By Tapiwa Zivira
IT was Valentine’s Day without much love in Masvingo’s central business district this year.
For those who know Masvingo, the morning of February 14 was anything but normal.
Not even the ceiling of clouds that hung over the city or the fine, cool and breezy weather could unchain the tension that came with the event that was to take place right in the heart of the city.
Located in the busy main highway that cuts through the city to Beitbridge, the Masvingo High Court was the epicentre of the event that was keenly followed throughout Zimbabwe.
The event, a treason trial pitting the state versus the MDC vice-chairperson Job Sikhala, was nowhere near being an ordinary occasion considering that the firebrand MP had applied for exception to the charges and the verdict was due to be pronounced on that day.
Sikhala had never backed down during his trial as he repeatedly took pot shots at President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his government.
Only a fortnight ago, as he walked out of the Masvingo High Court, where his lawyers applied for exception of the charges, Sikhala had the nerve to address dozens of party supporters, who had gathered outside the court.
Against such a background, February 14 was expected to bring nothing but fireworks.
As expected, by 9am dozens of police officers, clad in anti-riot gear and armed with sjamboks, teargas canisters, guns and all other weapons of suppression, had formed a human barricade in the streets leading to the court.
More police officers maintained defensive positions across the entire city centre, with water cannons parked in the city and ready to spew their venom.
The presence of cops seemed to have created an atmosphere of apprehension as there were fewer pedestrians and some shops remained closed.
The history of Zimbabwe’s police in ruthlessly crushing opposition activities is well-documented and there are many innocent casualties who have been caught up in the heavy-handed, scorched earth approach of dispersing people in crowded places.
But dozens of MDC supporters were not deterred and they began their walk towards the court.
The louder they sang and chanted slogans, with Sikhala and other MDC officials on the lead, the more the police officers became agitated.
Sikhala, however, proceeded to court without any incident, and it was as soon as he and a few others had entered the courtroom that the clashes ensued.
The police did not want the singing supporters to hang around the court area, and using the dreaded water canons, they dispersed the crowd.
But one thing led to another and tear smoke found its way into the courtroom, where proceedings had to be adjourned temporarily.
As the battles outside ensued, with MDC supporters regrouping each time they were dispersed, proceedings resumed and it did not take long before news filtered through that Sikhala had been acquitted.
It was at this time that other MDC officials, including Nelson Chamisa, Tendai Biti, Lynette Karenyi and Tabitha Khumalo, among others, arrived to show solidarity with Sikhala.
Chamisa was in Masvingo for the commemoration of the second anniversary of the death of the MDC’s founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
The news about Sikhala’s court victory was greeted by wild celebrations, which were taken to Mucheke Hall where Tsvangirai’s life was celebrated.
Prosecutors were claiming that on July 6, 2019 Sikhala threatened a coup against Mnangagwa when he addressed MDC supporters at a rally at Mandadzaka Primary School in Bikita.
In his ruling, Justice Garainesu Mawadze, however, described prosecutor Tawanda Zvekare’s claims that Sikhala wanted to stage a coup as “bizarre.”
Sikhala is among dozens of people that have been charged with treason since Mnangagwa came into power in 2017 after the military ousted long-time ruler Robert Mugabe in a coup.