The Zimbabwean civil society and media had hoped for a tranquil environment when President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over the country in 2017. But it seems to be more of the same oppression against a free press.
This past week marked five years since activist Itai Dzamara disappeared without trace after staging a series of one man protests demanding the resignation of long-time ruler Robert Mugabe.
Mr Dzamara’s disappearance was blamed on Mr Mugabe’s brutal security forces, but no credible information about his fate has been made public by the government to date.
Since his disappearance, Zimbabwe’s human rights defenders and foreign diplomats remind the authorities in Harare to end impunity against critics every year on March 9.
When he took over from Mr Mugabe, following a military coup in 2017, President Mnangagwa promised a “new kind of democracy in Zimbabwe”.
The president was a long-serving security minister during Mr Mugabe’s tenure, and had been accused of playing a role in human-rights violations including forced disappearances and a crackdown on dissent. Now he was pledging a new culture of respect for human rights.
President Mnangagwa specifically cited Mr Dzamara’s case as one of the issues his administration intended to resolve quickly to demonstrate that the country had broken with the past.
The latest Reporters Without Borders report on Zimbabwe says, “His first steps with regard to press freedom have been marked more by promises than concrete progress.”
On the fifth anniversary of his disappearance this week, Mr Dzamara’s wife Shefra reminded the president of his unfulfilled promises.
“President Mnangagwa, it’s now five years without knowing where my husband is or what happened to him. I am writing to appeal to your office to resolve the case of Itai Dzamara,” she said in an open letter to the president.
“Tell us his fate. I need to know what to tell my kids who are growing up with the hope that their father will be coming home.”
Sipho Malunga, director of the Open Society for Southern Africa, said Mr Dzamara’s case represents a culture of impunity that Zimbabwe needs to confront.