Zimbabwe- He fell on the flashing spotlight in the late nineties at the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) as a vibrant student who got voted into the prestigious student governing body, the Student Representative Council (SRC).
Such a platform has been a foundation to many leaders of today in Zimbabwe and through that window many have either made it or broken it. In the SRC, Sikhala fell into notable erstwhile SRC heroes like pacesetting hero Arthur Mutambara (now Deputy PM), Tendai Biti, Munyaradzi Gwisai (then Innocent Chikweche), Paul Rumena Chimhosva, Raymond Majongwe, the late Larry “Warlord” Chakaredza, Martin Tafara Dhinha and the assertive orator Mkhandla known for pressing for urgent student rights at critical hours without mincing any words. Sikhala or “Wiwa” was celebrated for being vocal, loquacious, fearless and confrontational against the UZ authorities, CIO and government authorities as he fought for improved student welfare, more student stipends and better life.
His nickname “Wiwa” was derived in the heat of the Nigerian moment when a vocal TV producer, human rights activist and environmentalist Ken Saro Wiwa who, with eight others, was sentenced to death in 1995 by their government for challenging corporate social irresponsibility through environmental degradation by global oil giant Royal Dutch Shell Company. That was a time when Wiwa’s Ogoni tribe in Nigeria was robbed of its resource and left to endure the after effects of a damaged and exploited environment as the people got poorer and dumped in a social ditch after the oil extraction process took all profits away for the enjoyment of foreign owners. The Ibadan graduate, writer and activist and eight others had to be hanged because his vocalism on the environment and human rights as he challenged corrupt government officials of the day on why the national wealth benefitted foreigners as locals suffered and their environment got destroyed. His vocalism as a journalist attracted the ire of the Nigerian government as it refused through the pangs of corruption and greed to regulate petroleum industries . He therefore ultimately had to be executed for his search for truth and justice for his Ogoni people.
As Sikhala admired the Nigerian martyr, Ken Saro Wiwa whose values and attributes made an appeal to him to also search for truth and justice in Zimbabwe, no other nickname was befitting. The Students Union building at the UZ platform became the Zimbabwean “Wiwa”’s launch-pad that triggered his activism interests that later drove him into real national politics. In 1999, Wiwa joined the MDC with the likes of Tafadzwa Musekiwa, Learnmore Judah Jongwe and various others that have, over the hands of time, either since fallen off the moving political wagon or have hung on to become prominent stars in the Zimbabwe opposition politics.
Sikhala could no doubt be considered one of the greatest and youngest orators walking on Zimbabwean soil today. Witty and thoughtful, he could in the style of the eloquent Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar, move the whole nation to start a revolution. He uses applicable words and tone that are persuasively harsh to suit the environment and prevailing order and gets to the point without further ado. He is known for telling it as it is and will not mince a word as he denotes the real stuff happening on the ground. He speaks against President Mugabe like he just made a miraculous escape to life after being strapped to a petrol-doused fluffy bed by the Zanu PF militia in a mid-forest grass hut whose fire had already been lit for a guaranteed demise after saying his last prayer.
He is a courageous young man who has caused anxiety and suspense among the very top government leaders of Zimbabwe today because using his contacts within the CIO and state security agents, he has freely exposed lots of information that has caused discomfort to many. Once he catches some information, he exposes it without fear or favor and can even cite the source. Many would try by any means to avoid him because he knows no holy grail. Even President Robert Mugabe recently referred to him as a lost son who needed advice and guidance as a crazy rebellious one. Despite his clashes with state security agents, he has remained incorrigible and will keep fighting even if it means him fighting the whole system or the nation as an individual. He is hooked to his principles and beliefs and has a book of concerns and notes that he makes reference to and will not stop condemning either the inertia among the opposition parties or their being complicit with the current state of affairs because they have now tasted the poison of the fruit tree and reneged from their public undertakings. He is disturbed at the weakness levels among some opposition politics members and when he points to these, he is at liberty to use real names, events and examples on how and where they are getting it wrong.
Wiwa is ambitious, confrontational, courageous, honest and disturbingly present. Besides being tortured to remain silent, he has established his continued presence through that obstinacy where even the torturers are giving up on him. He has been persecuted and harassed enough but he will never give up. The more they torture him, the louder he gets and the more action he takes to take his political message to Zimbabweans. His sense of truthfulness hurts a number of politicians so they have been made to avoid him for fear of being exposed for he has an unbridled tongue that knows no limits or time frames.
Wiwa does not compromise his stance and he would rather be a political martyr than a compliant sell out. He maintains his hard stance like a dissident leader who will never come to the table without the preliminaries being addressed. Many sarcastically tease him saying that he will die crying for the moon but his political messages catch attention whenever he opens his mouth because many admire his controversy and sense of urgency and truth in his messages. Some follow him to catch the latest scandals from the government echelons because he seems to catch great and juicy information ahead of many in the game. He could have some great inside sources that feed him so he can expose any scandals or acts of corruption or covetousness by the government leaders in Zimbabwe.
His past experience as a student leader and then a Member of Parliament could help with some leadership traits. In any case, like many have argued in past submissions, leading a government does not need any experience. It is a matter of following the Constitution and the demands of the people. That is a tailor-made process that is learnt and acquired by the day as the leader copes with social dynamics, challenges and issues presented. Some of the best government leaders in the world never acquired colorful credentials but were able to take their countries through various trying challenges as they sought technical advice and followed the rule of law and the tenets of democracy.
Sikhala emerges from St. Mary’s Constituency. He has been down there at the grassroots level. He knows what happens right at the base of the social hierarchy. He has been with the people in the trenches, has run away from secret service agents, has been detained for his unguarded mouth and spent some time behind bars. He knows the implications of poverty, torture, police harassment, CIO harassment and various other issues endured by any vocal activists. This knowledge makes him identify with many who have died trying to fight for human rights, democracy and justice.
This is a leader who resists threats, intimidation or any other forms of frustration. He has been known to have lost several assets and incurred lots of pain and torture. Even his mother’s rural home has been torched and burnt but this has not deterred him. He is resilient, persevering, determined, ambitious, courageous and straightforward. Besides various attempts to silence him, he has been prodded more to speak out. With his following, he stands the ground to remain who he is and could potentially retain at least a seat as an MP and ultimately could, by the grace of God become a national leader if he tweaks some aspects.
They say an apple does not fall far from its mother tree. Desperate for a party name, he simply reached out for the convenient and commonly-known prefix MDC and added a 99. Now it sounds like the letters MDC are the prefix for any opposition in Zimbabwe the same way the letters PF became popular in the yesteryear parties that fought for Zimbabwe Independence. His claim is that he was there in 1999 when the MDC was formed and no one had copyrighted the MDC name. It could be perceived as a lack of inventiveness, confidence or the concept of clear uncertainty on his potential capacity to garner enough following if he came up with a distinct or unique name. Today anyone who states that he is in opposition, strangers may ask, “So which MDC opposition are you?” With MDC-T, MDC-N, MDC-99, MDC-M, more MDCs could still be in the pipeline.
Many observers believe that some supporters do not want to openly identify with Sikhala because of his controversy and candor. Resultantly, his support base has remained fragile and could mainly be constituted with a die-hard handful as well as his immediate and extended family and some opportunists who could be keeping his name on their cards just in case he becomes an MP and he may need a driver, cook or personal aid. He could also be seen as someone who could open some doors of great opportunities (the corruption window) as he is vocal and generally feared for his open-mindedness. In that category, he has a paltry following but such a discipleship’s faith base is not clearly guaranteed or established.
The chain-smoking Sikhala has remained relevant as a loud mouth but at times he has been taken for a public market blabber-mouth whose message strikes appeal in the heat of the moment but goes nowhere after the audience catches some buses leaving the scene. His student activism days have remained the sole foundation of his glorious past but have at times driven him into more trouble and created more enemies than friends for him. While he is remarkably vocal, he still has to create some finesse base that makes him wean away the elements of hooligan-style student politics to become a seriously-considered or followed leader.
Sikhala has a poor public outreach agenda and has not been effective in reaching out to all corners of the country. Besides his fearless stance, at times, he has been dithery to move out of his comfort zone and for that reason alone, he focuses more on his home village somewhere in Zaka but hardly goes out to areas like Binga, Bocha, Chendambuya, Chesa, Kazangarare, Magwenya, Tsholotsho, or Kariba. One of his weaknesses could also be pointed to funding that he could be lacking to create some gripping campaign material or strategies to engage the nation at grand scale as he markets his message.
While he has great and ambitious ideas, he has mainly remained a controversial paper-tiger whose messages are incisive but hardly leave the four corners of the document to be transformed from printed message to real action. If he had a capacity to address big rallies and air his views at national level, maybe he could head somewhere. For now he has the capacity to hold interviews, badmouth government leaders and send Press Statements to various papers. While this is a great tool, that should be a complementary one instead of being deemed the main form for engaging the masses. Not all folks will access his platform and as a result, his messages are not sinking enough among the very people that he needs to vote for him. His family, friends and sympathetic well-wishers may try to get him into office but will not be enough to get him into the State House. Finally, he may need to calm down on his character and be sound, mature and convincing enough to be understood and believed as a potential head of state.