Tsitsi Dangarembga: A Writer for the People

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Born in 1959 in Mutoko, Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) with two school teachers for parents; writer, and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga grew up surrounded by knowledge. In fact, in 1953, her mother became the first Black woman to graduate in Rhodesia.

From the ages of two to six years old, Dangarembga lived in England with her parents, who were students at the time. When Dangarembga was six, the family went back to Rhodesia.

In an interview with Brick, Dangarembga describes the culture shock she experienced moving back to her birthplace.

“Coming back here . . . you know, it was such a shock. Everywhere we’d been before, my parents were so well respected. But in Rhodesia, the fact that we were Black meant that once we walked into that society, all of that meant nothing. It was really a blow.”

“Nervous Conditions,” published in 1988, is Dangarembga’s first book. It details the life of a character named Tambudzai or Tambu and her early years growing up in Rhodesia in the 1960s and 70s. The novel also focuses on education and sees Tambu’s uncle “taking her away to his mission to be educated.” 

Tambu’s story continues in two more chronological installments, “The Book of Not” and “This Mournable Body.” 

In “The Book of Not,” Tambudzai attends a primarily white covenant school during her teenage years. 

According to Dangarembga, Tambu gets a culture shock of her own as the experience forces her to view herself and the complexities of race within society differently.

“[Tambudzai] knew she was poor, and she knew she was uneducated because she could see the poverty of her home and she could see the differences with her relatives who were educated. But then she had to learn that she was black,” Dangarembga told Brick.

“Nervous Conditions” was the first novel to be published in English, by a Black woman, in Zimbabwe.

Despite both her and her brother learning Shona as a child, Dangarembga considers English to be her first language since she grew up using it in school. However, she worries about the longevity of Shona (which Dangarembga calls her second language) as few can speak and write it.

Dangarembga’s connection to her culture is apparent. After deciding to study medicine at Cambridge University in 1977, she returned to Zimbabwe in 1980, shortly before the country gained its independence, citing the need for more African literature that she could identify with. 

As a filmmaker, Dangarembga’s work focuses on Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole, with films such as “Neira,” “Everyone’s Child,” etc.  After attending the University of Cambridge, Dangarembga also studied psychology at the University of Zimbabwe. She later attended the German Film and Television Academy located in Berlin, Germany. 

In 2000, Dangarembga moved back to Zimbabwe.  

According to African Film Festival Inc, she has since then founded a production company called Nyerai Films and is the executive director of the Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe.  Dangarembga is also the director of the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa and founding director for the International Images Film Festival for Women. 

In 2020, Dangarembga and another protestor were arrested at an anti-government protest in Zimbabwe.

Today, she continues to write, as well as to advocate for women in African film.

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