He has been arrested, beaten up and tortured for daring to confront the regime of President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Journalist turned activist Itai Dzamara was a guest on Nehanda Radio and spoke to fellow journalist Lance Guma.
Lance Guma: What has inspired you to ditch the pen as a journalist and take a hands on approach to the crisis in Zimbabwe?
Itai Dzamara: The compelling need for all of us to play a role in fighting for a better Zimbabwe pushed me. I have been one of those writing and analysing the efforts of others, criticizing those in the struggle, but I found myself personally challenged to step up. Also, I could not tolerate any longer the cycles of national failure and crisis presided over by the Zanu PF regime, which forced me to stand up and play a role.
Guma: Your bravery has come at a cost. You have been beaten up and arrested by the police. What would you say to those who feel discouraged by that?
Dzamara: The fact that l have survived all these ordeals and am persisting with the struggle, proves that the beatings and arrests can be survived and overcome. That way, we are also demystifying the tools and ways of the dictatorship, as well as exposing them, which is a vital step towards a better Zimbabwe.
Guma: Tell us about the protests you have conducted so far and the general reaction to them in terms of support?
Dzamara: We started off with sit-in protests at Africa Unity Square after l had handed a petition to Mugabe in October last year. Up to 300 people would stage the sit-in and brave massive resistance as well as intimidation by the state.
We built a core team of protesters numbering about 70, that have been marching and blowing whistles in the city, with massive impact on the front of mobilising and spreading the message of protest across.
We have also petitioned and protested in parliament and council headquarters. The mayor of Harare responded and we are engaging over our grievances.
Guma: Last year the opposition MDC-T warned of protests after the completion of their congress. Nothing happened. Many people feel they have let you down by not complementing your efforts given they are the largest opposition party in the country?
Dzamara: I do not see it that way. Rather, engagements we have with them prove that they are committed to the agenda of action, but had to attend to some inhouse issues of structural realignment first.
l am convinced that the MDC-T is ready to join many other players on the action front. Also, l disagree with the suggestion that our OAUS protests have failed to get support or have been in futility – because, we have played a major role in provoking, nudging and inspiring the other players to stand up for the struggle. That has been one of our major goals.
Guma: Talking of the other players we saw pictures of you meeting leaders from Woza. What was the meeting about and are there any other organisations you are engaging?
Dzamara: We embarked on a mission of engaging other players and stakeholders, born out of our conviction in the need for collaborative and collective fighting for a new Zimbabwe. With Woza we agreed to pursue a partnership.
Also born out of the engagement efforts is the recently-established National Youth Action Alliance, now comprising more than 20 national stakeholders and players. They include Zinasu, Harare Residents Trust, Mining Communities Coalition, and political parties such as Zapu, DARE, PDZ, ANC, MKD, Gunga, MDC and MDC-T.
Guma: How do you propose to harness the energies of all those organisations? We have seen so much infighting amongst and between most of those organisations. They were willing to work with Mugabe in a coalition government but cannot seem to be work together themselves?
Dzamara: l seriously believe we can all work together, as long as we share the common goal of a new Zimbabwe. It takes sacrifice, humbleness and putting the common interests of the nation ahead of personal and petty differences.
I am glad to reveal that there is tremendous progress in the right direction. We surely can do it through speaking together and rallying behind all efforts of fighting for a better Zimbabwe. This enhances our voices, strengthens our push and increases our numbers, which are the key aspects of the struggle.
Guma: You have in the past complained about the lack of support from the media. Take us through your thinking. What do you feel are the agenda’s at play?
Dzamara: Not necessarily lack of support, but of coverage of our efforts, which is key in taking the agenda and message to society. We have had a lot of coverage by media platforms operated from outside Zimbabwe, but local media have largely avoided our story.
Its certainly not a result of the story being irrelevant, but l am aware of the hand of Jonathan Moyo and the Zanu PF regime behind that. Moyo has his way over editors, who have been pampered through the controversial Impi project.
We have reporters at newspapers and radio stations tell us about the newsroom politics and dynamics over our story. But, look, this is consistent with times of struggle – the colonial regime did the same over the nationalist struggle. We keep hoping that the local media will come out of the Moyo shell and cover our story.
Guma: Finally how would you like to be remembered in terms of your legacy?
Dzamara: For having made a contribution – to the best of my ability, genuinely and sincerely – towards the creation of a better Zimbabwe. Where people enjoy their freedoms and with dignity. Where leaders are accountable and answerable to the people. where the resources and wealth benefit and uplift the lives of all. where elections are fair and credible contests of ideas and policies. Lastly, a Zimbabwe that coexists and competes with the rest of the world, favourably, viably and in harmony.
Guma: Thank you for your time Itai
Dzamara: You are welcome and l greatly appreciate the opportunity you presented.