosperous, free and democratic Zimbabwe.
The fact that he was forced to spend his Christmas day today locked inside the Chikurubi maximum security prison has nothing to do with him being a criminal at all.
On the contrary, Sikhala spent his Christmas day behind jail bars today simply due to the fact that he believes that it is his patriotic duty to actively fight for the dawn of a new political era in Zimbabwe.
Sikhala strongly believes that the fact that he spent his Christmas day in prison today will only serve to reinforce the fact that the people of Zimbabwe are not yet truly free.
There is still no political freedom in Zimbabwe today.
It is not yet UHURU!
Sikhala believes that his incarceration at the Chikurubi prison is actually a strong symbol of the fact that Zimbabwe remains largely a political prison.
The people of Zimbabwe are not yet truly free.
They are still struggling daily under the heavy chains of the political bondage imposed upon them by the increasingly intolerant and dictatorial Zanu-PF regime.
As long as Zimbabwe continues to have political prisoners like Sikhala, then its people are still yet to become truly free.
It is still not yet UHURU in Zimbabwe.