The Tragedy of the Disappeared

A year ago a local activist, Itai Dzamara, was having a haircut on a Monday morning. An unmarked vehicle drove up with four men in it and he was summarily arrested and frog marched out to the vehicle and driven away. He was never seen again. His crime was to stage well publicized lone demonstrations against the Mugabe regime. At no stage was he advocating violence he was just stating the obvious, that Mr. Mugabe has overstayed his role as the national President and should go into retirement.

No investigations have been made, no one has been identified or charged and his family has absolutely no information of what happened or where he might have been taken. Zimbabwe has an amazing network of informal communicators and what I hear is that his abduction was ordered by the most senior leadership in the country and was carried out by the Military Intelligence Service. I also hear that he was taken to an interrogation Center at Goromonzi (built by the Rhodesians during the Liberation War) and there he was killed and his body disposed of.

What many do not appreciate is that there have been over 5000 abductions carried out by State Agents since the conflict with the MDC began in 2000. That is nearly one a day!

I recall the day a few years ago when a colleague of mine in the MDC, Roy Bennett was about to fly out of the country with a few friends, from Charles Prince Airport outside Harare. State Agents came onto the runway and in front of his family and friends; he was thrown into the back of a vehicle and driven away. Fortunately for him, his friends immediately got into their own vehicles and a small convoy of people followed the State Agents vehicle through Harare and then out to the Goromonzi Center where Itai disappeared.

His friends stood at the fence surrounding the complex and took video clips of what was going on. Eventually 4 vehicles came out of the complex, each taking a separate route away from Goromonzi. After a hurried consultation one of the vehicles was dispatched to follow each vehicle to its destination. There was no sign of Roy. Eventually some 180 kilometers away from the Goromonzi Center a brief sighting of Roy in the back of a vehicle was reported.

Roy was driven to Mutare and handed over to the regular Police who were then confronted by daily demonstrations of MDC supporters and friends demanding that he be released. Eventually he was released with no harm. I am convinced that had his friends not taken the action they did, he would have received the Dzamara treatment.

Since his abduction and disappearance, Itai has become something of a cause célèbre for the International Community. Every Ambassador at all public occasions have made calls for the State to reveal what happened and to release him back to his family. However for the great majority of abductees, their abductions and subsequent suffering has gone unrecorded and has not become the center of attention by anyone except their colleagues and family.

Recorded or not, the effect is the same, creating a climate of fear among all who oppose the Regime and make their position public and when they simply disappear like Itai, no closure, only a sense of loss and despair. Totalitarian regimes like the one we have here; have always practiced abductions and disappearances because they well know how it intimidates their opponents and critics.

This week, we in the MDC T, will hold memorials for Itai and share his loss with his family. I appreciate the clamor by the International Community on the issue and am grateful that it will not go away. I well recall when Steve Biko was taken into custody and then beaten to death and how that became a turning point in South Africa. The fact that Steve was an outstanding intellectual and leader and slated for national leadership in the future only made it worse, but I think he would judge from where ever he is today that his sacrifice was worth it because it brought to light the terrible acts of the shadowy security agencies in South Africa.

What can be done about these tactics by this rogue regime? Well firstly we can tell the regime that until they stop all such activities and violations of our basic political rights, they will never be able to reenter the global community of nations. We should suspend all talks of reengagement and acceptance into the client lists of the Multilateral Agencies like the IMF and the World Bank and its affiliates. The least the international community can do for us is to continue to penalize this criminal and predatory State by withholding its privileges and rights.

Secondly, we can all do something by standing up and saying we will not be intimidated of cowed by such acts of cruelty and desperation. Itai would want us to take his place on the street, confirm to all our martyrs that their sacrifice was worth it and we are going to finish the job. If we are cowed, they win.

Thirdly we can look after their families. During the war of liberation our very best friends were brutally beaten to death at Eagle School in the Vumba Mountains. They left behind two children and I had the terrible job of going out to the school hostel where they lived during the term and telling them that their parents and baby sister had been killed. They were devoted Christians and in the following weeks I watched amazed as the Church Community and their immediate family moved to ensure that the children had everything they needed. Less we cannot do for everyone who puts their lives on the line for all of us and then loses their life or freedom.

Finally, we owe it to all who have struggled for human and political rights down through the centuries – the struggle for freedom in Europe, the struggle for democracy and freedom in all oppressive regimes and to keep the fire burning in our home hearth.

We have chosen the tough road to our liberty, the road of non violent, legal change through democratic means. We have not broken a window in 15 years, we have not beaten a policeman but we have been abducted in our thousands, tortured and beaten and many have lost their lives to a regime that knows only violence and cruelty. We owe it to Itai to continue the struggle until we are finally able to defeat the regime in power and then honor our fallen and get on with rebuilding our land.

Eddie Cross
Harare, 7th March 2016