Zimbabwe: Media tears for Cecil the Lion; Itai Dzamara and missing activists ignored

By Wonder Guchu

August 11, 2015 -- The Namibian, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The world today knows more about the Zimbabwean lion Cecil, killed by North American dentist Walter Palmer, than they do about the Zimbabwean journalist and human rights activist Itai Dzamara, who has been missing since March 9 this year.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe on August 10 criticised the killing of Cecil, saying the animal was a key part of the country's heritage. Our wildlife, all our animals, belong to us. They should not be shot with a gun or with an arrow", Mugabe told thousands who gathered at a shrine on the outskirts of the capital Harare to commemorate Heroes' Day. "Even Cecil the lion is yours. He is dead. He was yours to protect and he [was] there to protect you."

Cecil was lured from the Hwange National Park and then shot with a bow before he was finished off with a gun. His head was cut off and skin taken away as trophies. Cecil left 13 cubs and a brother Jericho. 

Dzamara was abducted in broad daylight from a barbershop in Glen View, one of Harare's densely populated suburbs. He was abducted by five men driving an Isuzu double cab. He left behind a young wife and two small children.

In October last year, Dzamara closed down his newspaper and wrote to Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe asking him to step down and save the country from further decay.

He personally delivered a letter to Mugabe's office and then started what is now known as the Occupy Africa Unity Square movement. Africa Unity Square is opposite the Zimbabwean parliament and close to Mugabe's offices in Harare.

While Cecil's "murder" is unforgivable, it is sad that the media never raised its voice high for the abduction of Dzamara as is being done for Cecil. Experts even gave the world a blow-by-blow account of life in the jungle. Even the Zimbabwean government has called for the extradition of the American dentist to stand trial where he committed the offence.

Although the details leading to Cecil's "murder" are not clear at this moment, what happened to Dzamara prior to his abduction is known. Dzamara was abducted after he had attended a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) rally on March 8 in Harare where he called on Mugabe to go. Most probably, that was the last straw for his abductors after they had failed to break his spirit through assault and detentions.

The abduction came after a contingent of 20 police officers armed with batons assaulted Dzamara and members of his movement in November last year.

That attack resulted in him being hospitalised.

The second attack was carried out by members of the war veterans association, who held Dzamara and two others captive in the basement of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) headquarters in Harare, while Mugabe was holding a meeting upstairs.

In between, Dzamara and a few brave activists were subjected to beatings and arrests which did not amount to anything since the police could not prove any case against them.

But Dzamara returned to the square each time in defiance of those who were harassing him. He spoke about a non-violent demonstration and urged the nation to stand up against Mugabe's rule.

So far, there has been mixed reactions to Dzamara's abduction from the Zimbabwean government with some ZANU-PF members accusing the MDC-T of stage managing the abduction.

Mugabe's spokesperson even said his boss was not bothered by Dzamara's disappearance while the state-run media has been trying to paint the disappearance as a non-issue.

Only recently, the police offered a US$10 000 reward for information on Dzamara's whereabouts.

Even the courts ordered the police to put more effort in searching for the missing activist but just last week the officer in charge of the search told the courts that they have drawn a blank.

Interestingly, the officer in charge of the search was involved in the abduction of another activist, Jestina Mukoko, from her home just outside Harare at around 5h00 on December 3, 2008.

For days, Mukoko's whereabouts were unknown. The government denied any knowledge of her whereabouts. Even a High Court order compelling the government to release Mukoko was ignored.

It took former US president Jimmy Carter, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and South Africa's former first lady Graca Machel's intervention for the government to admit that they were holding Mukoko.

Apart from Dzamara and Mukoko as well as many others who just disappeared in the silence of the night because they are not high profile figures, there is the case of Rashiwe Guzha, a typist within the secret service who disappeared in May 1990.

There is also the case of an army captain, Edwin Nleya, who disappeared in 1989 shortly after threatening to expose commanders who were involved in ivory smuggling and the death of more than 500 elephants in Mozambique.

Amnesty International said Nleya had stumbled upon the poaching information when Zimbabwe was helping Mozambique fight Renamo. Nleya's case is told in a report titled Poaching and Unexplained Death: The Case of Captain Nleya that was published 1992.

In 2000, Patrick Nabayana, a polling agent for an MDC candidate was abducted by men armed with AK47s and his body was found some months later. In February 2012, activist Paul Chizuzu was abducted. He has not been found.

Yet all these cases never broke the Internet and today the world knows more about Cecil the lion than it does about Itai Dzamara, who turned 35 on August 8.

[Wonder Guchu is news editor at The Namibian.]