It has been a month since five armed men in civilian clothes kidnapped Itai Dzamara, a prominent Zimbabwean human rights activist, near his home in the Glenview suburb of Harare. Witnesses said that, on March 9, the unidentified men handcuffed Dzamara, forced him into a white pickup truck, and then drove off. Dzamara, a former journalist and leader of the Occupy Africa Unity Square (AUS) protest group, has not been heard from since.
Despite government efforts to show the country has moved beyond its oppressive past, Dzamara’s abduction and forced disappearance shows that repression is very much alive in Zimbabwe. Senior government officials have denied there was any state involvement in the abduction, but the actions of the government since the event raise serious questions.
In the months prior to his abduction, Dzamara had led a number of peaceful protests against the deteriorating political and economic environment in Zimbabwe. He had petitioned President Robert Mugabe to resign, to allow for fresh elections, and for reforms to the electoral system. On several occasions, police and supporters of Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party assaulted Dzamara. During a peaceful protest last November, about 20 uniformed police handcuffed and beat Dzamara with baton sticks until he lost consciousness. When his lawyer Kennedy Masiye tried to intervene, the police beat him up too, breaking his arm.
Today, concern is mounting not only for Dzamara’s safe return, but also for his wife, Sheffra, who lives in fear. Last week she reported that unidentified men were keeping her under constant surveillance.
The Zimbabwe authorities should provide information on Dzamara’s fate or whereabouts and bring those responsible to justice. Disturbingly, senior government officials – including the home affairs minister, the police commissioner-general, and the Central Intelligence Organisation director-general – have yet to comply with a High Court Order directing them to search for Dzamara and report progress to the court every two weeks until his whereabouts are determined.
In the meantime, the question that remains on the minds of his family, friends and supporters, and one that the Zimbabwe authorities should urgently answer, is “Where is Itai Dzamara?”