Peace Prize to Dangarembga: One with Influence


Status: 10/24/2021 11:09 a.m.

Tsitsi Dangarembga is considered to be one of the most important representatives of African literature. But her career was by no means a sure-fire success. Now the author and filmmaker from Zimbabwe has been awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.

By Jana Genth, ARD-Studio Johannesburg

Publishing a book in Zimbabwe is one of those things. Philip Chidavaenzi is a writer from the capital, Harare, who speaks of a fundamental problem. There is a strong reading culture in Zimbabwe, he says, but the price for literature or for publishing a book is a real challenge. That would be due to the economic situation. “People buy bread and butter rather than a book. Literature is currently seen as a luxury,” said Chidavaenzi

Jana Genth
ARD-Studio Johannesburg

In addition, those who want to write books are forced to somehow earn money elsewhere. The political situation is not easy for creative people either. Tsitsi Dangarembga, who received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade today, was not put off by this.

As the first dark-skinned Zimbabwean woman, she published a novel in English. But it wasn’t easy: no publisher in Zimbabwe wanted the book called “Nervous Conditions”. So Tsitsi sent it to the Women’s Press in England, a publisher that published feminist literature. That was in the mid-eighties, but after that there was radio silence for the time being.

Four years in the cellar

Dangarembga was in London for work in the late 1980s. “I thought, if I’m already there, I’ll go by and ask if you’ve read it,” says Dangarembga. “They asked me when I sent it – that was a good four years ago. So you went down to the basement to look for it. After ten minutes someone came and held that khaki, dusty envelope in my hand. I remembered for having sent him four years earlier. They asked, ‘Is that him?’ “

Of course it was the right envelope. The novel was only read because the author was there. Before that day was over, Tsitsi got a call. The publisher wanted her book. The media response afterwards was enormous. And it continues to have an effect in Zimbabwe itself – to this day.

“Tsitsi changed my view of things”

“Tsitsi Dangarembga has influenced me a lot,” says Simbarashe Sean Shumba, who teaches literature at the Harare high school. “Nervous conditions and another book by Dangarembga have changed the way I see life, especially in that we take women for granted.” Tsitsi changed the way she saw things, Sean Shumba.

It is not easy for women in the patriarchal society in Zimbabwe. Daphne Jena, for example, finds what Tsitsi Dangarembga has achieved all the more remarkable. She managed to show that women can deliver good content and are recognized for it. She mainly writes about the experiences of women, and so many women in Africa, in Zimbabwe, and certainly in other parts of the world too, can relate to this.

Also known as a director

Tsitsi is more than a writer, she is also a filmmaker. Your film “Neria” has been known throughout Africa since 1993. Three years later, the film “Everyone’s Child” even went around the world. In it she described the tragic fate of four siblings whose parents died of AIDS.

Fungai Machirori from Bulawayo in southern Zimbabwe, who has not only seen these films, says her films have opened doors for other female filmmakers, nationally and sometimes even beyond our borders. “The way she has helped other people to become visible through her influence is admirable,” says Machirori.

There is a lack of innovative ideas

Culture has a hard time in an economically troubled Zimbabwe – although there is demand. But giving up is not an option for author Philip Chidavaenzi either. He thinks what they need are new innovative ideas that will move them forward, regardless of their financial situation.

People need literature, and it should reflect the problems we are facing right now.

Fiction by Zimbabwean authors is also often based on real experiences. Literature, they say, helps to classify history. For many writers, the route still leads through neighboring South Africa or Great Britain. The way to the German market is not easy either. From Tsitsi Dangarembga’s trilogy, for example, the translation of the second novel is still missing.

Strong voice from Zimbabwe: Peace Prize winner Tsitsi Dangarembga

Jana Genth, ARD Johannesburg, 24.10.2021 · 09:52

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