A leading opposition politician before he went to prison, Zimbabwe’s Job Sikhala said on Thursday that after almost two years in solitary confinement he needs to consider whether he can carry on in politics.
The 51-year-old was released this week after finally being handed a suspended sentence on charges supporters say are politically motivated.
“Everything about me was eroded during the period of my incarceration,” Sikhala told AFP in an interview.
An outspoken government critic, Sikhala, was one of the most prominent figures to be arrested in recent years in what rights groups call a crackdown on dissent in the southern African country.
Two days after he was let out, he looked overwhelmed and emotional, sat on a leather sofa at his home in a working-class suburb south of the capital, his phone constantly ringing.
“I don’t want to keep the world guessing of where I stand,” he said when asked about his political future, adding he will soon say “whether I will still remain in politics or not… whether I still have the enthusiasm.”
Sikhala was arrested in June 2022 for a speech he gave at a memorial service for a political ally who was murdered by a ruling party activist days earlier.
He was convicted this month of inciting supporters to avenge her death — charges he denies.
Conditions inside the maximum security prison where he spent almost 600 days in pre-trial detention, having unsuccessfully applied for bail more than a dozen times, were tough, he said.
“I was in a two and half metre by one metre cell. I was sleeping on the floor, in chains,” he said.
The case wasn’t the first brush with the law for the former lawmaker, whose long and troubled political career includes more than 60 arrests, according to his lawyers.
But it prevented him from running to retain his seat last August.
His Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) lost presidential and legislative elections to the ruling ZANU-PF, in a vote the opposition described as fraudulent and international observers said fell short of democratic standards.
It is currently in disarray, having lost its leader and dozens of lawmakers under what analysts say appears to be an artificial political crisis.
– Lost faith in legal system –
A lawyer, Sikhala said his legal odyssey also made him lose faith in the legal system he once represented.
“I find it very difficult, the way I was treated in this country by the judiciary, for me to still have the dignity to appear before a court,” he said.
The firebrand politician remains a popular figure.
A small crowd of supporters celebrated the news of his imminent release chanting and dancing on the steps of the court.
Later prison authorities sneaked him out under cover of darkness in an apparent attempt to avoid a repeat turnout — but many came to greet him anyway.
“I was shocked to find the roads leading to my house full of people,” he said. “It was a touching moment.”