Home » Governance » Where Is Itai Dzamara? [opinion]

Itai Dzamara, a Harare based activist, former journalist and noted government critic, has been missing since 9 March 2015. Waza blogger, Jera, explores the price of activism in Zimbabwe.

There are several plausible explanations when a man disappears. But after five men were seen dragging Itai Dzamara into an unmarked vehicle before driving off, it is unlikely that he went on holiday and forgot to leave a note.

Zimbabwe is a place where the government never runs out of spin. For the creative propaganda team, there are millions of responses to the question, ‘why did the chicken cross the road.’ The local press has gone with the headline, ‘Activist Missing.’

Persistent thorn on Mugabe’s side

Dzamara leads a group petitioning President Mugabe to resign from office. They staged a peaceful protest, dubbed ‘Occupy Africa Unity Square,’ derived from the name of the city’s centrally located park, in which pigeons peck at crumbs and a water fountain tinkles pleasantly from dawn to dusk.

But the cooing birds and the lulling sound of falling water belie the mayhem that took place there four months ago, on 7 November 2014, when a squadron of anti-riot policemen swooped onto the park and beat up the Occupy AU Square group, who were armed with nothing but a petition.

Armed with nothing but a petition

By the time the beating stopped, Dzamara lay unconscious. A lawyer from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights attempted to intervene and the thrashing batons turned on him too – it made no difference that he produced his credentials.

The name ‘Dzamara’ in the Shona language means ‘until.’ Names have a tendency to become self-fulfilling prophecies. Once discharged from hospital, Itai Dzamara, along with his group, returned to the scene of the savage beating to continue their demonstration. It was as if they were saying ‘hatiendi, dzamara tanzwika – we won’t leave UNTIL our demands are heard.’

Taking the cue from the boss-men

The local media has chosen the title ‘activist.’ But the family of Itai Dzamara think of him simply as a son, uncle, nephew, father, husband. Itai’s brother – Patson – describes him as a man with a big heart, a devout Christian, a staunch fan of Manchester United, a husband and father of two children.

A missing person’s report has been filed with the ZRP – a police force whose fingerprints are all over the crime scenes of past abductions. It is perhaps no surprise that the police are so brutal, they have great role models in the nation’s leaders: monkey see, monkey do.

At the occasion of his 91st birthday, President Robert Mugabe spoke – rather bragged – of how during the liberation war he once kept his rival, Rugare Gumbo, inside a hole dug in the ground.

Mugabe’s deputy, a veteran of the country’s liberation war, Emmerson Mnangagwa, also brags that he is ‘trained to kill.’ Recently, a secret service operative assigned to the Vice President – a man nicknamed Ngwena, The Crocodile – went missing after a disagreement with the boss. Forty-eight hours later he was found dead along the Munyati River.

The independent press ran with the spine-chilling headline, ‘The Croc Strikes.’

The VP has issued a statement in Parliament, on the abduction of Dzamara:

‘We are a democratic society and we believe every citizen of this country has the right to do what they want to do peacefully… I can assure the House (Parliament) that it is a barbaric act and we want those responsible to come to book.’

Mnangagwa’s speech inspired the headline, ‘Crocodile Tears.’

A terrified nation

When diamonds were discovered in the eastern districts of Zimbabwe, as is the case in many other African countries, the ‘resource curse’ struck. The Zimbabwe National Army was unleashed upon the hundreds of illegal diamond miners. Survivors say their colleagues were shot and buried in the many pits left behind by the fleeing miners.

Zimbabwe is a place where kidnappings and rumours of abduction are rife and the stories sound like excerpts ripped straight from the pages of a book in the horror genre. There are tales of disused mine shafts swelling with bullet riddled skulls, there are legends of acid pools in an industrial site, where the enemies of the state take their last swim. With the government’s land reform program, political heavyweights have moved onto safaris. Bodies can easily be chopped up and fed to crocodiles – the pun is inaertent.

The CIO’s chequered history

Other than Itai Dzamara, there have been several well publicised abductions, for which the government has been blamed. Cain Nkala, Tonderai Ndira, ex newsreader and head of the human rights group, Zimbabwe Peace Project, Jestina Mukoko, opposition party politician, Job Sikhala, have all been kidnapped or detained and tortured.

In 1990 there was a long running story of the disappearance of Rashiwe Guzha, who worked as a Treasury Computer Bureau analyst in the dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). She is widely believed to have been the lover of CIO deputy director, Eddison Shirihuru. Rashiwe Guzha vanished without a trace.

Kidnap was also rife between 1981 and 1987 during the civil war between government troops and armed Zipra forces loyal to Joshua Nkomo. The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace has a thick file, detailing murder (+20,000), torture, rape (+60,000) and thousands of abductions which occurred in a decade of tribal killings known as Gukurahundi.

The commander of the Zipra forces, Lookout Masuku, was detained for 4 years without charge. After a Zimbabwean court declared that he should be released, the state continued to detain Masuku and denied him healthcare until he died as a result of illness.

As long as it looks right

The Central Intelligence Organisation has powers to imprison without charge. All it takes is one phone call or a nod from someone with influence, and any citizen can be detained without a paper trail.

The president, in the meantime, maintains his silk-tied and pocket-squared demeanour, while in the background his security agents abduct and torture civilians. Zimbabwe, along with the international community, is loudly demanding answers but, so far, the government remains silent on the question ‘where is Itai Dzamara?’

My pen is capped.

Waza is proud to feature as part of its content local bloggers who have a knack for expressing their unique perspectives, independent thoughts and engaging stories. The opinions expressed here are those of the author. Be sure to check out blogger John Zhira’s opinion on dictatorships, and don’t miss Jera’s other writings on Waza.

Source : Waza