/ 9 March 2018

Zimbabwe mum on abducted activist

Demonstrators march to mark the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of journalist and political activist Itai Dzamara. He was abducted three years ago.
Demonstrators march to mark the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of journalist and political activist Itai Dzamara. He was abducted three years ago.

Exactly three years ago on Friday, Itai Dzamara went for a haircut. His family has not seen or heard from him since.

As he sat down in the barber’s chair, not far from his Harare home, five men rushed in. They grabbed Dzamara and bundled him into a waiting car. No one will admit to any knowledge of what happened next.

Dzamara was an outspoken critic of Robert Mugabe, and his disappearance was widely assumed to be connected to his calls for the president to resign. As long as Mugabe was in office, Dzamara’s family knew there was little chance of a proper inquiry into the abduction.

The new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has promised a decisive break from the past, even though he spent decades at Mugabe’s side. But there is still no word on Dzamara — and no sign that his abduction is being taken seriously, even though a 2015 court order requires police to produce regular progress reports.

“There’s been absolutely nothing,” said Patson Dzamara, Itai’s brother, in an interview with the Mail & Guardian. “We hoped that the unveiling of the new era would lead to some movement on this matter but unfortunately it hasn’t. It’s as though we are dealing with the same system, which remains the same as the old system.”

Patson says he understands why many Zimbabweans, fatigued by decades under dictatorship, want to give the new administration a chance. But its silence on Itai shows that the leopard has yet to change its spots.

“This is not the freedom we have been pushing for. This is not the new Zimbabwe that we have been working towards. What essentially happened in November 2017 is the transition of the Devil to Lucifer.”

Patson Dzamara is not alone in calling for a proper investigation. “[On] the issue of Itai Dzamara, the new government has done nothing to update the nation, and it’s worrying,” said Nelson Chamisa, the new leader of the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party.

Chamisa said the Dzamara case was one of several issues that demonstrate Mnangagwa’s government’s limited progress. “In as far as we are concerned, [Mnangagwa’s first] 100 days so far has been 100 days of disappointment, 100 days of misses … ”

Amnesty International has launched a petition to demand more action from Mnangagwa: “We call on you as the head of state and government of Zimbabwe to direct the government to take all measures necessary to establish the fate and whereabouts of Itai Dzamara. We call on you to promptly establish a commission of inquiry into the enforced disappearance of Itai Dzamara.”

The Zimbabwe Republic Police was contacted for comment but did not respond to repeated requests for an update on Dzamara’s case.

Meanwhile, Dzamara’s family remains traumatised by his absence.

“It’s been a very tough issue for us to deal with. We have constantly gone between hope and despondency. On a daily basis, the kids ask what is happening with their father, when are they going to see their father,” said Patson Dzamara.

Patson outlined the family’s demands to the government: to bring back Itai, dead or alive; to institute an independent commission of inquiry to examine his case; to make reparations to the family, especially Itai’s wife and children; to actively engage with the family; and, to honour Itai’s spirit, to ensure that upcoming elections are free and fair.

“This has been a very painful situation for us as a family because all we are looking for, all we are seeking, is to get to the point of closure with whatever happens to him. That’s what makes it even more painful, and the wound to not dry. We’ve not gotten to a place of closure. The people who are responsible for this heinous act continue to stonewall us, even when we are willing to engage to find common ground, to find a resolution to this matter. This certainly augments the pain and the emotional burden on us.”