Counting the hours: 14 400 since Itai Dzamara disappeared
It’s been 20 months since Zimbabwean journalist and political activist Itai Dzamara was beaten by riot police and forced into an unmarked vehicle by five men on March 9 2015. Six hundred days – give or take – of his family wondering whether he’s still alive.
Fourteen thousand and four hundred hours in which Patson Dzamara – Itai’s brother – and his family have agonised over Itai’s disappearance. It’s quite conceivable that Patson’s anguish drove him to vow in a letter to the police commissioner to “explore every possible avenue to get to the bottom” of his brother’s disappearance.
To level accusations even: “You or even Mr Mugabe are not gods. I am not, and ought not be afraid of you. As a mere mortal, you are also under the Constitution and above all a creature of the God I also worship.”
Patson assures the authorities that “we will never again … remain silent in the face of oppression which you and your organisation are aiding”.
On Friday Patson and four other protesters, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words: “#The Endgame, A new Zimbabwe is possible” were arrested in Harare Gardens. “We were charged with public disorder for simply sitting and chatting in a public park. It’s ridiculous and it’s a clear manifestation of the regime’s desperation,” Patson told the Mail & Guardian.
Patson was released the next day, along with student union Zinasu’s secretary general Makomborero Haruzivishe, human rights activist Linda Masarira, Rangarirai Nhende and Leverage Masvondo, on a bail of $100 each. They are set to appear in court on Monday.
Patson’s arrest followed a written plea he’d made five days prior to Zimbabwean police commissioner general Augustine Chihuri to “release (abducted journalist) Itai Dzamara, dead or alive.”
NGO Zimbabwe Human Rights Association condemned the arrest of the five, saying that the arrests were a violation of Article 50 of the Zimbabwean Constitution and section 41 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, which stipulate that law enforcement agencies must promptly inform arrested persons of the reasons and allegations necessitating the limiting of their freedoms by being put in custody.
The Zimbabwean government has been heavily criticised for failing to adequately investigate Itai’s disappearance. Patson believes the abduction was orchestrated by President Robert Mugabe’s governing party, Zanu-PF, through its military intelligence agencies. His brother says Itai’s disappearance and activism was the catalyst for the increased and visible protests against Mugabe in the country. Itai’s Occupy Africa Unity Square actively campaigned against Mugabe’s government.
While Mugabe uses party platforms to frighten opposition parties and social movements calling for his resignation – warning that they should not cry foul when his government retaliated with a strong hand – Patson has been leading a rallying cry for change.
Echoing his brother’s strong convictions, Patson has participated in anti-government demonstrations. In April 2016, he protested against Mugabe in the packed national sports stadium – with the president present. He has also been arrested and received beatings at the hands of state security police, but continues in the hope of securing Itai’s freedom.
Recently, he wrote a letter to the World Bank in response to allegations that it was planning to lend the Zimbabwean government money to settle an International Monetary Fund debt. He didn’t mince his words, telling the World Bank that any such loan would “prop up our oppressor”.
And despite the government having instituted a ban on demonstrations, he and other activists have “many peaceful protests” planned. “We are of the view that if we can’t outmanoeuvre or outdo them, we must outsmart them,” he said.
According to recent reports, the names of Itai’s abductors have been released on various social media platforms. But his family aren’t any closer to finding out what happened to him. The latest clampdown by the police – who told Patson and his fellow protestors that they were given instructions from “above” – and the subsequent media coverage might just be the impetus for the authorities to respond to Patson’s pleas.
Or it might mean Dzamara has to continue his crusade – amid seemingly renewed efforts to end it – to find his brother, whose only crime was to openly “exercise his constitutional right to oppose the failed Zanu-PF led government which you and the organisation you lead ostensibly support”.
Below is a full transcript of Patson’s letter to Zimbabwe’s police chief:
Zimbabwe Republic Police Commissioner General
Mr Augustine Chihuri
Police General Headquarters
Josiah Chinamano Avenue, Box CY34, Causeway
9 October, 2016
RE: PETITION OVER ITAI DZAMARA’S MISSING AND ZRP’S FAILURE TO RESOLVE THE MATTER
My name is Patson Dzamara, the brother to abducted and missing human rights activist Itai Dzamara. I am a Zimbabwean man aged 30 years, presenting a position and demand on behalf of my family and many other concerned, progressive Zimbabweans, over the continued missing of Itai Dzamara and the failure of your organisation to investigate with necessary vigour, shed meaningful light and/or answers as well as treat the matter with the required urgency it demands.
I have never minced my words regarding the fingerprints of state security agents particularly the military intelligence in the abduction of Itai Dzamara, whose only crime was to openly exercise his constitutional right to oppose the failed ZANU PF led government which you and the organisation you lead ostensibly support.
Assuming, by the ignorance and arrogance often demonstrated by those that report to you, you are not aware, Itai Dzamara was abducted on the 9th of March, 2015. He is/was a Zimbabwean Citizen by all yardsticks and barometers. As such he is entitled to enjoying the full attention of state institutions such as your organisation, The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), which carries the ultimate responsibility to investigate heinous crimes of this nature, as well as protect other citizens from such brazen abuses.
It’s now 17 months and there hasn’t been any headway whatsoever regarding Itai’s missing from the purported investigations being carried out by ZRP. That is curious and unfortunate.
ZRP is touted as one of the most efficient and proficient police forces in Africa but it has artificially failed to come up with even a single lead. Instead, it has resorted to presenting whitewashed and insincere reports regarding its purported investigations into Itai Dzamara’s missing. That is unacceptable, we must and we will get to the bottom of this.
Your organisation must release Itai Dzamara, dead or alive, or see to it that those who took him return him.
You enjoy massive benefits for leading and working in this organisation. The taxpayers who fork out hard earned dollars to pay you, including myself, deserve better than such profligacy. Bar the money, you took an oath Sir, an oath to dutifully uphold the supreme law of this land, that dictates you protect any citizen, resident, or visitor of this country, that you see to it their rights are not violated, that should they be, as is the case with Itai, you will investigate, and extend the long arm of the law, to see to it that those responsible are removed from society.
Section 49 of the Constitution states that every person has the right to personal liberty, which includes the right not to be deprived of their liberty arbitrarily or without just cause. Furthermore, the Constitution grants Itai Dzamara and all Zimbabweans the right to personal security and protects them from all forms of violence from public or private sources.
To date, you, as the head of ZRP and your organisation at large have done virtually nothing to assist us as a family to at least unearth what happened to Itai and hopefully come to a place of closure. I have interacted with those tasked to investigate Itai’s matter from your organisation several times, including the former CID Law and Order department boss, Assistant Commissioner Makedenge and I have concluded that there is no sincerity on their part.
The fact that ZRP is not acting in good faith is incontestable and I have constantly stated the same to your team.
Sir, you must understand that Itai Dzamara’s matter is not a joke. I am aware that in the time past people would be abducted and no-one would dare speak out for fear of victimisation but that has changed, not anymore. I am not going to be silent until Itai is accounted for. I am going to explore every possible avenue to get to the bottom of this matter and you in particular are a key element in that matrix.
You or even Mr. Mugabe are not gods. I am not, and ought not be afraid of you. As a mere mortal, you are also under the constitution and above all a creature of the God I also worship.
Never again shall we remain silent in the face of oppression which you and your organisation are aiding unfortunately.
As a concerned brother and citizen, I therefore make the following demands:
1) That as the head of ZRP sworn to protect every citizen and uphold the constitution you should immediately issue a statement over Itai Dzamara’s disappearance.
2) That as the head of ZRP you order state security agents to release Itai Dzamara immediately, dead or alive.
3) Immediately engage the Dzamara family over this matter.
4) Heed the High Court Order which instructed you to uphold your constitutional obligation to investigate the missing of Itai Dzamara without fear or favour.
My position is backed by many concerned Zimbabweans, who, like myself, await your response on these matters. We are tired and we can’t continue like this anymore.
You are a public servant, and not a servant of the establishment. We are the public, and demand and deserve that you fulfill your obligations.
In the event that you choose to ignore my demand and request, I shall engage all progressive Zimbabweans within a week and escalate protests in various ways against that in a civil, peaceful and resolute manner as provided for within the Constitution.
I am also going to face you in court locally and internationally over this matter.
It defies logic and reason for my brother, to disappear without a trace in a nation that is not at war and allow that to go unnoticed and unquestioned.
Lastly, Sir, l beg of you to appreciate my legitimate demand and treat it with the urgency it deserves.
Looking forward to your response.
Minister of Home Affairs
Republic of Zimbabwe
Dr. Ignatious Chombo