By Thelma Chikwanha
HARARE – “DEAR God, I know that you will bring my father back,” is a prayer that Nenyasha, daughter of the missing journalist-cum-human rights activist Itai Dzamara recites every night before going to bed.
The three-year-old, who has not seen her father for almost 100 days, is obviously affected psychologically and emotionally by her dad’s absence. She is now looking to God for intervention as the State continues to profess ignorance on her father’s whereabouts.
Dzamara, who had fierce run-ins with authorities after staging a one-man protest against President Robert Mugabe in the Africa Unity Square, was abducted at a barbershop in the high density suburb of Glenview on March 9. He has not been seen since then.
All efforts to locate him have so far been fruitless. The courts have ordered the police to find Itai but there has been no progress so far.
Patson Dzamara, a brother to the missing activist, told the Daily News on Sunday last week that the family still had no idea where he is.
“Surprisingly, we have not heard from the authorities, the security agents and I really wonder what sort of an investigation they are carrying out without even trying to even find out some information from us, from the wife and from us as siblings or even the parents. None of us has been approached,” Patson said.
“As far as my understanding is concerned, this was supposed to be a back-and-forth kind of scenario but the only time we have interacted with them was probably the first week when Itai disappeared and all they did was take statements, so it’s really worrying to us why they have not engaged us officially as a family. We read a lot of stuff. As far as I know, no one in the family has been contacted in as far as the investigation is concerned.”
Patson narrated a heart rending tale of how his parents, especially his mother, had suffered untold emotional turmoil over Itai’s disappearance.
“Our mother…she’s distraught but of course there is a resonance of hope among us as family members,” he said. “Through our faith in God, we are still hoping that one way or the other, Itai will spring up.
“We are holding on to the belief and the theory that he is being held somewhere and we still believe contrary to other theory or reports or speculative stories we have heard, we are still hoping and believing that Itai is alive and one day he is going to come forth although the issue that this has been too long is worrying,” he said.
He said Itai’s 7-year-old son was deeply affected by his father’s continued absence.
“The boy is very inquisitive,” he said. “At times when he sees me, he asks; ‘have you come with my dad.’ It’s really not an easy scenario for me.”
Rights groups and the international community havecalled on government to ensure the safe return of the human rights activist.
A visiting delegation from the United States of America expressed concern over Dzamara’s disappearance.
The delegation included two senior US State department officials, Shannon Smith, who is deputy assistant secretary for African affairs and Steven Feldstein, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour.
“From the United States’ perspective, we have concerns about the human rights violations and that includes intimidation, harassment, torture and forced disappearances,” Feldstein said during a recent press briefing in Harare.
“We are also concerned about long-standing government restrictions, when it comes to the ability of civil society to operate, independent media, political parties, activists and regular citizens and we believe these long-standing restrictions do impede fundamental freedoms.
“We are now entering a third month into the disappearance of Itai Dzamara, he’s a civil society activist. His disappearance is something of a strong concern to the United States. We have raised the issue of his disappearance with the government and would welcome regular updates as to the status of the investigation as ordered by the High Court.”
The European Parliament strongly condemned the enforced disappearance of Dzamara and urged the government to comply fully with the High Court order directing it to search for him.
The bloc expressed concern at the reports by human rights organisations of increasing political violence and other human rights abuses and called for concerted action by the international community.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (Zhlr) successfully filed a harbeas corpus application at the High Court, with Justice Mangota ordering Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi, police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri, Central Intelligence Organisation director-general Happyton Bonyongwe and the State Security minister — listed as respondents in the application alleging State security agents had masterminded the abduction of Dzamara — to find him.
Police have also issued a statement saying they had opened investigations.
“The Zimbabwe Republic Police is appealing for information on the whereabouts of Itai Peace Kadiki Dzamara aged 35 years,” the police statement said.
“Anyone with information, please contact Officer Commanding Police (Law and Order Division), Assistant Commissioner Makedenge on (04) 251505 or the Officer in Charge CID (Criminal Investigations Department) Law and Order Harare.”
Makedenge says there has been no progress in the investigations.
Describing the abduction as “barbaric”, Zimbabwe Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa told Parliament two months ago that he could not admit that Dzamara was arrested or is in their custody, raising grave concerns for his safety.
Last week the Zimbabwe’s influential Catholic bishops called on the police to expedite the search for Dzamara.
Alexio Muchabaiwa, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) chairman, said three months after Dzamara was seized by five armed men who shoved him into an unmarked truck and sped off, he has not been accounted for.
CCJP is a commission of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Inter-regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (Imbisa) mandated to promote justice and peace guided by gospel values or social teachings of the church.
“His disappearance could be seen in a broader context of sustaining fear as a strategy of restraining freedom of expression, participation, association and democracy against the values and aims of our liberation struggle,” Muchabaiwa said.
Patson hailed the initiative by the church as positive development. He also expressed gratitude towards the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC which he says has been supportive throughout the trying time.
He said apart from frequent visits to Itai’s home by senior officials including Tsvangirai himself, the party also provides financial support.
“It’s something that we have also expected the State to be doing because he is also a citizen who is under the protection of who he is supposed to be under,” he said. “It’s really worrying that the State has not been forth coming in this regard.
“I even tried to penetrate and engage certain individuals in government to no avail. The fact that I’m a Dzamara and Dzamara had a principle that was against the policies of the government perhaps has precipitated their cold shoulder which I feel is immature at this point in time.
“At the end of the day, Itai Dzamara remains a Zimbabwean just like anyone else. And the State must be responsible and so to me, I would say that there has been some level of maturity especially from the guys in the MDC who have been forth coming.”
He added: “MDC chose to take it upon themselves to see to it that they attend to Itai’s family which I feel is key at this point in time.
“My parents contributed in as far as the liberation war is concerned and when I look at them and what has happened to their son, I do not think that’s what they had on their mind when they went to the bushes to fight for the liberation of Zimbabwe.
“I believe that there is more to it and I really implore the powers that be to probe into their conscience what’s prevailing. Is this what they fought for? I do not think that this is the representation of the freedom they fought for and so as such, I appeal to the authorities to make sure that Itai is released.”
There are a few high profile cases of enforced disappearances including the case of Rashiwe Guzha, a typist within the Central Intelligence Organisation who disappeared in May 1990 and remains missing, feared murdered; Edwin Nleya, Patrick Nabayana, the chief polling agent for opposition candidate David Coltart abducted in 2000 by men armed with AK47 rifles, body found a few months later; activist Paul Chizuzu who disappeared in February 2012, remains missing, feared murdered; and army captain Edwin Nleya, who disappeared, feared murdered as well.
In the case of Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko, she was abducted at her house on December 3, 2008, she was tortured by state agents and later handed over to the police.”
Dewa Mavhinga, senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, said the practice of enforced disappearances is widely used by government agents who do so with impunity as none of them are ever held accountable for their crimes.
“For the State agencies to profess ignorance as to Dzamara’s whereabouts is simply to hide behind a finger,” Mavhinga said.
“Outside of state involvement, people do not simply vanish from the streets of Zimbabwe without the police establishing what happened. As far as citizens are concerned, there is law and order in Zimbabwe, so when a disappearance occurs its either the state will know or is involved.” Daily News