Tsitsi Dangarembga Speaks on the Limitations of Women Writers in Zimbabwe

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Booker Prize-shortlisted author Tsitsi Dangarembga has had a year of highs and lows, much like the rest of us.

Her book, This Mournable Body, has been shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize. Dangarembga was arrested in July during the Harare protests against Mnangagwa’s government and for the release of journalist Hopewell Chin’ono.

Dangarembga was charged with incitement to commit violence and breaching anti-coronavirus health regulations.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Dangarembga, the first Zimbabwean woman to publish an English novel, described the limitations women writers still encounter.

“I think it has to do with Zimbabwean nature. Zimbabweans generally do things to conform and to be part of the flow. And to stand out is not seen as anything good. And even more so for women,” she explained.

“Women who are sufficiently educated to write in English, if that was the ambition, would also want to conform, having put themselves out on a limb so far anyway. I do not think they would want to go further. We had women writing in other languages in Zimbabwe before then and those languages did not require that level of formal education. I had English up to O level. I did not have a high level of education. I think the kind of person who would say: “I don’t care, I’m going to write my story”, would not be the kind of person who excelled in the education system because it was a system that was geared to produce certain products and not those products who would go out on a limb. This applied even more to women. It was only after I decided that mainstream occupations were not for me that I started writing seriously.”

Dangarembga went on to say that women in the country faced “multiple opressions” thanks to Zimbabwe’s “traditional society and conservative patriarchal society.”

She says women are “not expected to have a voice.”

“A small example: you need to fill your child’s lunchbox to go to school. How do you do this? You go to the shop, there is nothing that you can afford. You have got to walk goodness knows where to find somebody who is maybe selling some sweet potatoes. This is what women will do. If you have to wash the children or do the laundry or if you are looking after an elderly relative because there is no provision for them, this works functionally to make sure that women’s energy does not manifest in expression but really in drudgery, dealing with drudgery.”

You can read the full interview by clicking here.

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