On 31 July 2020 Tsitsi Dangarembga and her friend Julie Barnes went onto the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe, to protest against government corruption. Dangarembga, a novelist and film-maker, carried a sign that read: “We want better.
Reform our institutions.” The corruption they were protesting against is wide-ranging, she told me. “The enforced disappearances, the torture – sometimes people die of torture – the clampdown on opposition and on people who express any contrary ideas to the ruling party’s ideology.”
The demonstration was expected to be large, but just before it was due to take place President Emmerson Mnangagwa imposed tighter restrictions on public movement under the guise of reducing rising Covid-19 infections. “However, the constitution of Zimbabwe does confer the right to demonstrate, protest or petition the government peacefully,” Dangarembga said, and so she and Barnes, a journalist, went ahead.
Following the protest Dangarembga and Barnes were arrested, spent one night in prison, and then were released on bail. In September 2020 the pair were charged with intention to incite public violence and with breaking Covid-19 lockdown measures. The case has dragged on, with the trial beginning in May of this year.
When we met in a hotel lounge in London in early September, 63-year-old Dangarembga was awaiting the verdict, due at the end of the month. She was in the city for an event to celebrate her new essay collection, Black and Female, and had spoken the previous evening at a bookshop in Bath.