In Johannesburg on Thursday, Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga was given the Africa Freedom Prize, which is given to people who “have shown remarkable courage and dedication to advancing the cause of freedom, democracy, and human rights on the African continent.”
From her acclaimed debut book “Nervous Conditions” in 1988 to “This Mournable Body,” which was included on the Booker Prize shortlist in 2020, Tsitsi Dangarembga has long been one of Zimbabwe’s most well-known and adored fiction writers.
Dangarembga has a position in the contemporary canon, according to Tinashe Mushakavanhu, a research fellow at the University of Oxford who specializes in Zimbabwean literature.
“Her most significant accomplishment is becoming the first Black Zimbabwean woman author to publish an English-language novel. She is a pioneer and a shining example, so much so that “Nervous Conditions,” one of her publications, is regarded as one of the finest African works of the 20th century, according to Mushakavanhu.
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, which supports liberal politics and democracy globally, gave Dangarembga its highest accolade today partly because of this. Additionally, she received the PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression in 2021.
Dangarembga has gained notoriety for her political engagement in addition to her writing. After organizing a nonviolent demonstration with a friend, the 64-year-old was found guilty of “inciting violence” by a Zimbabwean court last year. The two ladies silently held signs advocating for political reform while standing by the side of the road. A higher court reversed that conviction earlier this year.
Dangarembga, then, would you consider yourself a political writer?
“I don’t think of myself as a writer who is an activist. I see myself as a person who has a narrative to tell and a purpose for that tale. My goal is to write tales in which Zimbabweans may recognize themselves. And I believe that’s crucial for each person’s wellbeing to comprehend the complexity of their lives, the difficulties they face, and perhaps even suggest some answers. And I believe that people’s ability to participate in that process contributes to the wellbeing of the country,” she remarked.
Robert Mugabe controlled the former British colony from when it gained independence in 1980 until his ouster in a bloodless revolution in 2017. President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his successor from the same party, has cracked down on dissent and failed to improve the nation’s ailing economy.
The Southern African Development Community, which dispatched a team to watch the polls, voiced worries about the fairness of the vote. The political opposition referred to the most recent elections, which were held in August, as a fraud.
Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of the former recipients of the Africa Freedom Prize.
Witwatersrand University senior lecturer in African literature Danai Mupotsa observes that female authors from the continent have recently attracted increased interest and recognition.
“There’s definitely a particular kind of moment for African writers and African women writers, I think, in particularly the last 10 years,” Mupotsa said.
When asked about this, Dangarembga responded that it shows how the publishing industry has “shifted to open up” and is now including more writing by African women.