Her politics did not end in books

tsitsi_dangarembgaTo many ordinary Zimbabweans, her fame starts and ends in writing books and making films. (Pictured: Tsitsi Dangarembga (left) I want to contribute to a better Zimbabwe)

But last month she joined politics becoming one of the few Zimbabwean artists to brave it up and join politics. Tsitsi Dangarembga, a renowned writer, novelist and filmmaker joined the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party led by Professor Arthur Mutambara, immediately assuming the position of National Secretary for Education. Art is a powerful vehicle for change, said Dangarembga whose novel Nervous Conditions written in 1988 has become a modern African classic.

Artists speak out against what is right and what is wrong and do so in a particular way. She said Zimbabwe a change of mind set and believes that can be done by using the arts. Arts is what creates the individual, it shapes identity and influences society. Many of the countries that are doing well recognise their artists, just look at South Africa. Dangarembga, who is never shy to speak out her mind and often uses her writings and films to express herself says Zimbabwe lacks a constructive platform where different ideas can be put together to find a solution.

Describing herself as a team builder, she said she would love to see an evolution taking place. Constructive criticism just doesnt exist in Zimbabwe, said Dangarembga. Asked what difference she would like to make as a politician, she said, My feeling is that I want to contribute to a better Zimbabwe, I am not threatened, I want to see a Zimbabwe where the security of a person is recognised, where people are mentally free and where women can contribute more without being threatened.

Dangarembga added that the countrys political problems are much more historical because some of the things that were supposed to have been done as part of a national healing process when the country came out of a violent liberation struggle where not done. She cited things such as the lack of adequate historical information available to Zimbabweans.

There wasnt enough healing after the liberation struggle. This healing could have been done through films, just imagine how many Vietnam War films have been done by the Americans as a way of healing from the war that hurt them so much and the Second World War films by the Germans, said Dangarembga. Art is all about producing these narratives for historical and healing purposes.

Dangarembga who is studying for a doctorate in film said although she spends much of her time doing politics, she hasnt abandoned her artistic and creative side. I havent stopped creating but it reached a point where it was difficult for me to just stand by and see huge problems adding up, said Dangarembga. She would not say where she will be in two years time in her political career but committed to answering a parliamentary call in three years time.

Dangarembga was born in Mutoko, Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), in 1959 but spent part of her childhood in England. She began her education there, but concluded her A-levels in a missionary school back home, in the town of Mutare. She later studied medicine at Cambridge University, but became homesick and returned home as Zimbabwe’s black-majority rule began in 1980.

She took up psychology at the University of Zimbabwe, of whose drama group she was a member. She also held down a two-year job as a copywriter at a marketing agency. This early writing experience gave her an avenue for expression: she wrote numerous plays, such as The Lost of the Soil, and then joined the theatre group Zambuko, and participated in the production of two plays, Katshaa and Mavambo.

In 1985, Dangarembga published a short story in Sweden called “The Letter”. In 1987, she also published the play She Does Not Weep in Harare. At the age of twenty-five, she had her first taste of success with her novel Nervous Conditions. The first in English ever written by a black Zimbabwean woman, it won the African section of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1989. Asked about her subsequent prose drought then, she explained, “There have been two major reasons for my not having worked on prose since Nervous Conditions: firstly, the novel was published only after I had turned to film as a medium; secondly, Virginia Woolf’s shrewd observation that a woman needs 500 and a room of her own in order to write is entirely valid. Incidentally, I am moving and hope that, for the first time since Nervous Conditions, I shall have a room of my own. I’ll try to ignore the bit about 500.”

Dangarembga continued her education later in Berlin at the Deutsche Film und Fernseh Akademie, where she studied film direction and produced several film productions, including a documentary for German television. She also made the film Everyone’s Child, shown worldwide including at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

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