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Itai Dzamara: The man who stood up to Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and vanished

Itai Dzamara was one of the most outspoken critics of Robert Mugabe before his disappearance. Three years later, his loved ones are still waiting for answers. Kim Chakanetsa reports from Zimbabwe.

Sheffra Dzamara has not seen her husband Itai Dzamara in more than three years. Her life changed irrevocably on the morning of 9 March 2015 when Mr Dzamara was abducted.

Since then, she has lived a life in limbo, veering between hope and despair, unsure whether he is alive or dead.

‘I have to smile’

Despite his absence, Mr Dzamara is still very much a presence in the house they shared off a quiet street in Harare’s Glen Norah Neighbourhood.

In the corner of her living room is a large framed photo taken in a park on a sunny day.

In it, Mr Dzamara and his wife stand side-by-side, smiling. A snapshot of a happier, easier time.

Life since her husband disappeared has not been easy.

“To tell you the truth I feel lonely,” Mrs Dzamara says.

However, she has had to put on a brave face for her 10-year-old son and daughter of five.

“When I am not happy they notice it. So for the sake of my kids I have to be smiling or happy.”

Itai Dzamara was taken from a barber-shop near his home in March 2015

“It’s very hard for them because they [always] ask about their dad. Even today the boy surprised me by putting on his dad’s cap for the first time. You can really see that he misses him very much,” Mrs Dzamara adds.

That black flat cap had become synonymous with Mr Dzamara – he was often pictured in it after he began Occupy Africa Unity Square, a social movement animated by a single goal: to get then-President Robert Mugabe to resign.

‘The dreamer we lack’

In 2014 – the year Mr Dzamara began his one-man protest movement – that was an incredibly dangerous goal. Political dissenters often paid a price.

But day after day, Mr Dzamara returned to sit in Africa Unity Square, a tree-filled park in the centre of Harare, holding his sign: “Failed Mugabe must step down.”

Soon others began to join him.

Dirk Frey, who first read about it online, recalls the cat-and-mouse games they would play with the police during their colourful, whistling lunchtime protests.

“It was like we were playing a game of chess against the authorities. We’d occupy the park and then they’d come chase us out and we’d run into the alleys surrounding the park and then come back.

Mr Dzamara says he was beaten unconscious by a group of 20 police officers months earlier, in November 2014

“Eventually we reached an uneasy truce where, if we didn’t do anything, they’d sit in their corner and we’d sit in ours. And then the moment we’d take out placards or hand out leaflets, they’d come after us.”

These small acts of defiance came at a price. Mr Dzamara landed up in hospital several times after being beaten by police.

Then, on 17 October 2014, he took his protest a step further. He and two other protesters, Tichaona Danho and Philosophy Nyapfumbi, hand-delivered a petition to Mr Mugabe’s office asking him to step down.

They were interrogated for eight hours and beaten. The move certainly got the attention of the wider public. After the petition was delivered, a newspaper columnist asked: “Is Itai Dzamara the dreamer we lack?”

Less than six months later, he disappeared.

Source: bbc.com

 

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