Although many of the reported so-called abductions have been shown to be fake in the past, each such report needs to be carefully and openly investigated to find answers to at least three questions: Was the person abducted, if so by whom, and if they voluntarily disappeared to fake an abduction why did they do this?
Social media turmoil surrounding the case of three MDC members who claim they were abducted after carrying out an illegal demonstration in Harare this week, brings these questions to the fore, along with the need for an investigation to be concluded rapidly.
The knee-jerk reaction by those who suspect the Government of every evil means we still need to find out what really happened to Netsai Marova, Joana Mamombe and Cecilia Chimbiri after they participated in an illegal demonstration in Warren Park, Harare, on Wednesday.
There is some bad logic floating around, with the desired conclusion starting off as the initial premise.
Even respected foreign embassies like those of the United States and the European Union (EU) have tended to blame the Government on the say-so of the three, rather than wait for results of an investigation.
A lot will depend on how far the three are prepared to cooperate with those tasked to find out what happened.
We have had cases where the person claiming to have been abducted has categorically refused to answer questions from the police, even with their own lawyer present.
That attitude raises questions as to whether the disappearance was stage-managed.
Since we have police in court charged with crimes against the public, and we have some very public spirited lawyers who have represented poor people who have been abused or are suspected to have been abused, we have a complaints system that can work rather well.
But there is a thread running through many abduction stories. The MDC announces the disappearance of someone, causes noise on social and private media, others join in condemning Government and eventually the person is found “wandering around” in some strange place
Thereafter, reports follow suggesting that the person was found in bad shape, but with the medical reports by an independent practitioner never released and, more oddly, never given to the authorities.
The basic story of Marova, Mamombe and Chimbiri is typical. They participate in the illegal demonstration; they are reported to have disappeared later; there is condemnation of Government and its agencies by MDC and others; and they are reportedly found in bad shape. In this case the name of the place they are found is stressed, Muchapondwa Shopping Centre – which translates to “you are going to be murdered”.
Thereafter, the three are taken to hospital where they wear grim faces in hospital beds, posing for pictures, which are then widely circulated.
Yet, if the authorities were determined to “do something” about the three there was plenty that could have been done.
They could have been charged with an illegal demonstration, and charged for breaching lockdown regulations. There was no need to abduct anyone when a quick formal arrest would have done the same.
And evidence was fairly easy to obtain. There is plenty of public video footage showing demonstrators hugging each other in public, which is hardly social distancing, and quite openly breaching other lockdown regulations.
We have had similar stories in the past.
In November 2018, Nelson Chamisa announced a kidnap attempt on him in Ruwa, but the event was discredited as it became clear it was either stage-managed or a case of road rage.
In August 2019, Samantha Kureya, also known as Gonyeti, reported being kidnapped after producing a skit that appears to mock Government, but her narrative was soon exposed as it failed to maintain a logical streak.
Perhaps the worst attempt at portraying a kidnap was that of Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association (ZHDA) leader Dr Peter Magombeyi, who claimed he was being targeted for leading a strike by doctors. Dr Magobeyi’s inconsistent narrative, which contradicted some of his close buddies’ stories around his “disappearance”, was hardly supported by his refusal to talk to the police, describing those who he said abducted him. And he could have done that quite easily with a battery of lawyers sitting next to him.
In 2019, Zengeza West legislator Job Sikhala, who is a senior MDC leader, was outed for faking abduction when he had actually gone to Kadoma.
In most of these cases, there were major world events occurring or about to take place, and the natural conclusion was that some wanted to attract poor publicity for Zimbabwe at such meetings.
Dr Magombeyi disappeared a few days before a visit by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Clément Nyaletsoss, and a week before President Mnangagwa left for New York for the ongoing 74th UN General Assembly.
Mr Sikhala announced his “abduction” in the month the 39th Ordinary Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government was held in Tanzania, where Zimbabwe assumed chairmanship of the bloc’s Organ on Defence and Security.
Kureya played her abduction drama ahead of the SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government in August 2019.
The MDC at the moment has a serious leadership crisis and a lot of internal squabbles, with several talking about threats from those who disagree with their views.
No one has ever suggested police forces are staffed by saints, here or anywhere else.
What does matter is whether anyone does something about it.
During the present lockdown we have had at least four cases involving Zimbabwean police officers abusing their power. But we know this because people made complaints, these were investigated and appalled senior officers took prompt action.
The same sort of action is needed now. The three need to make a formal complaint, and need to cooperate with investigators. If their story has any merit that will lead to arrests.
If it is rubbish that will discredit them as witnesses. They need to do their civic duty.