Itai Dzamara, a journalist who quit his job last year to rally against the aging Zimbabwean leader, has gone missing and is feared dead. Dzamara is the leader of the Occupy Africa Unity Square Movement. Last year the protesters delivered an ultimatum to the President’s office in Munhumutapa Building, demanding his resignation on the 17th of October 2014. The protest group has occupied the square since then under constant riot-police patrol. The movement has gained momentum, shedding shards outside the country, and last year diasporans in the UK and Pretoria marched to their respective embassies to demand that Mugabe step down.
The Occupy Africa Unity Square Movement reports that on the morning of the 8th of March Dzamara was abducted from a barbershop in his neighbourhood by five men in a white Isuzu twin-cab truck. According to Charles Nyoni, the movement’s secretary general, the kidnappers, who are strongly suspected of being State Security agents, first accused Dzamara of stock-theft before shoving him into the vehicle and driving off.
This is not the first time Dzamara or members of the movement have met violence. Last November he, along with human rights lawyer Kennedy Masiye, was assaulted and hospitalised.
The day before his disappearance, Dzamara held a rally with leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai; his last post on Facebook was about the excitement of the crowd when they heard his call to action against the repeated failure of the regime, and recalled a Tsvangirai quote from the last decade declaring to Robert Mugabe, “If you don’t want to go peacefully, we will remove you violently”.
Tsvangirai, who is no stranger to state-sponsored brutality himself, issued a statement on March 10th. In the statement, titled ‘A Demon Is Back’, he held Mugabe and the regime responsible for the abduction. He invoked the names of MDC members Tonderai Ndira andTichaona Chiminya who were both abducted, ‘and in most cases to be found dead’.
Given this pattern of violence over the years, most are speculating that Dzmara will have been murdered by now and, like Cain Nkala, a prominent former ZANU(PF) member also abducted, might be found in a shallow grave in some remote part of the country. Dzamara’s abduction also starkly resembles the case of Edward Chikomba, a cameraman with the national broadcaster. In 2007 Chikomba was abducted by four armed men and later found murdered in Darwendale, 80km out of Harare. Chikomba is believed to have leaked visuals of Morgan Tsvangirai badly beaten (bashed in Mugabe’s unapologetic phraseology) to Western media after Tsvangirai was abducted and assaulted while in police custody awaiting trial for treason.
Dzmara’s Facebook wall is filling with messages of solidarity, as is the wall of his brother, author Patson Dzamara. Protesters have even ambushed news threads by the national broadcaster demanding the whereabouts from the president, who has left Zimbabwe on state business. A webpage has also been started demanding the return of Dzamara in tones reminiscent of the Boko Haram abductions. There was a moment of terror when a corpse was found in Goromonzi on Tuesday the 10th, but it has been confirmed that the body is not Dzamar’s and hope for his well-being continues.
Whatever the outcome, the Occupy Africa Unity Square Movement has matured. In an interview, core members of the movement stated that, “the sheep will not scatter when the shepherd is struck; this situation is most likely to create a martyr and make those who remain more resolute.”