Zimbabwean author, activist and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga has been on trial since her brief arrest in July 2020 for attending an anti-government protest.
The trial is now scheduled to continue on August 10 with defense witnesses being called to testify.
“This is how you live in Zimbabwe,” said the 63-year-old Dangarembga, who is not surprised but disappointed according to Cornelia Zetzsche, the Writers-in-Prison representative of the German PEN Center. Earlier, in an interview with Deutsche Welle, the author had expressed confidence that the court would drop the charges.
Dangarembga must state her case before an anti-corruption court in the capital Harare, which reports directly to President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Until the last minute, it was unclear whether the author would appear at the trial. She had missed an earlier court date due to illness.
German PEN Center observes proceedings on-site
The German PEN Center has sent its vice president and Writers-in-Prison representative, Cornelia Zetzsche, to observe the trial. “A black sunny day in Harare. Again, no acquittal,” Zetzsche declared. “This is a grueling trial with fabricated evidence and false testimony.”
After the overthrow of longtime President Robert Mugabe and the seizure of power by his former colleague and deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa in 2017, the southern African country has remained mired in a deep crisis that has left its people suffering.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also denounced the human rights violations in Zimbabwe. In her films and books, Tsitsi Dangarembga addresses taboo topics such as AIDS and violence against women. Her three novels trace the journey of the young protagonist Tambudzai as she confronts a system in which racism, corruption, misogyny and poverty continue to dominate people’s daily lives.
A thorn in the side
This alone has made Tsitsi Dangarembga a thorn in the side of the ruling ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union/Patriotic Front). Ahead of the 2023 elections, the situation is coming to a head for opposition figures and activists like her.
“Rule of law and freedom of expression have no forum in Zimbabwe,” said Writers-in-Prison commissioner Cornelia Zetzsche.
The trial of Dangarembga attracted considerable international attention because shortly before her temporary arrest in 2020, the author’s novel “This Mournable Body” landed her on the shortlist for the Booker Prize, Britain’s most prestigious literary award. In 2021, she was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.
The current trial is about the very issues that the author, who is married to a German, has been championing in books and films for decades: discrimination, human rights, persecution and corruption. The trial has dragged on for many months with Dangarembga having already appeared in court 28 times. If convicted, the author faces several years in prison.