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Two years on: Where is Itai Dzamara?

On this day two years ago, Itai Dzamara disappeared in broad daylight on an ordinary street in Harare and has never been seen again.

His case is best classified as an enforced disappearance. According to eyewitnesses, he was last seen being abducted by a gang of unknown men, who bundled him into an unmarked vehicle before they sped away leaving no trace of who they were or where they were going. Moments before Dzamara had been at a barbershop near his home. He had gone for a routine haircut. The abduction meant he never made it back home to his wife and kids.

To this day, no one knows where he is or what happened to him. But actually, someone knows, but they just won’t tell. It must be the hardest time for his wife and kids.

Despite persistent calls from all quarters, the government has shown no appetite to investigate Dzamara’s disappearance. Instead, members of government and state media have taken turns to ridicule him and his family. They mocked him, alleging that he had staged a false disappearance. Up to now some characters in state media continue to treat him with utter disdain. Nathaniel Manheru, a columnist for The Herald who is widely believed to be George Charamba, Mugabe’s spokesperson recently mocked Dzamara, referring to a prize that his wife received from Amnesty International, the international rights body, as a “phoney award”.

But it is now widely believed and generally accepted that Dzamara was abducted by suspected state agents.

To his credit, government Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo last year reversed disdainful statements that he had made shortly after Dzamara’s disappearance. At the time, when he spoke to the BBC as Information and Publicity Minister, he had suggested that Dzamara’s may have left by choice through Zimbabwe’s “porous borders”. Last June, however, he expressed regret for those comments. He was quoted as saying, “On Dzamara, while a lot has been said, including by me, the scary and indubitable fact is that he was abducted in broad daylight. So yes, it is regrettable that I have said things that have unfortunately conflated and confused a missing person with an abducted person”.

Around the same time, Energy Mutodi, also of ZANU PF expressed regret after he had posted comments that Dzamara was hiding in Botswana. Government has held firm, refusing to express any regret, let alone take any responsibility or show any active interest to investigate the enforced disappearance.

Most people suspect the state or some of its rogue elements, had a hand in Dzamara’s disappearance. It was not the first disappearance in the country’s history. And in the months before his disappearance, Dzamara had ceased to be just an ordinary citizen. Back in 2014, he had launched a one man campaign calling for Mugabe’s exit. Gradually, he built a following as some comrades joined him at Africa Unity Square, a park in central Harare, where he made his pitch against the long-serving nonagenarian leader. It remained a small following but what it lacked in numbers it more than matched in tonnes of determination and dedication. The numbers were small but the noise was loud enough to cause discomfort in the corridors of power, just metres across Nelson Mandela Avenue which divides Parliament from African Unity Square.

Growing tetchy at the campaign which took some gloss off their 2013 election victory, the government responded in the usual heavy-handed fashion, sending anti-riot policemen to break up the protests. On one occasion, anti-riot police beat up Dzamara to a pulp, only leaving after he had passed out. People merely watched from the margins. When Dzamara’s lawyer, Kennedy Masiye intervened on behalf of his client, the police beat him up, too. It was so vicious that Masiye joined his client in hospital where he required treatment. Both lawyer and client were victims of police brutality.

They assaulted him, but Dzamara had started something.

Last year, just a year after his enforced disappearance, the hashtag social movement #ThisFlag sent shockwaves around the world under the leadership of the eloquent Pastor Evan Mawarire. It gained more coverage and attention around the world more than Dzamara’s early efforts ever did. But in the bigger picture, it was the blooming of a flower whose seed Dzamara had planted two years earlier. When one day the history of the citizens’ movement is told, it will be incomplete without the name of Dzamara on its pages.

I had known Dzamara a bit before his enforced disappearance, our paths having crossed in the long-running struggle for democracy and political change in our country. He was respectful and passionate about his beliefs, which sometimes made him appear impatient. In our conversations, he was sure that we all carried a generational duty to chart a new course for Zimbabwe.

On 5th March 2015, just four days before his enforced disappearance, Dzamara had written to me via the agency of Facebook.

"Mukoma I need to engage you over some crucial issues. May you respond please", he wrote.

"My week gets better towards the end. Tomorrow is a better and more relaxed day. Or this evening after 6?" I wrote back almost immediately. It was a busy patch of the academic year.

"Ok mukoma. I will get in touch tomorrow" he wrote.

"Ok", I wrote back and our conversation ended there.

The next day arrived and went but I did not hear from him. I did not think much of it, believing that he would get in touch when he found time.

Then on 9 March 2015 news arrived that Dzamara had been abducted earlier that day. Our Facebook conversation on 5 March would be the last interaction we had before his enforced disappearance. What “crucial issues” could they have been that he had wanted to talk to me about? I may never know.

One day back in 2013, after meeting at a mutual colleague’s residence, he had asked for a lift as I drove into town. We spoke about life in general and about politics, our shared passion. He was very encouraging. Keep it up mukoma, he had said as he disembarked from the car to catch his lift home. “Isu takuenda kwedu kuvanhu uko!” (I’m off to the ghetto) he said with a lively and affectionate laughter. We laughed as he waved goodbye.

Sometime in February 2015, he had also written a note to me commending my article in which I had criticised the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s double-standards in relation to the registration of voters and the voters roll.

"Mukoma, you did a good piece on ZEC" he wrote. "I heard Dumiso Dabengwa commend it and had to look for it. Keep it up. The nation needs you to use the gift for a new Zimbabwe"

I told him that he was kind and thanked him for relaying veteran politician Dumiso Dabengwa’s generous words. At the time Dabengwa was making a legal against ZEC over the notoriously shambolic voters roll.

The past two years must have been extremely hard for Dzamara’s wife, Sheffra, his two kids, Nenyasha and Nekutenda. It must be hard, too for his parents and his siblings. His younger brother, Patson Dzamara has taken the torch and continued to shine the light from where his older sibling left off. For his efforts, Patson has earned stints in police cells and remand prison. On other occasions he and fellow activists in the citizens’ movement have taken severe punishment from the unrestrained hands of the police.

It is hard enough that his family have not seen him for two years. But what is worse is not knowing. Not knowing where he is or what happened to him. It is worse too, that those who should care, those who have a constitutional duty to look after citizens cannot be bothered. Instead, they or their agents in the media take turns to mock and ridicule him. It is vile and despicable. It can’t be easy for Dzamara’s family, reading all that. It also means there is no closure.

Yet there must surely be someone somewhere within the system who knows. Someone who has an idea. Perhaps one day, their conscience will nudge them to do the right thing. Perhaps one day, their conscience will persuade them to do the right thing. If now one else does, surely Itai Dzamara's wife and kids deserve to know. How does anyone live with that burden on their mind. How do they sleep at night?


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