Waiting for Itai Dzamara

lThis is the second part of a feature on Dzamara. The first part was in yesterday’s NewsDay — Ed


They came to points of openly pleading.

“Look Itai, you are a learned person and you must agree that it is not proper to do what you are planning, please,” one of them said.

In the end, they relented and released Itai and his companions with a warning: “So you see, Dzamara, we never beat you, we didn’t arrest you. Did we? We have no problem with your petition and it is your right to do that. But we request you to seriously think again about your plans to gather at Africa Unity Square.”

The protest would have been easy to ignore when only a handful of people sat in the square, indistinguishable from the unemployed youth, freelance photographers, artisans, and commuters who move through the square daily.

With its population of marginalised young people, Africa Unity Square was a good place to start a revolution.

At the time, the Arab Spring had planted seeds of fear that similar protests might happen in Zimbabwe.

With its own history being rooted in movement building, Zanu PF knew from experience that effective movements were built one person at a time.

As Itai himself often pointed out in his addresses and online posts, the people were the numbers, with enough support they could do anything.

Itai’s message resonated and the crowds that gathered in solidarity grew.

He organised marches and protests denouncing corrupt State institutions.

His calls for Mugabe’s resignation grew louder, and more people began to take notice.

The more people who took notice, the bigger target he became.

Barely two weeks after the protest began, Itai and his lawyer, Kennedy Masiye were beaten by police.

In the weeks and months that followed, despite being harassed, beaten and arrested, Itai remained steadfast.

In a Facebook post Itai wrote about how his children reacted to the movement he was building:

“My son Nokutenda (7) – a very intelligent and highly discerning boy – has some understanding of my participation in the struggle for a new Zimbabwe, more than his little sister Nenyasha (3).

“He understands it when I am arrested, or brutally assaulted and admitted in hospital.

“Noku once observed me in action, at the Africa Unity Square.

“He is fond of saying, ‘But daddy vangu futi (Aaa my daddy, what is he up to)’, when things happen, or he hears about trouble.

“So, the other day, I had a chat with him, and explained that I am fighting for him and his sister to live in a better Zimbabwe.

“He understood it and nodded his head in agreement.

“’Aaa, asi Mugabe wacho. Asi anopenga kani (But what is wrong with this Mugabe old man? Is he mad?’),” Noku retorted, sending us into laughter.

Sheffra supported him by providing stability for their two young children.

Her faith kept her spirit strong: “I really wanted to join. But he thought it would be better for our children, in case the protest was rounded up by the police that I should be here with them.

“He said: ‘Mai Noku, you know what Mugabe’s government is like. If they come to get us, at least you will be here with our children and you will be able to carry on outside if I am locked up.’”

That didn’t stop her from worrying: “Sometimes, I’d wait for him at the corner where the kombis stop, by 11pm I’d be there, hoping to see him come home.

“I was afraid for him. Even though prayer kept me strong, I was afraid. Mugabe’s government was cruel. We were very afraid.”

“I was terrified”

Their last moments together were happy ones.

As he left the house for a haircut, Sheffra had asked Itai what she should iron for him to wear that day.

“You know how it is when you are proud of your husband . . . I wanted him to always look smart.

“I was ready to iron his clothes again to make him look extra neat, even though I had ironed them the night before.”

He had laughed, she says, telling her he was happy to wear the clothes as they were.

The vehicles used in the abduction were unmarked, a feature distinctive of government issue vehicles, some of which do not carry licence plates.

The barber told Al Jazeera that the men who took Itai had accused him of cattle theft, handcuffed him, shoved him into a white twin cab and driven off at high speed.

“I was told,” Sheffra says of the abduction, “he was taken at about 10am.

“They told me around 11am, after an hour. They thought Itai’s abductors might still be in the area. Because of that I was terrified.”

In the days after, Sheffra would hear rumours or receive text messages on her phone saying that Itai had been thrown in acid or had been murdered.

She reported the matter at Harare Central Police Station on the same day that Itai was abducted.

She was accompanied by two lawyers, Charles Kwaramba and Masiye.

There, the police refused to assist her, stating that she should instead go to Glen Norah police station.

The following day they succeeded in opening a docket on a kidnapping case under RRB Number 2391750.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police’s institutional failings are variously documented.

The issues plaguing the police include corruption, incompetence, and a lack of resources, capacity and political will to enforce the law.

The International Police Science Association publishes the World Internal Security and Police Index, which measures the ability of security institutions to maintain security and the effectiveness of those services.

In 2016 the index ranked Zimbabwe’s police force at 103 out of 127 countries.

Despite a docket, a High Court order and by then the eyes of the world paying attention to the abduction of Itai, the police dragged their feet.

In consecutive interviews with Voice of America regarding the abduction, Kwaramba’s increasing frustration is palpable.

In another Voice of America interview, Kwaramba questioned the accountability of the Head of State when asked if Mugabe should comment:

“Well he must, he’s the Head of State.

“Someone goes missing in your country, a country that you preside over, you must surely express even just your own concern about the missing person.

“You may not know where he is, you may not know how to find him, but surely you do care about his whereabouts.

“His comments are important because they send a message, you know.

“As the Head of State, you must be able to send the message that you are worried about the person going missing.

“It’s not just about telling us about what is being done.

“Of course, we need that from the police, but as the leader of the nation …you must be seen to be saying and doing something about it.”

“These are very crucial and urgent times for the nation of Zimbabwe and the truth shall set us free” — Itai Dzamara

On November 18, 2017, 60 000 citizens gathered outside Zimbabwe House to march against Mugabe’s rule.

In the 37 years of Zimbabwe’s statehood this has been the single most significant expression of the people’s will.

Itai had been proven right, the people were the numbers and they had had the power to remove Mugabe all along.

“In the end the whole country said Mugabe must go, and Mugabe went.”

For Sheffra, November’s events were bittersweet. Mugabe’s resignation came two and half years too late.

“This was what Itai had started, that Mugabe must go [but] Mugabe said, ‘I will not be chased away by a 35-year-old.’ I was happy my husband was the first one to start it. We thought that since Mugabe resigned, we would finally have peace and my husband would return or we would learn what happened to him. Everyone spoke with one voice [that Mugabe must go], no one was abducted.”

Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as President on November 24, 2017.

The crowd at the National Sports Stadium exceeded capacity.

Some hadn’t dared to imagine a day when Zimbabwe would be without Mugabe including his wife, Grace, who famously told a crowd gathered at a Zanu PF rally, that he would rule from the grave.

The Dzamaras waited for their hope in a new Zimbabwe to return Itai to them, but their waiting is not over.

Mnangagwa’s administration shows no intention of digging up the skeletons of the past.

They are moving on, ignoring Zanu PF’s history of vicious oppression.

“While we cannot change the past, there is a lot we can do in the present and future to give our nation a different positive direction.

“As we do so, we should never remain hostages to our past.

“I, thus, humbly appeal to all of us that we let bygones be bygones,” Mnangagwa said at his inauguration on November 24 last year.

Judging him by his actions, Sheffra observed that the new President wants to be different from Mugabe, he wants the people to love him.

In the beginning she waited, hoping he would prove himself to be different, that he would begin his term in good faith with the people of Zimbabwe.

“It’s something that they [the Mnangagwa administration] have to address.

“The whole country would love him if he announced that Itai was found, or that he was coming home. We would have closure.

“What happened to Itai Dzamara is in everyone’s mind.”

Indeed, the abduction of Itai is deeply engrained in the Zimbabwean consciousness.

A dark and constant reminder that power does not reside with the people, and that speaking truth to power, even if only a handful of people hear you, might kill you quickly, but will grow to be a gangrenous open wound on your family.

Itai’s son, Nokutenda suffered emotional trauma in the aftermath of the abduction.

It showed at school that year in his poor grades.

It shows even now, his eyes never once leaving his mother’s face throughout the interview.
He listened to the stories about his father, about his and his sister’s coming into the world, and about how his father was taken from it.

In every interview Sheffra has given over the past two and half years, she tells the reporter that her children ask her where their father is and when he will be back.

Two and a half years is a long time not to have answers.

It is difficult to imagine the strength and resolve required to answer in a way that allows the children to keep

Like Itai, Sheffra is steadfast and resolute, she won’t let any government glibly sidestep his abduction.

“There’s a statement he said ‘let bygones be bygones’. I’m not sure, but it sounded like he was saying what happened has happened.

“In the case of my husband, no, it’s not a bygone. There we will keep pushing until they’ve given us an answer.”


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