Zimbabwe’s Mnangagwa under renewed pressure to account for missing activist




Missing activist Itai Dzamara

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has come under renewed pressure to account for a political activist who went missing six years ago, as western embassies slammed the country’s “enduring culture of impunity”.

By Kitsepile Nyathi

Itai Dzamara, a journalist-turned-political-activist, was seized by suspected state agents while he was preparing to have a haircut at a suburb in the capital Harare on March 9, 2015 and he has never been seen again.

Prior to his disappearance, Mr Dzamara had staged several protests calling for former president Robert Mugabe to step down.

The late strongman was toppled in a military coup two years later.

Account for disappearance

The European Union (EU), United States, United Kingdom and Canada are some of the western embassies that issued statements calling on President Mnangagwa’s government to account for those behind Mr Dzamara’s disappearance.

“The culture of impunity in Zimbabwe needs to end,” the EU mission in Zimbabwe said.

“Government ought to shed light on his fate and ensure that justice is served for Itai and all other victims of human rights violations.”

The US embassy in Harare urged “the government of Zimbabwe to investigate (Mr Dzamara’s) abduction fully and to bring to account those responsible.”

“We stand with his family and all Zimbabweans who exercise their freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly,” the embassy said.

‘Deeply concerned’

Canada said it remained “deeply concerned” that six years after Mr Dzamara’s disappearance as his fate still remains unknown.

“We call on authorities to continue with their efforts to investigate his abduction and to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice,” the Canadian embassy said.

The UK embassy weighed in saying: “Itai Dzamara isn’t forgotten. He went missing six years ago, abducted from a barber’s shop in Harare. His relatives and friends still don’t know what happened to him.”

Local human rights groups also castigated the government for showing lack of commitment in investigating Mr Dzamara’s disappearance.

They said police and government were “reluctant and uninterested in diligently looking into the matter”.

“Additionally, High Court judge, Justice David Mangota, ordered the police to fully investigate,” the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said.

“However, no meaningful investigation has taken place as evidenced by the absence of any comprehensive reports submitted by the authorities to the courts.”

More abductions

The Forum said Zimbabwe is witnessing more abductions of government critics under President Mnangagwa’s leadership with 86 documented cases of abductions and torture of activists in 2019 and 34 in 2020.

“Though authorities deny their participation in all the cases of abductions, including the case of (Mr Dzamara), the abduction and torture of Tawanda Muchehiwa, which was caught on CCTV bears resemblance to the abduction of (Mr) Dzamara,” it said.

“In the same fashion, (Mr) Muchehiwa was dragged into a white vehicle and disappeared for two days [after] which he emerged with gruelling tales of torture.”

EU and the US have renewed their decade-long targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe, citing President Mnangagwa’s reluctance to initiate reforms.

In January, the UK introduced its own set of sanctions against Zimbabwe after leaving the EU at the end of last year. –