Tsitsi Dangarembga

Zimbabwean film-maker and writer, whose novel Nervous Conditions (1988) has become a modern African classic. It was awarded the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 1989. Tsitsi Dangarembga has dealt in her works with the oppressive nature of a patriarchal family structure and a woman's coming-of-age. "My soul is African," she once said, "it is from there that springs the fountain of my creative being."
  • "This morning I received a letter from my husband, the first in twelve years. Can you imagine such a thing? As has been my custom during all this time that I have been waiting, I opened my eyes at four o'clock when the first cock crowed, and lay remembering the day that he left, without bitterness and without anger or sorrow, simply remembering what it was like to be with him one day and without him the next." (from 'The Letter', 1985)
Tsitsi Dangarembga was born in Mutoko in colonial Rhodesia, but at the age of two she moved with her parents to England, thereby citing English as her first language – it was used all through her education and she forgot most of the Shona that she had learnt. In 1965 she returned to Rhodesia, where she entered a mission school in Mutare and learned Shona again. She then completed her secondary education at an American convent school. In 1977 Dangarembga went to Cambridge to study medicine. After three years she abandoned her studies and returned to Zimbabwe, where amongst other things she worked for some time at an advertising agency, and started to study psychology at the University of Zimbabwe.

During these years she became involved with the Drama Club and wrote and staged three plays, She No Longer Weeps (pub. 1987), The Lost of the Soil, and The Third One. "The writers in Zimbabwe were basically men at the time," she said in an interview. "And so I really didn't see that the situation would be remedied unless some woman sat down and wrote something, so that's what I did!" Upon graduation she worked as a teacher, but finding it difficult to combine an academic career and literature, then devoted herself entirely to writing. Her short story, 'The Letter' won a price in a writing competition arranged by SIDA, the Swedish International Development Authority, and was published in the anthology Whispering Land (1985).

As a novelist Dangarembga made her debut with Nervous Conditions, a partially autobiographical work which appeared in Great Britain in 1988 and the next year in the United States. She had already began to write in her childhood, and read mostly the English classics, but the period following Zimbabwean independence inspired her to read contemporary African literature and the writings of Afro-American women. "I personally do not have a fund of our cultural tradition or oral history to draw from," she once confessed, "but I really did feel that if I am able to put down the little I know then it's a start."

Following her success as a novelist, Dangarembga turned her attention to film. After receiving a Commonwealth Writers' Award, she left for Berlin to continue her education at the Deutsche Film und Fernseh Akademie, where she studied film direction and produced a documentary for German television. She returned eventually to Zimbabwe with her two children, born in Germany. "Life is difficult in Zimbabwe at the moment, but my soul breathes more freely here," she said. In 1990 Dangarembga was commissioned to write the story for Neria (1992), which became the highest-grossing film in Zimbabwean history. The protagonist is a widowed woman, whose brother-in-law uses her difficult situation for his own advantage. Neria loses her material possessions and her child, but gets then help from her female friend against her former husband's family.

In 1992 Dangarembga founded Nyeria Films, a film production company in Harare. Her films have received several awards. Kare Kare Zvako (2005) was the winner of the Golden Dhow in Zanzibar, and won also the Short Film Award Cinemaafricano in Milano, and Short Film Award ZIFF. Peretera Maneta (2006) received the UNESCO Children’s and Human Rights Award and won the Zanzibar International Filmfestival. With Everyone's Child (1996), shot on location in Harare and Domboshawa, Dangarembga made film history in her country. It was the first full lenght feature movie directed by a black Zimbabwean woman. The story follows the tragic fates of four siblings, Tamari and Itai, after their parents die of AIDS. The soundtrack featured songs by Zimbabwe's most popular musicians, including Thomas Mapfumo, Leonard Zhakata and Andy "Tomato Sauce" Brown. Dangarembga herself has also served on the board of the Zimbabwe College Of Music for five years, two of them as chair.

Concerned about the state of the nation, Dangarembga joined the Movement For Democratic Change (MDC), led by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, and was named in 2010 the secretary for education in a portfolio reshuffle. "I have not always been a vocal critic of President Mugabe’s government," she explained in an interview. "I have always been a vocal critic of injustice, backwardness, intolerance, brutality, selfishness, greed, you name it – all the things that are listed in the bible as deadly sins." (newZimSituation.com, 23rd Jun 2010) Dangarembga has completed her doctoral studies in the Department of African Studies at the Humboldt University Berlin. Her Ph.D. thesis will deal with the reception of African film.