In Search of Tsitsi Dangarembga

You know when you run a blog, you cannot avoid checking the performance statistics, to see if what you are writing is being read at all. WordPress, the platform for this website, has a feature called “Search Engine Terms’, which tells you what words people searched in order to end up viewing your posts. Nearly daily, the visitors to Moments in Literature come through searches of Tsitsi Dangarembga, using the following terms: bira Dangarembga, interviews with Tsitsi Dangarembga, Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, Zimbabwean literature Dangarembga, Dangarembga new excerpt, and many others.

So people are looking for Dangarembga, people are talking. And they have reasons to. First, the world is leaning towards focusing on Zimbabwean literature, what with all the drama that the country has been going through. Early next year the world of reading will be greeted with two books by Petina Gappah, which promise to be huge successes (Gappah is a good writer), and there is likely to be hightened interest in the literature of Zimbabwe in general. 

Perhaps, the interest in Dangarembga is a reflection of what’s on the minds of many readers (I am assuming it’s not one person visiting my blog through numerous, if not obsessive, searches for Dangarembga’s works); it is a reflection of the fact that there is renewed interest in her works, or in finding clues about Zimbabwe in her novels.

Of course, Dangarembga recently published the much-awaited-for sequel to Nervous Conditions, which is entitled The Book of Not.   I am reading the book, which is adding layers of meaning to the character of Tambu. Nyasha has been silenced, the younger sister has her legs blown off by a landmine in chapter one, and , as we know, Nhamo is history.  It’s as if Dangarembga was clearing the ground for the story of Tambu to mature, undisturbed ( although it’s disturbed), undistracted (athough it’s distracted). Reading this story leads to a revisionary look at Zimbabwe, connecting the actions of the comrades during the 70s war and the now-old veterans who have been charged of causing much violence in tumultous Zimbabwe. When you look at war through the lens of Dangarembga’s books, you have the advantage of concluding that the revolution sowed the seeds of violence just as it sought freedom. I was little, but I remember that in addition to being everyone’s “brothers”, the comrades were no-nonsense discipliners, shooting village elders if they were found guilty of selling out. Old women and men were charged of witchcraft and were thrashed, activities that branded them for life (because even ten years after independence, village beatings of the witches the war had uncovered continued, for reasons ranging from a former mujubha’s wife miscarrying to reasons for rains falling in Chivi but not in Mazvihwa.) The Book of Not takes me to that world, and helps me make the connection of this culture of violence and repression that was build in the idea for the fight for independence.

Perhaps, that’s why everyone is now looking for Dangarembga, to see a deeper analysis of the Zimbabwean situation as it is prefigured, as well as analyzed, in the novels? Perhaps, assuming it’s indeed everyone that’s searching for Dangarembga.

I too have been looking for Dangarembga, some way of contacting her, an email address, etc, because I had a whole class seeking to ask her some questions about this issue of Nhamo dying to give room for Tambu to become…, or was it something to do with why she took very long to write the sequel. I too have been searching, and here is another reason: I have begun work on a story that features Tambu, but my Tambu will die much sooner than anticipated, and Nhamo, oh, he will be alive, perhaps briefly becoming a soldier (not comrade), and then growing up to leave Zimbabwe for South Africa or some such “overseas”. I want us new Zimbawean writers to start creating characters that communicate with the iconic characters of our literature.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has begun to reinterpret characters out of Things Fall Apart, giving them new life.

So anyway, people make frequent Dangarembga searches that point them to this blog, which, I think, is phenomenal.

Kamurai Mudzingwa’s Dissatisfaction with African Movies

“Back home, our very own Zimbabwean sister Tsitsi Dangarembga displayed the same mentality in her movie Kare Kare Zvako. She shows Africans as savage cannibals who literally eat each other. She won a Western-sponsored award for her efforts. That is also another catch used to lure the misguided African filmmakers — the proliferation of Western-sponsored awards. These serve as external motivation, and for the desire of international fame, the black filmmakers from Africa — to borrow James Weldon Johnson’s Ex-coloured man’s words — sell their birthright for a mess of pottage. Films such as Hotel Rwanda and Tsotsi from South Africa win international acclaim because they portray the negative aspects of Africa,” writes Kamurai Mudzingwa in his 2006 Op-ed entitled “African Movies Spiteful”.

The article critiques African film production, which Mudzingwa argues is sponsored by the West and for this reason tends to represent stereotypes its sponsors want to portray about Africa. These films are damaging since some of their viewers worldwide tend to interepret Africa based on what they depict. I remember that during my early days in the United States I repeatedly answered questions about whether or not things “back there” were like they are in Chaka Zulu, the five-hour movie. Of course, back then I hadn’t even seen the movie, but judging by the hidden messages in the questions, I knew what the implications were. When, years later, I bought my copy of the movie for a dollar at a Blockbuster clearance sale, I just wondered how someone could ever think to use that movie as a way to learn about present-day Africa.

Mudzingwa also discusses The God’s Must Be Crazy. I own both volume 1 & 2,  and I watch them once in a while to see, well, to see the landscape, and to hear the Shona man in volume 1 singing, “Mai Vachauya”. Recently, I was able to connect him to a Marechera character who is exiled in some kind of desert and seems to be going through a cleansing ritual for having offended his mother in some way back home. I had to force that connection, of course, because at a symbolic level, what this unnamed Marechera character says is that he was in political exile, but was also waiting, if not suffering for, his wife who had left the place with a promise to come back or not, so the reader sees him in a miserable existence in this desert away from home, perhaps singing (we are not told), “Mai Vachauya”, just like the Shona man in The Gods Must Be Crazy  (Of course, many viewers, intrigued by the clicking language in the movie, may barely notice the Shona man, may not ever know that he is Shona because that’s not the movie’s purpose: just focus on the funny guy taking the bottle back to the Gods).  The Shona man’s song could be considered (even where I exaggerate) the one positve ( and it’s really negative, come to think of it) message I get from the two volumes of what Mudzingwa calls a “highly offensive movie”.

But Tsitsi Dangarembga too? Well, she stated in a recent interview with Per Contra that film-making helps her make a living, something that her very consciousness-driven literature has failed to do. Perhaps our main hope is in emerging film-makers like my former student Marian Kunonga? I know at one point she was in Malawi filming “positive” documentaries in the villages, documentaries that show happy, laughing Africans. More of that attitude is needed.

Anyway, Mudzingwa goes on to quote  University of Zimbabwe scholar, Memory Chirere, who has said we should: “put our money where our culture is.” In this regard, the films, especially when produced by Africans, should give a balanced, not biased, depiction of Africa. I think the literature, novels, poetry, etc, is performing well; now let the film industry learn to be self-sufficient and to boldly present an Africa that’s full of hope and progress–something like that, if I am reading Mudzingwa right. In fact, why don’t I link to the original article here?