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REVIEW | Dangarembga probes the wounds of empire in a new collection of essays

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By Karabo K Kgoleng I News24


Award-winning novelist and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga explores the wound of empire in this small volume of an introduction and three essays.

She is best known for her first novel nervous conditions, who shaped at least two generations of post-independence African readers of the English language.

As the first in a trilogy, the novel follows the life of Tambudzai, a girl who struggles to cope with the psychological impacts of racism and sexism as she pursues her educational ambitions. Tambudzai’s fate in subsequent novels serves as an allegory for how Zimbabwe’s hopes rose and how they were dashed in the decades following independence.

In Black and Woman, she reflects on the lasting impacts of colonialism and its heir, a violent patriarchal (and more broadly English-speaking) post-colonial Zimbabwean society that bears the hallmarks of a political elite that, using clientelism, corruption and violence, rules heavily. directly on an increasingly impoverished population.

Dangarembga begins by reminiscing about her early years as a toddler in what was then Southern Rhodesia, a time she remembers only as filled with light. Her earliest memory is of a living room in England, where her parents arranged for her and her older brother to be placed in foster care as they respectively pursued the kind of British upbringing that would serve them well. at home under the colonial administration.

This early trauma of being separated from her parents and living life as the only black girl in her school – mostly hated and sometimes treated as mild curiosity – serves as a starting point for how she continues to to use the collection of essays as “a location in the unseen geography of my asylum”. forming a sense of self-worth is familiar to people marginalized by society.

Dangarembga explains how the ‘madness’ of black women in southern Africa is manufactured by patriarchy and (British colonial) empire. She explains how her early experiences taught her that physical and emotional abuse causes mental distress. Indeed, many who have read his novels, including this reviewer, express how his writing validates their experiences of the world.

A literary clinician, Dangarembga writes about how the empire created a gendered and racialized center and marginalized black women while later using human rights discourse for “other” black women, especially in the post-independence period.

At this point, she focuses on the traditional post-independence patriarchy as characterized by great rulers in Zimbabwe and across the continent, pointing out that it is based on a system of private property and, as such , it functions as a colonial continuity that places black women and children at the bottom of the social ladder – as barely human property.

This is different from the pre-colonial social power system which was built on a kinship system which distributed power in a less hierarchical manner. She uses the example of the common interpretation of customary law of intestate succession which excludes women in Zimbabwe. It descends directly from laws enacted by British South African segregationists. Theophile Shepstone.

Women in Africa have incredibly little access to opportunity, and Tsitsi Dangaremba reflects on the “NGO-ization” of black feminism after the exodus of allied feminist expatriate white women after independence.

While this category does not guarantee protection from misogynorism, white women were able to facilitate access to funding and provide much-needed solidarity as black feminists began to experience a postcolonial backlash from their political elites. She acknowledges these allies while decrying how “our existence is not supported by our environments” and that even NGO spaces are precarious because they are frequently subject to political interference.

“My age insulates me from the most atrocious forms of Zimbabwean misogyny,” she writes. Despite this, as black feminists in Africa, we prefer to age (more) despite some aspects of erasure and exclusion for opportunities that focus (rightly) on youth. As for women who are linked to the political elite, Dangarembga criticizes how they are able to “enjoy the privileges of the patriarchy, knowing that their elite status can be revoked at any time”, taking the example of Grace Mugabe.

In South Africa, a recent, high-profile case shows how the ANC failed to provide the same protection as men when they Bathabile Dlamini was tried for perjury – one of the many illegal and corrupt practices that are common in the organization. This is a case where “caping” for boys does not guarantee protection. Dangarembga chose not to benefit from the privileges of the patriarchy. She was given a suspended sentence recently for incitement to violence after demonstrating for political reform.

Black and Woman is a magnificent and rabid work. The thrills of literature and visual storytelling provide a much-needed escape from life as a black woman in Africa. Dangarembga is the kind of artist whose work of truth is the kind we wish we didn’t need.

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