Zimbabwe mum on abducted activist

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.”

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Simon Allison
Simon Allison
Africa Editor for @MailandGuardian. Also @ISSAfrica.
Advertisting

The rule of law in times of crisis: Covid-19 and...

Under a state of national disaster, some rights may be suspended. But it is critical to remember that the Constitution itself is not suspended

Test backlog skews SA’s corona stats

With thousands of samples still waiting to be processed, labs are racing to ramp up testing to help the government gain a better idea of how prevalent Covid-19 really is

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories