By Julia Thomas
Handwritten signs carried by individuals lined the edges of a circle, formed on the grass of Africa Unity Square where Itai Dzamara and fellow activists occupied demanding Robert Mugabe’s resignation almost three years ago.
They formed the collective chants led by rotating speakers honouring the work and spirit of Itai Dzamara. “Dzamara’s legacy lives on,” “Bring back our Itai Dzamara dead or alive,” “Account for Itai Dzamara NOW,” and “we want free and fair elections 2018,” some of them read.
Family members, fellow activists and supporters gathered on January 30 to honour Dzamara in Africa Unity Square, elevating the importance of remembering him as a “national hero” and individual whose spirit of demanding justice must be carried forward.
On Tuesday, they reclaimed and took back the space of Africa Unity Square as one which will continue to stand for justice, love, and compassion for all Zimbabweans.
Among the founding principles of Zimbabwe’s Constitution of 2013 are themes related to free and fair electoral system and respect for all political parties, including “transparency, justice, accountability, and responsiveness.” Section 86 of the Constitution also lays out the rights to human dignity, a fair trial, and to life, which “no law may limit… and no person may violate them.”
And yet, nearly three years have passed without a government apology or recognition of the issue and this lack of action lies at the heart of what activists are calling for after their comrade’s disappearance: engagement and response.
Dzamara, who disappeared on March 9, 2015, was a journalist known for his critical writings on the Mugabe government and initiating the Occupy Africa Unity Square campaign. Itai Dzamara also addressed a letter directly to Mugabe asking him to retire and was consequently detained and severely beaten along with other activists, before he was abducted by five unidentified men while at a barber shop in Glenview.
“Itai stood here first… by himself… Many of us were quiet and silent and afraid and we said we would rather endure pain than to tell the one who is causing the pain to go. But Itai stood and told him,” Evan Mawarire said.
Attendees spoke out about the importance of honouring Itai Dzamara’s crucial work by demanding accountability in the form of answers from the government and by ensuring that this silencing never happens to any Zimbabwean in the future.
“There is no dawn of a new era in this government,” Jacob Ngarivhume said, “All of the people in the current government are responsible for Itai Dzamara’s disappearance.”
Five demands were presented as an agenda for moving forward and protecting against future disappearances, violence and oppression. The most core, “not negotiable” first demand is that Itai Dzamara be brought back to his family and loved ones, dead or alive.
“We are drawing a solid line in the sand and saying ‘not anymore,” Patson Dzamara said.
The second demand is engagement and acknowledgement from the government of Emmerson Mnangagwa, after silence on the issue and “a stone wall” response to a letter. The third demand is reparations for Itai Dzamara’s family, and fourth, the creation of an independent commission of inquiry into Itai Dzamara’s disappearance. The fifth demand is for upcoming free and fair elections.
“If this is truly a new Zimbabwe, then let’s behave like it,” Mawaire said. “Then give a count for those that are missing. Then own up for the things that happened in the past. That is all we are asking.”
Supporters stated that the three-year mark of Itai Dzmara’s disappearance in March will see mobilized action and a further call for government acknowledgement and transparency with a planned takeover of CBD.