The whereabouts of pro-democracy activist and journalist Itai Dzamara remain a mystery two weeks after he was abducted by suspected State agents.
BY MOSES MATENGA/VENERANDA LANGA
Activists who have been abducted by State agents in the past said in interviews last week that they felt for Dzamara as they knew how traumatic such an experience could be on victims.
Dzamara was reportedly abducted from a barber shop in Glen View by five men driving an Isuzu vehicle and his whereabouts have not been known since then.
A missing person report was made and the High Court recently ordered the State to intensify the search for the “Occupy Africa Unity Square” founder, whose campaign had seen him marching in the streets of Harare protesting that President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party had failed and should, therefore, leave office.
Dzamara’s wife, Sheffra is convinced that her husband was abducted by State agents whose feathers he had ruffled.
The Standard yesterday caught up with freelance journalist Shadreck Andrison Manyere who was abducted by armed men in 2009 and held incommunicado (not allowed to communicate with other people) for two weeks. He was also subjected to torture at the hands of the dreaded State agents.
Manyere, who said he was still suffering from mental lapses at times due to severe beatings, recounted his abduction in Norton by armed men who duped him into believing they were prospective clients.
“I got a call from people saying they wanted me to work for them. I was in Norton at the time and after some hours, one man arrived and we went into his car to speak about the business he wanted,” Manyere said.
“Suddenly, he locked the doors and I saw a car, similar to the one we were in, stopping behind us. About seven armed men came out,” he said.
“They handcuffed and blindfolded me. I was thrown on the backseat facing down. They drove around just to confuse me and asked about my life while they beat me up severely. They took me somewhere I later learnt was Goromonzi and for two weeks, my family did not know where I was.”
He said he was kept in a small room where someone would slide in a plate of sadza and a two-litre bottle of water that he drank and also used to bath.
“I was thoroughly beaten and they would plunge me into a drum full of water, head first only to release me when they saw that I was drowning,” Manyere said.
He was later taken to Harare Central Police Station, Law and Order Section, where he was charged with bombing polling stations and a rail line before he appeared in court on December 29 of the same year.
“I was removed from Harare Central Remand Prison because they said I was a threat to the government and was taken to Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. I was placed in isolation [security holding units], but in the little time that I was allowed out, I saw people dying, succumbing to malnutrition.”
Manyere is one of several Zimbabwean activists who were abducted and assaulted by State security agents.
The list also includes human rights defender Jestina Mukoko who was abducted in 2008 from her Norton home.
She spent several weeks without communication with the outside world, while government claimed they did not know her whereabouts.
She had been taken from her home by a group of about 15 men in plain clothes.
In her sworn affidavit, Mukoko said: “I was not wearing anything other than a nightdress. I had no undergarments and other personal and medical requirements.”
When she asked for time to dress up and to fetch her glasses, two of the men grabbed her and pushed her out of the front door and into the back of an unmarked car where she was made to lie on the backseat.
“Immediately, a woollen jersey was put across my face, covering my eyes, nose and mouth. As a result I had problems breathing and I almost suffocated.”
She was interrogated by six men who refused to identify themselves. They asked her questions about the organisation she worked for, the Zimbabwe Peace Project.
She said she was accused of recruiting youths for military training outside the country.
“First, I was assaulted underneath my feet with a rubber-like object which was about one metre long,” she said.
After the torture and interrogation, Mukoko was brought to court on Christmas Eve without legal representation.
Speaking at a joint civil society organisations Press conference on the abduction of Dzamara recently, Mukoko said her experience was frightening and caused “untold suffering” for her and her family.
She said despite assurances by the police that they would investigate her disappearance and promises to bring to book her kidnappers, “those people have been protected and not been charged up to this day”.
“I hope that he [Dzamara] does not come out of a police cell the same way I did when the police initially denied that I was in their hands,” Mukoko said.
While Mukoko and Manyere lived to tell their story, some like MDC’s Tonderai Ndira, who was abducted from his Mabvuku home, were not so lucky.
Ndira was abducted from his home by 10 armed men early in the morning of May 13 2008.
His body was found a month later with multiple stab wounds, his eyes gouged out, his tongue cut out, and his neck, skull, jaw and knuckles broken.
Dzamara’s abduction has attracted local and international attention that has soiled the image of the country.
While his whereabouts remain a mystery, friends and relatives continue to pray and hope he will survive.
Although the family remains hopeful that Dzamara might return alive, time is ticking and judging from past experiences on human rights defenders and activists, many people are now asking: Could this be the time to fear for the worst?
Patson Dzamara, Itai’s brother, said: “We have heard nothing yet. The police have been co-operating with us as a family, but we are yet to get anything. The prayer meetings will not be a once-off thing and we will always engage irelevant authorities in such processes until there is an answer.”