ON that warm sunny day, Nokutenda was the first to spot me. I could barely hear him reply my question, saying his mother was home.
By Upenyu Makoni
Following quickly behind, his younger sister Nenyasha, was quite a contrast.
She said hello with a wide smile, a partially eaten mango in her hand. Their mother arrived, peering through the hand hole of their sky-blue gate.
“Wait,” she said, “let me get rid of the dog.”
We arranged ourselves inside the cottage, Sheffra and her son sat opposite each other with me on a sofa in-between.
The room was crowded with furniture, a four-plate stove, lounge suite, display cabinet and a coffee table.
A dark, single window above Nokutenda let in the afternoon light.
I asked Sheffra how they were.
“We’re okay . . . we’re not great because Itai isn’t here. We don’t know if he’s alive.”
Her response was weary.
“It’s very difficult. Every day I think that I’ll hear him coming through the gate.
“I think maybe I’ll see him on the news, or someone will send me a whatsApp (text message).
“These days, my phone is always on, ready to receive news that Itai has been found.
“Maybe someone will call, and he’ll be on the other end, or someone will give us information about where he is or tell us he’s on his way back.
“It’s hard to live like this, every day expecting waiting to hear good news.”
Itai Dzamara, a 35-year-old husband and father, was allegedly abducted by four men while getting his hair cut on a Monday morning.
Months before his abduction, he had presented a petition demanding the resignation of Robert Mugabe, the former President of Zimbabwe.
“We fell in love”
Sheffra is one of two girls in a family of five.
She met Itai in a commuter omnibus as they travelled home to Highfield in the evening after work.
Then, he was a reporter for the Zimbabwe Independent, while she worked for a printing company.
“We were friends for a while,” she says of the early days of their courtship.
“He would walk me home from the kombis … Sometimes he would visit me at work. He always brought me lunch,” she laughed, “We fell in love. When he proposed, he said I want you to be my wife. I love you.”
It was simple. In 2004, Zimbabwe had enough of an economy for them both to be employed.
They could plan and look forward to building a life together.
Itai had honoured her and her family in the traditional way by finishing his lobola payments allowing them to have a church wedding according to the custom.
He was a generous husband, helping her mother to provide for Sheffra’s younger siblings and assisting her family with their school fees.
Like most, their early years together were punctuated by the arrival of their children.
The birth of their oldest child, Nokutenda, brought joy and sadness.
“I went to his mother in Mutoko because I craved peanut butter and mangoes so badly,” she explained.
She was pregnant with twins.
In Mutoko, Sheffra went into early labour.
The babies were born two months before term at All Souls Mission, the same hospital as their father.
One twin survived for only a few days.
“When the twin died, Itai was hurt. I was hurt too, but I was grateful that God left me with one child.”
They named the surviving twin Nokutenda.
In 2012, Sheffra gave birth to a girl.
“It was a good pregnancy,” Sheffra says.
Save for a long and painful labour (compared to Nokutenda), Nenyasha was born without any complications at Glen View 1 Clinic.
“He wanted to give our children a better life.”
By 2014, the paltry gains made by the Government of National Unity between in halting an economic freefall were beginning to reverse.
Jobs were scarce, and those who were employed were finding it very difficult to make ends meet.
Itai had resigned his job at the Zimbabwe Independent and founded Occupy Africa Unity Square, a social movement, dedicating his life to fighting for Mugabe’s resignation.
Trusting her husband, Sheffra supported his decision.
“He said God had told him this was what he needed to do.
“That we would be fine, our family would be taken care of.
“I didn’t need to be a part of it or say anything publicly, but he asked me to pray.
“Itai was like that, once he made up his mind, that was it.”
The petition Itai authored was discussed between them often.
When I asked if she helped to author it, Sheffra shrugged off the notion, saying he was the author and editor.
He wanted his wife to see his motivation for placing himself squarely in the cross hairs of the state security apparatus.
He wanted her understanding and support despite her being afraid.
“He used to say, that the working class were not being paid fair wages.
“He wanted to give our children a better life.
“But the money he was getting, for the work he was doing, wasn’t enough.
“I was so afraid for him.
“I knew I had to pray. If it was going to the hospital, then that’s where I would be.”
Itai, and two members of the Occupy movement, Philosphy Nyapfumbi and Tichaona Danho hand delivered the petition to the President’s office at Munhumutapa building in Harare.
The response was immediate. Thirty minutes after they had left, Itai received a call and a man asked the trio to return.
They were not beaten the first time.
Instead, they spent a long day underground at Harare Central Police Station being interrogated and intimidated.
“In a Daily News article, Itai described how they were treated with respect, but the unspoken threat of violence hovered between themselves and State agents.
“Several officials, in suits accompanied us and made sure to move in a manner that kept us well encircled … Straight to a very small room at the back, we were led. Fierce looking police officers were crammed in the little room, about seven of them, with a couple of AK47 rifles at the back of a few and on tables,” he is quoted saying.
When intimidation failed, Itai wrote that the State agents turned to open threats.
“They reminded me that they could brutally beat me up with an assortment of sjamboks, iron bars and wood planks that were in abundance in the room.
“I said I could take it.”
In the face of his determination, Itai described how the agents proceeded to bargain with him.