Why Germany Peace Prize recognized Zimbabwean Tsitsi Dangarembga with the 2021 Award

Alexander Opicho August 07, 2021
Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga is pictured at the Frankfurt book fair in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on October 12, 2018. - Copyright © africanews DANIEL ROLAND/AFP or licensors

When it comes to the recognition of science and art, German community is the least influenced. At most, it is least influenced by a foreigner. It is an established public social disposition in Germany not to be easily excited by art and science that looks novel until there is credibility beyond doubt. Perhaps, this must be Germany’s collective consciousness inherited from its rich heritage of philosophy, literature and science.

However, this year (2021) the world respected German Publishers and Booksellers Association is bound to honor an African writer from Zimbabwe with its Prize. The author to be awarded is none other than Tsitsi Dangarembga. Dangarembga is known all over the world for being a maverick filmmaker and fearless novel writer as well as social critic who recently protested against bad governance in Zimbabwe.

Recent literary and public life of Dangarembga easily makes one observe that lovers of the history of African literature will not miss to put Dangarembga in the same class with Christopher Okigbo, Ken Saro Wiwa, Alex La Guma, Naquib Mahfouz, Abdalla Abdallatif and Okello Oculli. And it will be true, Dangarembga is the true shadow of this freethinking ancestry of African literature.

Back to our story, the Germany Publishers and Book Sellers Association established the Peace Prize in 1950. The award is endowed with 30,000 US dollars money prize. On their website, the jury of the Germany Publishers and Books Sellers Association appreciate Dangarembga for combining inimitable storytelling with a universally compelling perspective in a body of literary and cultural work that has made her not only one of the most important artists but also a popular and widely-recognized voice of Africa, voice of a woman, voice of the powerless and voice of the politically hopeless in contemporary literature. 

The above words by the jury are very true. It is a genuine observation that enjoys enough evidence from the objective outlook at the life of Dangarembga in literature and art. The literary life of Dangarembga is an open text which reads that beyond her award-winning literary and cultural work as an author and filmmaker, Dangarembga is equally dedicated to fostering creative industries and committed with passion to protection of civil liberties that can only be achieved through constructive political change, the change which she yearns for Africa.

Her lifelong commitment to the promotion of human comfort is expressed through her life as a founding member of the writers’ association PEN Zimbabwe, out of which she was also recognized with the PEN Award for Freedom of Expression and the PEN Pinter Prize during the early part of the year 2021.

Even though she is born in Zimbabwe, Dangarembga is also a boundless ‘Kenyaphiliac feminist writer’. She writes fondly about Kenya and the comeliness in the decorum of Kiswahili culture in Kenya. In fact, she has a persistent plot and semi-motif about Kiswahili as the cultural identity of the people of Kenya in her Booker Prize-winning book This Mournable Body

The book is not her pioneering work. This Mournable Body is her third novel in a trilogy portraying a woman in different phases of her life, from her youth to middle age through well told stories depicting the struggle for female self-determination in Zimbabwe, Africa and in other temporal and spatial places where economic advantages are used as a platform to tyrannize those are not advantaged to own. Dangarembga sharply contrasts in literary relations with established Kenyan writers in the likes of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who always portray narcissistic feelings about literature by claiming that there is no good writer from Africa apart from his sons and daughter, an intellectual flap on Ngugi’s side sending literary observers into a whirlwind of doubt as to why Ngugi is not able to know that Africa has good young writers in the likes of Dangarembga.

Fortunately, deliberate and self-some narcissistic blindness like the one displayed by Ngugi about the new generation of African writers is only limited to the world of literary narcissists. The liberal and objective world has a balanced stand. A disposition that was displayed by the New York Times Book Review which beautifully praised Dagarembga’s This Mournable Body (2018) as a masterpiece of its time. In a similar stretch, the Kirkus Reviews gave very liberal acclaim to Dagarembga’s book by lauding it as ‘haunting, incisive, and timely glimpse into how misogyny and class strife shape life in post-colonial politics’.

Dangarembga is an author of over a dozen books. She started her trilogy with Nervous Conditions (1988) then she went on with a sequel to it under the title The Book of Not (2006). But above all else, the Nervous Conditions catapulted Dangarembga to an international literary scene as an African female writer of spotless repute. The Nervous Conditions won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1989 in addition to being translated into many languages around the world and as well as getting included on the BBC’s (2018) list of the 100 stories that shaped the world. A station in which lurks the worth of worthies like Salman Rushdie for the Midnight’s Children and Antoine de Saint-Exupery for The Little Prince.

History of Dagarembga’s life in writing also dictates that one does not need to beg for any leeway to mention that poverty of editorial competence in Africa almost condemned This Mournable Body to a stillbirth. Historical facts have it that the manuscript for This Mournable Body was rejected several times by different publishers in Africa; umpteen rejections drove Dangarembga to a point of despair at which she started posting some of the excerpts on her Facebook page. It was through this posting of excerpts on Facebook that the manuscript was spotted by the British-based Ugandan editor, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, who decided to get the book published.

Dangarembga was born in Zimbabwe in 1959. She studied film at the German Film and Television Academy in Berlin from 1989 to 1996 and then moved on to do a Ph.D. in Africa Studies at Berlin’s Humboldt University. It was during her time of doing a Ph.D. that she wrote the script for the film Neria (1993). The success of the film motivated Dangarembga also to direct her own documentaries and feature films including Everyone’s Child (1996).

Dangarembga now lives in Zimbabwe with her family. Dangarembga has also established various projects to develop the film industry and support female directors . Some of her current cultural projects are the Production Company called Nyerai Films, as well as the International Images Film Festival for Women. She is also a founding member of the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa, an organization that supports works of art and audio-visual productions.

Dangarembga has been doing all these while facing prosecutions and persecutions from government. For example, Dangarembga was recently arrested on July 31 2020 for joining peaceful protests against government corruption. Alongside other Zimbabwean activists she was made to face farfetched charges following the demonstration in July 2020 but only to be released on bail and then ordered to surrender her passport to the authorities and to be reporting to a police station every week between different court appearances that are repeatedly delayed by prosecutors. 

Dangarembga shares in the literary spirit of Wole Soyinka which is based on the philosophy that ‘the greatest conspiracy against freedom is silence.’ Dangarembga shares in this philosophy by arguing that ‘If you want your suffering to end, you have to act. Action comes from hope. This is the principle of faith and action’. Unfortunately, this is a very important cultural philosophy that young Africans don’t have; the young generation of Africa is open victim of intellectual captivity, openly sycophantic to snobbish politics. Africa’s young generations are distastefully focused on getting quick money without making well concerted efforts to protect the freedom and dignity of Africa.

If Dangarembga has stood out to be a contrast to this useless conventionality in our African society then why should the world not honour her with prizes like the Germany Publishers and Booksellers Peace Prize? Kudos Dangarembga.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: August 7, 2021


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