While Zimbabwean revellers in Harare danced, car horns blared and citizens fell to their knees overwhelmed, Patson Dzamara walked away.
His older brother, Itai, has been missing for more than two years after speaking out against the Mugabe regime. And the man to whom the family turned to save him will now be Zimbabwe’s next leader.
Patson is no stranger to the atrocities of the Robert Mugabe government. After Itai went missing, he became more involved in activism until he too was arrested and beaten, so badly that he spent four days in hospital.
On Tuesday night, when it was announced that Mugabe had stepped down, Patson found himself out in the streets with his compatriots, overcome with emotion. But his brother’s absence weighed heavily on him. He broke down and left the celebrations.
“We found ourselves retreating into a cave of sorrow because, under our current dispensation, Itai is still missing,” he said.
Itai Dzamara is a Zimbabwean journalist and leader of an anti-Mugabe campaign that was known as Occupy Africa Unity Square. For a time, he stood alone in Unity Square, which is a short walk from Mugabe’s office and the Zimbabwean Constitutional Court, calling for the president’s removal. Itai was thought to be a crazy one-man protester. He began his protest in 2014. By 2015, the year he was abducted, others had joined him.
At this historic time in Zimbabwe, Itai is still missing. He was taken by five unknown assailants from a Harare barbershop in broad daylight on March 9 2015. They forced him into a vehicle. He has not been seen since. “It becomes personal for me. I cannot talk about a new Zimbabwe without that issue being resolved. So, for me, the struggle continues,” Patson says.
On Wednesday, Emmerson Mnangagwa stepped on to a plane in South Africa to return home. He was the justice minister at the time of Itai’s disappearance. The family wrote letters to Mnangagwa, asking him to step in and help.
“We approached him twice. Unfortunately, he did not honour our request to meet him,” Patson says.
He knows that Mnangagwa is the leader in waiting. The country has yet to announce how it will implement democratic reforms and an interim leadership is yet to be determined. Mnangagwa, known as “the Crocodile”, is a senior member of Zanu-PF. “Most of them in Zanu-PF are with Mnangagwa. He’s not a saint, he has a dark past. However, I hold the belief that every sinner has a future and every saint has a past,” Patson says.
The younger Dzamara brother feels uneasy about the military’s role in the changes coursing through Zimbabwe. He says it is the same military that helped Mugabe to hold on to power after the 2008 elections, which Mugabe had lost.
He believes that for the new leadership to make a serious departure from Mugabe it will have to do three things: own up to past wrongs, apologise to the nation for the hurt caused, and begin a transitional process of healing and planning for Zimbabwe’s future.
“They themselves are the worst criminals. They themselves are responsible for creating Mugabe the person and Mugabe the system,” Patson says.
Undoing the “Mugabe system” is the challenge the country now faces, he says. The Zanu-PF leadership will have to implement electoral reform and abide by the country’s Constitution, which the Mugabe regime failed to do.
“We have not yet crossed the Rubicon. I’m reluctant to believe that real change will emanate from Zanu-PF itself,” Patson says.
Everything that has happened in the past few days, which have seen a military takeover, marches around the country and Mugabe’s resignation, have come from one source — Zanu-PF, the activist says.
“What we saw has everything to do with the politics and factionalism of Zanu-PF and nothing to do with the people. A political agenda coincided with a national agenda. Those concerned with the political agenda used the national agenda as a trump card,” he says.
There are other families whose loved ones have been beaten and arrested, abducted and never seen again. The Dzamaras last had an update from police about Itai’s disappearance more than a year ago. But they believe their sacrifice has made a difference.
“I can say it is worth it. My heart goes out to my brother who paid the ultimate price and sacrifice. I hope we complete his work,” Patson says.